Definitely moving into Fall around here the last couple of weeks with a few of those spectacularly nice days as all the trees turn color along with a couple of cooler, rainy days, and today even a bit of snow for the foothills. Most interesting the last two weeks has been seeing a few birds around that are either passing through on migration or have returned for the season since they aren’t usually seen in the summer. Then there’s a couple other special sightings of a couple of owls, supposedly here year-round but that I almost never see for a few more months from now.
Two weeks ago, Audubon Thursday Birders were out on a rather chilly morning at Valle de Oro NWR for what turned out to be a pretty good trip. At several spots, we’d see good-sized flocks of mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers with maybe one or two other species.
The highlight for me that day was seeing a couple of shorebirds on the mud banks of the Rio Grande. After walking through the bosque to the riverbank, we’d first spotted them far upstream and couldn’t quite decide what species they were. But after getting much closer at a spot where you could get through the tall brush to the river, we did get good looks at a couple of Long-billed Dowitcher
and a Spotted Sandpiper.
A couple of days later, Rebecca and I returned to Bosque del Apache NWR where we’d hoped to get closer looks at a cool moth, the Nevada Buckmoth, that we’d seen flying around in good numbers a little more than a week before. After that much time had passed and having had at least one cold snap, we didn’t have very high expectations of getting to see it. It was a treat therefore not only seeing quite a few of them still flying, but spotting several quietly perched. We think it was mostly the males busy flying around while the females were the ones sitting around.
Along with all the moths, we noticed a few Common Buckeye butterflies that seemed to sit on the ground, flying up to chase any of the buckmoths that passed over.
One of the few butterflies we still have flying, these seem to have only recently started to be seen most places I’ve looked. Still a few dragonflies hanging out, too, but those I’ve seen recently turn out to be Variegated Meadowhawk.
Kind of fun at Bosque del Apache NWR seeing a couple of grebe species, including an Eared Grebe
and a Western Grebe.
More than a week later, back home at Tingley Ponds there was a Pied-billed Grebe, which is generally more common and can be seen there pretty much year-round.
A little more than a week ago, I stopped by Los Poblanos Fields wanting to see if the Sandhill Cranes had started arriving (a few were there already) and maybe a Northern Harrier or other raptor species who tend to show up there in late Fall (nothing but a Kestrel for me that day). Couldn’t help myself but take a look at the owl boxes to see if any of Western Screech-owls had yet appeared, although I usually don’t expect to see them until after the New Year. So it wasn’t too disappointing not to see any on my first pass, but after walking around the farm fields just happened to take one more look at the boxes close to where I had parked and there one was!
Checking back maybe a week later, no sign of anybody home in any of the boxes, but I did see a few feathers around the easternmost box which makes me think that box might well be occupied, too. Maybe you just gotta be there at the right time of day to get lucky to spot these guys. Stopping near the Open Space Visitor Center on the way home, it was fun to play tag up and down the irrigation ditch with a Belted Kingfisher. He’d only let me get so close before flying a little further down the ditch and wait for me to catch up – we’d do this about five times before he finally tired of the game and darted past me heading back to where we’d started.
I’d managed to spot a Great Horned Owl at Piedras Marcadas in mid-August and the end of September this year, and since I was in the area I decided to take a look there again last Friday. More typically, I’ll see Great Horned Owls while they’re nesting from late January until late April when they seem to just disappear one day after the little ones leave the nest and the trees leaf out for the summer. So, anyway, I looked around the huge cottonwoods where I’d seen the one before and after looking closely from different directions (it’s amazing how well a bird that large can disappear into the background), saw it sitting in the sun and snapped a quick picture.
It wasn’t until I got home to look at the pictures I noticed the second one there on the left. I did take a little time after that first picture to get a bit closer and a better angle on them where both of them are more obvious and definitely focused on whatever I was doing there. These birds seem a little more nervous having people around than most of the others I see, so I didn’t hang around for more than a minute before leaving them alone and heading back to the car.