The autumn colors have been spectacular for the last few weeks, but that show is just about over after our first taste of cold wind and a little wintry snow this morning. Most days I get out wandering around my usual birding locations sometimes hoping to see a particular species, but am usually content just to be out there and see what pops up. Some of those days at this time of year very few birds appear and I might not take any photographs, but other days are just the opposite.
The Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Embudito Canyon on the first of the month was one of those really good birding days. Checking it out on my own on a pretty regular basis hadn’t been turning up many birds recently. One would think with such a large group as usually turns out for these walks the birds would be harder to spot, but somehow having lots of folks looking in all directions tends to help us see quite a few species and especially that day some pretty unusual ones. Three remarkable species seen that day I’d never seen there before included a female Northern Harrier, a bird more typically seen flying low over open fields,
and a Merlin, a bird I’ve only seen a few times in the past down by the Rio Grande (not the greatest picture, but good enough to document the sighting).
The third unusual sighting for the day was a Peregrine Falcon, too far away for me to attempt to photograph. I don’t see them all that often anywhere either, but they do breed in protected areas in the Sandia Mountains.
That Saturday, Rebecca and I drove down to the Bernardo Waterfowl Area to check out the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese that have started to arrive, but again found the entrance gate locked. Although they are supposed to be open most days for wildlife viewing, there doesn’t seem to be any information online about closures so you find out when you get there. Fortunately, Sevilleta NWR is just a bit further down the road and it’s not that much further to other birding locations near Socorro or even Bosque del Apache NWR. Also along the way was San Lorenzo Canyon, a place we’d heard about recently but had put off visiting after reading a 4 wheel drive vehicle is “highly recommended” for the drive. My Subaru can do that if the road isn’t too ridiculous, so we gave it a shot figuring we could always turn around. Turned out not to be all that difficult a drive most of the way on a graded dirt road, but then the last part basically driving up a wash with a couple of areas of deep sand and one or two lumpy spots, and we made it just fine (Later, a ranger would tell me conditions vary depending on flash floods, runoff and such). Anyway, a very cool spot that will definitely require future visits. First thing you see are some interesting geologic outcrops, this one explained as a good example of a geologic unconformity,
the tilted sandstone and mudstone layers being 7-10 million years old, capped by that horizontal layer that’s only 0.5 million years old. Continuing a short distance further up the wash brings you to an area of slot canyons and various rock formations.
It was fun poking around some of the canyons and walking a little further up the wash, and I plan to get back there again to explore it all in more detail.
I’d heard the Western Screech-Owl was being seen again at Columbus Park and was successful Monday morning finding it at home.
I’ve been a little surprised lately that owls are already being seen and in the same spots as before, since usually I don’t see any until late December or after they start nesting in late February and only sometimes in the same locations. So that had me this week out looking in those few places I’ve seen them before, but this one and those mentioned in my last blog posting are the only ones I’ve seen around town so far. While doing that, I did come across a Ladder-backed Woodpecker one morning in Corrales,
and also had a large flock of Wild Turkeys wandering around the neighborhood blocking traffic and apparently unaware of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.
So many folks showed up for last week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip that we split into two groups to walk the Open Space Visitor Center and nearby bosque. Even with two still large groups, we ended up with a pretty good list of species although missing several expected species and having some pretty quiet stretches on the trails. Along one line of trees at the north end of the property, we were a bit surprised to see four species of woodpecker, including quite a few Hairy Woodpeckers, a species we never see nearly as often as Downy Woodpecker or Northern Flicker.
Roadrunners showed up in a number of locations, usually acting as if they wanted us to pay attention to them.
Last Saturday ended up being a pretty amazing day, with Rebecca and I heading out following her suggestion of looking for birds in the Moriarty/Estancia area. We started out by taking a look around Arthur Park in Estancia, where there’s a large pond and some cattails, tall cottonwoods, and big weeping willows. The pond seems to attract a few ducks (and had a kingfisher and sandpiper on an earlier visit); those trees attracted plenty of warblers. We’d first visited this park in early September and both thought it seemed a likely spot for an owl, but didn’t see any on that trip after taking a pretty good look. An eBird report listed two Great Horned Owls seen there in late October, however, so we took some time looking a little harder. Just as we were about to give up and head back to the car, I just happened to spot them way the heck up in a cottonwood. In the photo below, you can see one down in the lower left – that’s the one that first caught my eye as about the right size and shape but sitting up more vertical than most of the surrounding branches; other one’s there in the upper right.
Unlike most of the ones I usually see, these two were much higher in the tree and neither one deigned to turn to look at me. Here’s a little closer look at the one on the left.
Seeing those two more than made my day, but then we toodled around the back roads toward Moriarty and added a few more special birds. We got to see several Loggerhead Shrikes out there, a species whose numbers are down and we tend to see more in the winter.
As usual, there were several American Kestrels in the area but the possibility of one of them turning out to be a Merlin, Peregrine Falcon, or Prairie Falcon had us giving them all a good look; one that kept flying off as we got closer would turn out to be a Prairie Falcon, one of the very few times I’ve seen that species (again, not the greatest photo but enough to nail the identification).
We’d also see several young Red-tailed Hawks, this one much more strikingly marked than most,
and a Ferruginous Hawk that has arrived for the winter.
While we wouldn’t see any of the longspurs that Rebecca was hoping to find, we did get a few Horned Lark flocks flying about and had one individual pose on a fencepost close to the car for several minutes, totally oblivious to our presence (or maybe just wanted to be famous).