Still a bit chilly and wintry weather around here lately, but looks like a stretch of warm sunny weather is on its way taking us closer toward spring. Large flocks of Sandhill Cranes have been flying over town heading north and they’re not being seen much any more and our Bald Eagles also seem to be heading out, but we’re starting to see a few new guys in town. Biggest surprise Wednesday was to hear of a Mexican Spotted Owl hanging out in one of the two ponderosa pines next to the Visitor Center at Petroglyph National Monument. Most unusual, it’s never been seen in town before, it’s been years since it was seen in the Sandias, and is only rarely reported in the Jemez Mountains about an hour north of here. Reported first on Facebook around noon, I headed over about 2pm hoping it would still be there (I’d missed the most unusual Northern Saw-whet Owl at the Rio Grande Nature Center last month by waiting until the next day.). Not only did I get to see it (at eye-level, no less), but it stayed the night and was there all the next day. It seemed pretty oblivious to visitors on my visit, but by now plenty of people have been by to visit and out of concern for the bird they’re no longer allowing visitors.
Last week’s Thursday Birder outing checked out Willow Creek Open Space in northern Rio Rancho and despite the cold and windy morning chalked up a success of 23 birders spotting 23 species. Fun for me was pointing out their Great Horned Owl nest that I’d located earlier, but she was still tucked in there pretty good so some folks took a look and then kept going without spotting her.
My friend, Kelly, was first to spot the male sitting in exactly the same spot he’d been in when I’d first found the nest. Not for the first time, it took me a second to pick him out even knowing where to look.
It’s interesting to me how they almost always have a leaf or a twig or something between them and you to help their disguise and amazing how they figure that out or teach it to their kids. Just like last time, he waited there patiently (move along, nothing to see here, just another branch you can ignore) while everybody got pictures.
Another highlight of that morning was a nice flock of Mountain Bluebirds. I’d been looking for them for the last few weeks, so it was great that one posed relatively close by.
On Tuesday, I checked in on a few other Great Horned Owl nest possibilities on the west side of the Rio Grande. Didn’t see any at several spots in Corrales or around Alameda Open Space, and nobody seemed to be home in Calabacillas Arroyo again. Though I’d seen two adults in Calabacillas a few times earlier in the month where they’ve nested the last couple of years, they seem to have moved on and haven’t been around on my last visits. At Piedras Marcadas Dam, they are still messing with me and I’ll spot at least one adult on every visit but they still don’t seem to have started nesting. On this visit, one of them had at least discovered the tree with that really nice nest the Cooper’s Hawks used last year.
Again this time, however, it hung around just long enough for one picture before flying off when I turned my back. This guy for some reason spooks easier than any of the others I’ve seen so probably best to keep my distance and check in less often. It’s smart that the owls typically claim the old nests before the hawks return; last year I once saw a Cooper’s Hawk there harassing a nesting owl, calling from just feet away and nearly attacking it on a quick fly-by. The Coops are back now, with one flying in to a tall cottonwood
and continuously calling out to claim the territory, so the owls better get with the program soon.
My next stop was along an arroyo off of Montano where one nested last year. Nobody home at that spot, but a treat to spot her in a much better nest this year several hundred yards further down the arroyo.
This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip took us to the National Hispanic Cultural Center, where we parked to explore the bosque along the east side of the Rio Grande. A nice enough morning at a new location for the group, but pretty quiet bird-wise for most of the morning. Still we ended up with as many species as we had people (if we included two that were heard but not seen) including one spot on the river with a pair of Great Blue Herons and the last of our Sandhill Cranes. A highlight of the morning was spotting a pair of American Kestrels pretty far away checking out several dead snags for their nest-definitely worth a return visit soon to see if they choose one of those spots.
Since it’s certainly time, but still a little chilly, I also took a quick look around for butterflies in Embudito Canyon yesterday, and was thrilled to see the return of our first spring butterflies for the year, a Southwestern Orangetip (Anthocharis thoosa) and a couple of Sandia Hairstreaks (Callophrys mcfarlandi) -not a great picture, but photographed one of them for the record.
Weather’s looking pretty good the next couple of days and most of next week, so I’ll definitely be getting out more often to see what else might be flying.