Wow, more than three weeks into the new year without getting around to a blog post! There’s all kinds of reasons for that, ranging from several bursts of wintry weather, equipment issues, wildlife tucked away somewhere warm, being off on a road trip, and just not getting out there, but it’s time to rectify that situation. So here’s a few of my better pictures from the first of the month. The day after New Year’s Day I headed down to several spots along the Rio Grande including Valle de Oro NWR where there were lots of Horned Larks, Snow Geese, Canada Geese, and a good number of Sandhill Cranes in the fields, but few birds anywhere in the trees close to the river.
Having seen reports (and pictures) of a Peregrine Falcon and Bald Eagles being seen regularly somewhere south of Bridge Blvd. near the Rio Grande, I made several visits there that first week of January, first looking along the west side of the river where there is what looks like good habitat with lots of trees and underbrush, and then along the east side with much more open areas and a few isolated trees and snags. On the first of these visits, it was a little surprising how many porcupines I’d see snoozing away up in the trees, but other than a Great Blue Heron and a couple of distant Common Mergansers, not too many birds and neither of those two I’d hoped to see. But on one visit, that Peregrine Falcon was just sitting there high in an old dead cottonwood keeping an eye out over a large open area.
The next couple of days brought in some cold weather and our first good snow of the year. The Audubon Thursday Birders were a pretty hardcore group that week, convening at the Tijeras Ranger Station and then carpooling to Otero Canyon for a walk on a cold, cloudy, and windy morning as the snow started to arrive. Most of the birds had gotten the news and were tucked away out of the wind, but the group would end up seeing a good variety of species including a flock of Pinyon Jays flying away and an interesting mixed flock of several different species all working a couple of the juniper trees in Otero Canyon.
Although the Sandias rise almost a mile above my house in the foothills, only a few days a year do they give the impression that they really are serious mountains. One of those days caught my eye out my living room window as the clouds cleared the peaks after a snowfall that I tried to capture with this picture zoomed in on the communication towers on Sandia Crest.
The next day, people were reporting seeing (most unusually!) a Northern Saw-whet Owl in a most accessible location at the Rio Grande Nature Center. It had apparently been sitting in a tree all afternoon, but I didn’t hear about it until that evening when I made plans to check it out first thing the next morning. Unfortunately by then it had moved on and wasn’t seen again despite a number of us looking pretty hard in the area. Although I’ve already started looking (unsuccessfully) for the Great Horned Owls that will soon start nesting, this is also the time of year that the Western Screech-Owls can usually be seen at Los Poblanos Open Space. In my experience, if they’re home they’ll sit out in the open in the nesting boxes during the afternoon. Whether they’re doing that to warm up in the sun or because it’s getting too warm inside beats me. There are at least four of those boxes at the northern edge of the open space, but in the past if I’m lucky I’ll only see one occupied. It was therefore a special treat that day, after missing out on the Saw-whet, to find a Screech-Owl sunning in the box in the middle of the irrigation ditch
and a second one in another box behind the elementary school.
Since it was close by, I next headed to Pueblo Montano Open Space just west of the Rio Grande where we’d had a good list of bird sightings on a recent Thursday Birder outing. Not so many birds that day, but a couple more porcupines. Along the irrigation ditch, it was surprising to spot a pair of Mallards mating. I’d just seen that on a PBS show the night before, but it took me a second to realize that’s what was going on.
A couple of days later, it was off to Willow Creek Open Space in far north Corrales and a couple stops in Corrales on the way home. Pretty far-fetched, but I’d hoped to see the bobcats folks had photographed at Willow Creek and to make a first search for the Great Horned Owls that usually nest there, but it was a little windy that morning and there wasn’t much to see. It was cool to see a Great Blue Heron working the irrigation ditch in Corrales and to see a few different ducks, including this American Wigeon.
Last week, I drove to San Antonio, Texas, to visit my mother for a few days. A 12-hour drive, this time I decided to take my time getting there and took off a couple days early hoping to get out of town ahead of what sounded like a nasty weekend of rain and snow. While I beat the rain, it was still a little tricky running into dense fog on several occasions and some crazy high winds on the one stretch of two-lane highway on the route. Did the tour loop at Bitter Lakes NWR the first day before heading on to Artesia, NM, for the night, and although the weather still wasn’t great did see a Great Egret, a couple of hawks, White-faced Ibis, a good mix of ducks, and a Loggerhead Shrike.
Eventually, I arrived in Boerne, Texas, in the Hill Country just outside of San Antonio, a little while before my sister and mother would drive up to meet me. To kill some time before they arrived, it was fun to check out some of the birds in Cibolo Creek that runs through the downtown park and to take a quick look around nearby Cibolo Nature Center. Pretty cloudy day, but I’d see quite a few local birds that we either don’t have or rarely see further west, such as Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Carolina Wren, and Tufted Titmouse. The park had a couple of Great Egrets, one of which seemed oblivious to the presence of people,
large numbers of Lesser Scaup, a few Muscovy Ducks,
and some introduced Egyptian Geese.
At Cibolo Nature Center, I got incredibly close looks at both a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and this Carolina Wren,
and got a pretty good look at a Tufted Timouse calling loudly from a tree near their marshy area.
There were some pretty good birds in my mother’s neighborhood on the southwestern edge of San Antonio, too, but we were busy and the weather not very cooperative for any pictures. During the four days I was there, however, we’d spot a couple of interesting hawks I never identified, flocks of 30-40 Meadowlarks (never able to decide if they were Eastern or Western), a pair of Brown Thrashers, an American Kestrel, and another Loggerhead Shrike. On my visits there in the past, there have always been good birds and butterflies, many of which we rarely if ever see in New Mexico. Blasted for home before dawn on Thursday on the straight 12-hour drive through more of that dense fog and high winds most of the day, but glad I made the visit and good to get back home to start getting outside again.