Every year around this time, it’s always fun to spot a couple of Western Screech-Owls roosting in wooden nest boxes and natural tree cavities. I’ll usually see them from December to February. From what I read online, they don’t start breeding until March or April and I’ve yet to find an active nest or very rarely ever seen one during the rest of the year, but will hope to spot one in the coming months. This one in Columbus Park was seen and photographed by quite a few people this year, since it was in such an obvious spot and sat out in the open for several weeks.
At the time of this photograph, a Steller’s Jay was screaming at the owl from a nearby tree, long and loud enough that the owl opened its eyes to see what all the commotion was about. Later that morning, a Black Phoebe posed nicely for me along the irrigation ditch near Campbell Road.
A few days later on the Aubudon Thursday Birder trip to Bosque del Apache NWR, it was a treat to see another one in the same cavity we’d had one in January 2013 – of course, I look every time I’m down there but this is the first time since then we’ve seen it.
That was a most productive trip with the large group of 23 birders seeing a total of 66 species that day, including an unusual sighting of a Vermilion Flycatcher
and the more typical Phainopepla
and several Bald Eagles, who hang out down there for the winter.
Just about the time the screech-owls seem to disappear I should start finding nesting Great Horned Owls and have been looking around locations we’ve had them in the past. A little surprised not to be seeing them yet, but it is still a little early in the season and I’m thinking our mild winter this year may have delayed their nesting. But finally last week there was a report of an active nest in the same spot near Campbell Road as last year, so I had to go look. That nest was empty just a week earlier when I’d checked the day I got the picture of the Black Phoebe above. Returning a week later with my friend, Reuben, sure enough the female was hunkered down on that same nest as last year,
and looking around carefully in the area we’d seen the male last year, we eventually spotted him keeping an eye on things.
On the way back, we ran into a couple of other friends out to take a look and backtracked to show them. Along the way, we got nice looks at a Hairy Woodpecker, a bird I don’t see nearly as often as the smaller Downy Woodpecker and rarely at such a close distance.
A couple of days later, I checked in again with my Great Horned Owl at Piedras Marcadas Dam. I’ve seen this one several times in recent months, but so far haven’t seen its mate this year. They’re usually an odd pair, nesting later than most and choosing a different spot each time.
On that day, the owl (it’s difficult to make the call on whether it’s male or female) was a few trees over from where I’d last seen it and as I approached it flew off to an even more secluded spot. A Cooper’s Hawk noticed it when it flew and zoomed over to harass the owl, so I backed off and headed to my car. The owls tend to use old Cooper’s Hawk nests there, and I’ve seen the hawks get quite upset with nesting owls in the past. Once an owl has taken up residence, however, they seem to calmly ignore the hawk harassment.
Although it’s still a little early in the year for them to return from their wintering habitats further south, folks have been seeing a Burrowing Owl in “Owlville” down in Los Lunas, so one day this week I went to take a look. Seeing it rounds out the trifecta of our more common owl species, and this little guy was right where we’ve had several nesting pair over the last few years.
There are a couple of other owl species that can be seen here, some I have yet to see and maybe need to make an effort to track down. But I do hope to find a few more nesting Great Horned Owls in the coming weeks and continue looking for them in a number of locations we’ve had them in the past. On the way home from “Owlville” I looked around Tingley Ponds where there’s often a nest, but haven’t yet located an occupied one. There were a somewhat surprising good number of birds around that morning, including a variety of waterfowl such as the Northern Shoveler
and Ring-necked Duck.
A large number of cormorants were on the island of one of the fishing ponds, including on a closer dock what I think is a young Neotropic Cormorant.
The trees in the bosque seemed to have a good variety and number of the usual species, including this Eastern Bluebird
and one of a number of Northern Flickers, this one busy eating Russian Olives.