After several long weeks of cold, wind and clouds around here, the weather has finally turned a bit nicer the last few days – sunny, calm, and best of all, temperatures pushing 60. That could change as we usually get another blast or two of cold and maybe even snow before spring gets here, but it certainly makes it easier to get outside and take some pictures. It seems the birds are still staying pretty quiet, but at least they’re a little easier to spot on sunny days. Audubon Thursday Birders had a great day last week on their visit to Alameda Open Space in the bosque along the Rio Grande, seeing something like 40+ species. One of the very first birds we’d spot (other than a lone male Mallard working the parking lot for something to eat) was this female Belted Kingfisher.
This was quickly followed by an American Kestrel and a quick disappearing act by a Wilson’s Snipe. We’d track down that snipe a short time later, sitting there in plain sight (if you really knew where to look!).
That was one of the few times I’ve ever seen one that out in the open and in good light. Returning almost a week later, once again a snipe flushed from the side of the irrigation ditch only to quickly vanish into the grass on the shady side of the ditch. At the end of my walk there that morning, I carefully scanned the shady side from the other side of the ditch in the hopes of spotting it again. Typically almost invisible in a small opening in the grasses, I just managed to pick out one sitting there head-on to me as you can see in this well-cropped image – it tried its best to hide, but expecting to see one somewhere in the area and that round shape gave it away.
I’d been seeing reports of several folks having fun with Bald Eagles at the Isleta Fishing Ponds recently, so made my way down there on a chilly Sunday morning. Having never been there before, it did seem worth the nominal $2 visitor pass for spotting a variety of ducks, a couple of hawks (Red-tailed Hawk and Northern Harrier), and even a Great Blue Heron, but I wasn’t having any luck with the Bald Eagles after two slow passes around the ponds. Finally, I spotted an immature Bald Eagle in the distance and drove around closer where it perched in a taller cottonwood, then flew out over the ponds and into a different tree, making a circuit back to the first tree and occasionally even landing on the ground. Here’s a sequence of shots of it heading back to that first tree,
sticking the landing,
and posing in the sun.
I might just have to go back there again soon to look for those adults that have been around, or maybe wait for next week’s Thursday Birder trip to Bosque del Apache NWR where I see my friend, Judy, saw several of them earlier today.
Isleta is a little south of Albuquerque and just north of Los Lunas, so I figured I might as well take a look at “Owlville” before heading back north. Although our Burrowing Owls tend to migrate a ways south over the winter and aren’t usually seen around here for a few more months, it looks like one of them hung around for the winter and obligingly posed for me that morning.
Heading back to town, a stop at Tingley Ponds seemed in order since there’d been a report of the Western Screech-Owl again taking up residence where it was seen last year. Nobody home on my visit at that spot or at several other spots I’d seen them last year, but there were some good waterbirds, such as this Pied-billed Grebe,
and at least 3 porcupines hanging out in the trees that were fun to point out to folks.
My final stop that morning was the Rio Grande Nature Center (one of the locations for those Western Screech-Owls in the past). More porcupines, but no owls to be seen. Heading back to the car, there was a guy with one of those huge lenses and a tripod intently focused on taking a picture of something that turned out to be a Greater Roadrunner maybe 20 yards down the path. Another couple and I waited a minute or so for this guy to snap his picture, then started walking along the path toward it. Accustomed to people, I guess, as it let us get quite close before running off into the brush.
Monday saw me headed to Elena Gallegos Open Space for the bluebirds, but while I saw a number of Eastern and Western Bluebirds, none of my target Mountain Bluebirds seemed to be around (or the Western Screech-Owl we had there last year). One of the Eastern Bluebirds did consent to pose for me, however.
Yesterday, I made a long visit to Pueblo Montano Open Space near the Bosque School for four more porcupines and a few more good birds. The birds were being incredibly quiet that morning but would sometimes either be sitting out in the open or move just enough for me to spot them. Close to the river was an adult Cooper’s Hawk catching some sun way high in a tree,
and later along the irrigation ditch, an immature (yellow rather than red eye) flew into a tree and regularly called attention to itself. (2/6/17 Update: I’m told this is more likely also an adult with that pattern of breast feathers, but with that yellow eye still fairly young.)
Along the river was a Great Blue Heron, a couple of Common Mergansers, Canada Geese, Mallards, and a few other ducks all pretty far away, but along the mudflats, I just happened to spot a quiet Spotted Sandpiper doing its typical bobbing act,
and an even quieter Killdeer who stood looking around in the same spot for at least ten minutes.
This morning’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area was again a success with quite a few more species seen than I would have expected at this time of year. Lots of bluebirds and cedar waxwings, several Northern Harriers,
huge flocks of Canada Geese flying over, Sandhill Cranes in the fields, and plenty of other good birds to see. Tramping across one of the fields, one of the group noticed a dead Barn Owl that we later took back to the Visitor Center to possibly have mounted for a display. I don’t see Barn Owls very often at all and had never seen one there before, and it was fascinating to examine it at close range despite the tragic nature of its demise.