Delightful Fall weather continues around here in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, with the golden leaves of the cottonwoods just starting to fade to brown and then fall away. Birds continue to remain quiet and mostly hidden, but the sandhill cranes, various ducks, and all the other winter migrants have been showing up. Right after Halloween with candy passed around by Rebecca before the walk, the Audubon Thursday Birders visited a new area for the group, the Cedro Creek Nature Trail in Otero Canyon near Tijeras. As expected from my scouting visits, birding was a little slow until we got to the limestone cliffs and small wetland area near the end of the trail. Once there, however, we had a nice variety of birds show up for the water that can be pretty scarce to find in the mountains. Highlight for me was having several Townsend’s Solitaires perched quite close unlike their usual spot high at the top of a ponderosa.
A few days later I returned to the east mountains to check out several spots along the Crest Highway, noting that they’d re-opened Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long after the bear closures since late summer, and that Cienega Canyon and Capulin Spring are now closed to cars for the winter. At Bill Spring, I was thrilled to see a Golden-crowned Kinglet flash its crown but flitting away before I could get a picture. Usually, they’re only seen (and not that often) in the evergreen trees high on the mountain, but this year are being seen at lower elevations and even in the foothills. Unfortunately, that was the only one I’d see despite several more attempts. On one of those visits, I did get a nice close view of a Hairy Woodpecker working the mossy branches for insects.
Heading up the mountain, I had to stop for a minute as a line of seven Wild Turkeys crossed the highway in single file near Tree Spring Trailhead, again disappearing before I could get that camera squared away. A single male, however, was hanging around Balsam Glade who did let me get a few photographs.
Along the trail to Kiwanis Meadow very close to Sandia Crest where I’ve seen Golden-crowned Kinglet in the past, on this trip it was very quiet for birds and few were seen. A slight movement just off the trail did catch my eye toward the end of my walk and after watching for movement, a Brown Creeper (always tough to photograph) finally popped into view and hung around for a couple of minutes at the base of the trees.
When I just can’t decide where to go or want a quick outing, it’s usually Embudito Canyon where you’ll find me. New for the season there recently was a Rock Wren that I usually only see there in winter.
Until the last couple of years, Scaled Quail were quite common there most of the year and Gambel’s Quail only rarely seen and usually only in winter, but more recently the Gambel’s Quail is more typically seen in good numbers and pretty much all year.
Fairly often but by no means guaranteed there is a Ladder-backed Woodpecker who usually gets my attention with its sharp one note call.
One day along the irrigation ditch north of Pueblo Montano, the cottonwoods were in full color and loaded with crows who seem to roam in large packs along the river this time of year.
It was also a treat that day to have a Belted Kingfisher making its way up and down the ditch, flying off as soon as anybody came anywhere close.
I’ve also made a few trips to Los Poblanos Open Space recently, where starting in the Fall a good number of Sandhill Crane, Canada Goose, and sometimes Snow Goose arrive to feed on the open fields along with a good variety of raptors. The cranes have started to arrive and there was a Red-tailed Hawk and several American Kestrels that day,
but no Northern Harrier or any of the other hawks that should show up soon. A surprise high in a very tall cottonwood I’d assumed at first was another American Kestrel turned out to be a Merlin, a species that I don’t often see.
A Say’s Phoebe posed nicely for me that day against that blue New Mexico sky.
We’re all surprised this year to be seeing lots of Steller’s Jay all over town and down by the river, definitely an irruption of a species we usually only see in the evergreens on the east side of the mountains and most often at higher elevations. This year, I’ve seen them at Piedras Marcadas Dam and a number of spots along the Rio Grande including this one from Pueblo Montano.
Last week with the 30th Annual Festival of the Cranes down at Bosque del Apache NWR, Rebecca and I headed south to first visit a friend in Silver City, stopping along the way at Elephant Butte, Truth or Consequences, Caballo Lake, and Percha Dam, before returning to stop in at the festival on Saturday. Pretty late in the season to see many butterflies, we did see a few still flying, including at Percha Dam both a Sleepy Orange
and a Mexican Yellow.
Sunset at Elephant Butte Lake is always fun with the sound of the waves providing background music to the usually amazing colors appearing in the clouds and reflecting off the mountains. We had a few good bird sightings while all that was going on, including a close pass by a Ring-billed Gull,
a trio of Western Grebes that would get fairly close before diving down only to reappear much farther away,
and a tiny Least Sandpiper carefully working its way along the beach searching for food.
A bit breezy out on Saturday when we got to Bosque del Apache, but fun running into quite a few birding friends, seeing my first Bald Eagle for the season, watching the thousands of snow geese take off when a large raptor flew over, and getting several chances to photograph some of the Northern Harriers that were patrolling the area.
Monday morning had me heading down to the Rio Grande Nature Center hoping to see the Hooded Mergansers that showed up last week and that I’d seen excellent photographs of the day before. They seem to be hanging around the Visitor Center Pond, but can be hidden off in the distance or behind the small islands. On my second try, they popped up near one of those islands and I got a decent shot of both the female on the left and the male on the right.
I had never noticed before that the male floats around with that white crest sometimes raised to its full height but then drops it almost all the way just before he dives below the surface. In the picture above, his crest seems to be in mid-position but I’d see him much later that day with it raised all the way.
Another guy out on the water that day was a Pied-billed Grebe whose photograph I like for that watery background.
Got home later that morning and fooled around most of the day until I got a surprise text message from birding friend (and fellow owl enthusiast) Kathy Covalt telling me she was at the Nature Center looking at a Northern Saw-whet Owl and she’d wait to show it to me if I had any interest in seeing it. Only seen there once before back in January, I’d missed it that time waiting to go the next day and being a species I’d never seen in the wild before, I quickly hopped in my car for the 20-minute drive. Spotted first by Matt Zmuda, it was directly across the path from the tree it had been seen in in January, and Matt had been there most of the afternoon showing it to others that had heard about it. Thrilled to find it still there when I arrived, and grateful to both of them for letting me know about it.