There have been a few fun photo opportunities over the last two weeks I’ll share in this post. Oddly enough, the weather continues to be quite mild around here. Although most days start out a bit chilly, they usually warm up into the 50s and even 60s with clear, sunny skies by the afternoon. We could definitely use some winter precipitation, but haven’t seen much of that at all for some time now.
Almost three weeks ago, the Audubon Thursday Birders spent the whole morning at Valle de Oro NWR seeing a good number of birds by driving around the fields and then walking the bosque trails to the Rio Grande. One of the best sightings was at the end while we were going through the list when a female Northern Harrier flew right over the group and then circled around several times fairly low.
While walking through the bosque, we’d also see a couple of porcupines snoozing away in the trees and in the weeds had Song Sparrows
and four Spotted Towhees, assumedly a family group, in the same area.
After the walk, Rebecca and I drove to to Los Lunas to feed two stray cats we’d first met on Christmas Day. So obviously famished they quickly ate the leftover bits from our lunch that day, and then some official cat food we picked up at a nearby gas station and brought to them. Since then, we’ve been back every other day usually seeing both cats who continue to eat all the food we bring, along with the stray french fry, leftover burrito, and whatever else they come across. Rebecca named them on that very first visit; this is Kale (he was the one who first lapped up our leftover kale salad)
and this is Luna (she’s named for the Village of Los Lunas where we found them).
While they do seem to recognize us and usually come running for the food, they’re still too wary to let us get too close let alone try to pet them. But these two need to be rescued before a coyote or raptor spots them or even a bad stretch of weather hits, so we’re working with animal rescue folks to trap them, have them neutered and then Rebecca’s adopting them.
The next day while strolling around Embudito Canyon, a rather cooperative Curve-billed Thrasher posed nicely for me.
This year, there seem to be quite a few Curve-billed Thrashers in the wash along with a few Crissal Thrashers. A most unusual Golden-crowned Sparrow has been seen in a flock of White-crowned Sparrows at a feeder near the parking lot by a number of folks, but I’ve yet to spot it despite several recent visits.
The following week, Audubon Thursday Birders again had a successful day at Alameda Open Space. Despite having quite a large crowd of about 36 birders, we still exceeded our success criterion of more bird species than people. While we didn’t see the quite rare American Woodcock that our leader Gale had seen on her scouting visit a couple of days earlier, it was a treat to get good looks at an immature Bald Eagle.
Leaving the group at the conclusion of the walk, a few of us went to look for the Western Screech-Owl roosting in a natural cavity that a friend had heard about and had been reported on eBird a week earlier. Fortunately, there were only a few cottonwood trees with potential in the area and we spotted it without having to look too hard. Quite a few birders have been to see it since and I’ve even made a couple of return visits. Hopefully it feels safe enough high in that tree that it isn’t too bothered by all of us lookie loos.
A few days later, Rebecca and I headed out to the east mountains to participate in Audubon’s Climate Watch Survey, where every six months folks return to their 12 survey locations to identify and count all the birds seen in a 5 minute period; target birds are bluebirds and nuthatches. After doing our counts, we returned to the area south of Moriarty where the Thursday Birders had been on January 11 hoping to see a few more of the raptors that we’d missed on that earlier windy day. Much better luck this time, seeing (and my first picture of one ever) a Prairie Falcon,
and the Rough-legged Hawk that wasn’t around on the first trip.
We’d also see Ferruginous Hawk, Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and even a Loggerhead Shrike. A Western Meadowlark posed nicely on a fence for me, showing off its bright yellow chest.
A couple of days later, I was back at Pueblo Montano Open Space wanting to check again on a possible screech-owl cavity I’d seen early in the month, but while it still had a tell tale feather on the cavity, I still haven’t seen any owls. A few other good birds that day, however, included this pair of American Wigeon,
a skulking Hermit Thrush (first I’ve seen this year),
and a Cooper’s Hawk bathing in the irrigation ditch who paid no attention at all to me taking its picture from the other side of the ditch.
That area always has a few porcupines about, and on my loop through the trees there that morning, I’d see at least five individuals doing their thing.
This week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip was, as usual, a successful walk around Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen. Highlight of the day for me, was a male Northern Harrier flying reasonably close to the group. While we usually see females flying low over the fields at this time of year (and would see one that day), males, called “the gray ghost”, are just not seen anywhere very often.
This is the time of year that the Great Horned Owls should be picking out nest sites, which they should start occupying sometime this month. Once they do, they’ll be on or near the nest for about three months until they disappear again for the year. Of course, that’s got me out looking for them and identifying occupied sites before the trees leaf out in the spring. Not much luck so far this year, but then I haven’t really been trying too hard yet. Two days in a row last week in the same spot in Piedras Marcadas Dam, however, I did see this one, so indeed the games are about ready to begin!