Birds of Early Winter

A month into winter and for the most part it continues to be a rather mild one for Albuquerque. Somehow, though, I haven’t gotten out as often as usual or taken nearly as many photographs as is typical for me. Still, it’s been fun to see a few of those birds that tend to show up around here for the winter and to get a few decent shots of some of them. A long morning shortly after the New Year began had me out checking out a few of my usual spots near the river, including Alameda Open Space, Los Poblanos Open Space, and the Rio Grande Nature Center. Among a nice variety of birds working the irrigation ditch at Alameda was this immature White-crowned Sparrow that didn’t immediately fly off with the others as I approached.

White-crowned Sparrow (immature)

At Los Poblanos, of course I had to check the screech-owl boxes to see if any of them were out sunning. Of the three boxes I’m pretty sure are occupied just now, I’d only see one that day and again about a week later.

Western Screech-Owl

A Say’s Phoebe posed nicely for me that morning as well,

Say’s Phoebe

and it was entertaining to spot a couple of the resident Greater Roadrunners all fluffed up in the cold hoping to catch a little warmth from the sun.

Greater Roadrunner

At the Nature Center I mostly headed straight to the Rio Grande to see if any Bald Eagles were about since I’d regularly seen them in a particular spot across the river in past years.  Didn’t spot them this time, but did get nice long looks at a small flock of Cedar Waxwings perched in the Russian olive trees.

Cedar Waxwing

Heading back along the Bosque Trail to my car, however, I did have a young eagle take off from its perch in a nearby dead cottonwood and circle ever higher above me before it headed off in the distance. That had me looking the next morning during our Audubon Thursday Birder outing to Pueblo Montano Open Space on the west side of the river across from the Nature Center. An unusually overcast and cool morning kept the birds out of sight at first (other than the Pied-billed Grebe seen right off in the ditch near the parking area), but we’d end the morning with a good number of species. And sure enough as we got to our first view of the river, we’d spot two mature Bald Eagles, one directly across the river being harrassed by a number of crows and one on our side of the river but far to the north.

Also seen that day was the perfect cavity for a Western Screech-Owl that had a few telltale feathers around the opening, pretty strong evidence for a cavity actively being used by an owl. Naturally, I had to check it out again the next morning, but still have yet to see anybody home. As long as I was there, I checked the river again for Bald Eagles and saw two of them still on the east side of the river, so it was back to the Nature Center in hopes of sneaking up on them. I poked along slowly starting from the Aldo Leopold Trail a little north of the center where from out on a sandbar I’d see the birds had flown a little further south, and then headed that way hoping to spot them before they moved on. I did finally get lucky, seeing both of the adults on the same branch of a snag close to the river, but first one and then the other took off when I tried to get just a few steps closer.

Bald Eagle

Continuing down the trail to the river, it seemed pretty clear the eagles had staked out that spot because it was close to a small flock of Sandhill Cranes on a sandbar.

Sandhill Crane

On the first Saturday of 2018, Rebecca and I spent a little time at Valle de Oro NWR, where we finally got some close-up looks at some of the Horned Larks that we’d been seeing in large swirling flocks along the Rio Grande several times earlier in the week.

Horned Lark

Also seen that day, surprisingly, was a Northern Mockingbird, a bird we don’t usually see here in winter. On checking eBird at home later that afternoon, I’d seen that others had reported it already for that day.

Northern Mockingbird

Last week’s Audubon Thursday Birders trip had a line of cars driving along dirt roads out in Torrance County on our annual trip to see a variety of raptors that hang out there during the winter. Unlike most years, there wasn’t any snow covering the fields and while it was a bit colder than I had expected, a fairly stiff breeze had those raptors off hiding somewhere rather than perched on their usual telephone poles, trees, and irrigation equipment. Still, we’d end the morning with more birds than people, including several Loggerhead Shrikes and a rare sighting for this time of year of a large flock of Long-billed Curlews off in the distance. Having to leave the group early, it was a treat to see a Ferruginous Hawk just as I headed for home. I’ll have to make a point to get back out there soon when it’s not windy to look for a few more of these guys in their usual spots.

Ferruginous Hawk

This past weekend, I headed out early to Willow Creek Open Space at the northern end of Rio Rancho, unsuccessfully hoping to see the family of bobcats regularly spotted there and to look around to see if their Great Horned Owls had yet shown up. No bobcats and few birds, but I am starting to see porcupines snoozing away in the trees just about everywhere I go these days.


About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Critters, Photographs. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Birds of Early Winter

  1. Rebecca Gracey says:

    The feathery crests of the Cedar Waxwings are fun to see. That’s a very nice picture.

    • joeschelling says:

      Thanks. It was fun seeing and getting to show them to a couple moms with kids, especially since the birds were so close in a short olive tree and stayed around for quite awhile.

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