While most of the country seems to be dealing with really cold temperatures and a fair amount of snow, the weather around here the last couple of weeks has been unusually mild with temperatures reaching the mid-60s most days, clear and sunny. Recent Audubon Thursday Birder outings to Tingley Ponds and the Rio Grande Nature Center turned up good numbers of species under much more comfortable conditions than typical for this time of year. One of the last species we’d add at Tingley was the Wood Duck, a good number of which were seen in one of the fishing ponds as the group was going through their species list. These are both males, but there were a number of females in the large group.
A couple of days later on a quick trip to Embudito Canyon, I spotted a Crissal Thrasher in the middle of the arroyo – at first all I saw through my binoculars was its bright chestnut rear; not usually easy to see but rather definitive. Getting a bit closer showed off some of its other characteristics different from the Curve-billed Thrashers more commonly seen there.
On Christmas Eve, I wandered around Alameda Open Space hoping (unsuccessfully) to get a picture of a displaying Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Instead, I happened to notice a few Cedar Waxwings perched quietly in about the only tree along the irrigation ditch that had any birds, but for some reason that tree attracted nearly a dozen species.
Another visitor to that tree was a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a species that can be quite common around here at this time of year.
On Christmas Day, Rebecca and I headed south looking around several spots around Belen and Los Lunas for a few birds. A highlight of the day was getting close views of large numbers of Sandhill Cranes in the cornfields of Los Lunas, including this family group.
The next day was the Sandia Mountain Christmas Bird Count – great weather once again if a bit windy at times and a good variety and number of birds seen. For that count, our friend, Bonnie, joined Rebecca and I cruising around our assigned area on both sides of I-40 east of Tijeras. At the compilation dinner that evening, I ran into an acquaintance who works at Albuquerque Academy who told me where their Great Horned Owls are hanging out, so naturally I had to go look for them.
It really is amazing how such large birds can hide in plain sight. The only way I saw these guys was first knowing they had to be in that tree and second looking closely from every angle several times before finally spotting that flash of white on the chest of one of them. I’d first seen one on December 22, and then returned on December 30 hoping (successfully) to see the pair, and was surprised to see them both so close together. It was too bizarre taking another look at my pictures from December 22 to realize both owls were right there in the pictures, too, but at the time I’d only realized one was there.
More obvious there was a Red-tailed Hawk sitting out in the open near the parking area.
The last day of 2017 while heading back from the west side of town, I thought to drop in to see if that American Dipper was still around. First seen on December 14, people had continued to report it hanging around the same area ever since. And sure enough, even with about four guys fishing in the irrigation ditch the bird was easily seen and was busy going about its business, first perched just above the water looking around and then walking along often completely under water as it searched for food.
And to kick the New Year off on a promising note, a visit to Embudito on the first day of the New Year may have turned up only a few birds, but one in particular was pretty special, the first Sage Thrasher I’ve ever seen there – a bird I rarely see and usually quite far away when I do.
On first seeing it, I’d assumed it was the more common Hermit Thrush that also has a streaked breast, but looking at the picture at home later had me thinking it was the thrasher. Friend and expert, Judy, confirmed its identity for me shortly afterward.