Shortest day of the year starts with the winter solstice at 9:28 tomorrow morning, and tho the days have been getting noticeably shorter so far other than a couple of cold snaps the weather still hasn’t gotten wintry around here. I’ve made several visits in the last month to Los Poblanos Open Space now that the raptors have returned along with a few Sandhill Cranes. On most visits, one or two Greater Roadrunners are seen wandering around the community garden in the NW corner of the open fields.
Most fun was seeing that the Western Screech-Owls have again taken up residence in several of the roosting boxes there. Of the five boxes I know of, three appear to be occupied these days. For the first time since I’ve been looking, the only one that faces north has somebody in it.
Another box nearby that has had an owl in the the past was being swarmed by just about every other bird in the neighborhood one afternoon, so while I didn’t see the owl that day there undoubtedly was one tucked inside. A few days later, I’d at first see an owl in the box way at the eastern end of the property, but then a White-breasted Nuthatch showed up that continued to harass the owl until it finally had enough and dropped down inside the box.
A real treat to see this past week with Audubon Thursday Birders was an American Dipper in an irrigation ditch in Shining River Open Space; most uncommon to see in this area and perfect that it stayed around for a few days and got counted in the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count (CBC) this past Sunday.
Tis the season for Christmas Bird Counts and last weekend Rebecca and I headed down to Bosque del Apache NWR for their CBC. We drove down on Friday to see what was flying on the refuge and to scout out our area north of the refuge and south of Hwy 380 for the count that started at 7am Saturday. On Friday, we’d get to see the huge flocks of Snow Geese take to the air whenever a Bald Eagle would appear, saw several Northern Harriers, Red-tailed Hawks, and American Kestrels patrolling the area or roosting in trees, and had lots of different ducks on some of the ponds. My favorite picture of the day, however, was this Great Blue Heron along one of the ditch roads.
A little chilly and breezy on the count day, but sunny weather brought out at least 115 species for the Bosque del Apache count. A few of the species we saw and that I got reasonably good pictures that day included a Phainopepla
birds we don’t see as far north as Albuquerque, along with a few others that we do see here but not usually as close or as much in the open, the Red-naped Sapsucker,
and American Pipit.
This year, we skipped the compilation party to head home a little earlier to get ready for the Albuquerque CBC that kicked off at dawn the next day. Our friends, Bernie and Pauline, who’ve helped us with our area of the Bosque count the last several years, were staying down there the next day and did go to the party to turn in our results.
For the Albuquerque CBC, Rebecca has long been responsible for southern Corrales and I’ve tagged along for most years since I retired in 2011. This year we were again joined by her friend, Bruce, and under marvelous late Fall weather conditions ended up with a good number of species, including several sightings of Cedar Waxwings, lots of Gambel’s Quail, and a couple of Greater Roadrunners – species that sometimes elude us, and unusual except for this irruption year, Steller’s Jays in good numbers. Preliminary results for the Albuquerque CBC have it with at least 110 species, which seems pretty good for a range of mostly urban habitats. Best picture I got that day was of a Yellow-rumped Warbler along a stretch of an irrigation ditch that turned up quite a few different species.
Unusual for me to see at any time was a muskrat sunning itself along that same ditch until it swam into its hidden burrow when it realized we were watching.
While out and about yesterday, I went back to that area hoping to photograph some of the birds we’d seen during the count. However, very few birds put in an appearance that morning due to the presence of a Cooper’s Hawk that was working its way along the ditch slightly ahead of me and pausing to perch in a tree until I’d catch up. I finally let him continue on his hunt, while I turned around to head back and saw a few more of the little birds starting to come out again now that the hawk had moved on.
One more Christmas Bird Count to go (for me), the Sandia CBC, held the day after Christmas and always interesting since we cover an area in the east mountains that I don’t normally visit. Also might just be that far into winter that we typically seem to run into a little snow and ice but that just makes it more fun.