Moving into December it does get darker and colder but it’s good to see more and more species returning for the winter (or at least more visible now that the leaves have fallen). One of my favorites that I’m pretty sure is here year-round, but much easier to see without those leaves is the Porcupine, this one unusually low in a tree next to a trail. A bit unusual to see one so alert during the day, but there was a rather large group of colorful birders standing around staring at this guy that morning.
Birding was a little slow at first on the last Audubon Thursday Birder outing in November to the Corrales Bosque, but the group ended up with a good list for the season and weather. Interestingly, a number of species were seen right at the end of the walk at a watering spot that all the birds seemed to enjoy. A highlight for me (and everybody else) were several Cedar Waxwings that would come to the water for a bit before flying off and returning a few minutes later. My first good look at this species in some time, this was also the first time I’ve gotten a photo or even noticed those waxy red wingtips on a couple of the birds.
On the first of December, Rebecca and I drove down to an eBird hotspot, the Longspur Tank, east of San Antonio hoping to see one or more species of longspur that recently had been reported there and at locations. A rather brisk and breezy morning while we were there, we did see a couple of Chestnut-collared Longspurs in with a large flock of maybe 50 Horned Larks that would swoop in (but never very close), grab a quick drink and then disappear in the wind.
We’d planned to just hang out for awhile waiting to see what would show up, but that cold wind convinced us to save that for another day. Since we were in the area, we decided to check out Bosque del Apache NWR after a quick stop in San Antonio for a Phainopepla where we can usually find them.
Quite common anywhere around here at this time of year is the White-crowned Sparrow. So common I’ve got way too many photos of them, but I liked the light on this one waiting in the shade before going down for a drink.
We were teased by several Northern Harriers that would appear low and close while I was driving, naturally heading for the hills long before I could get my camera ready. It’s been interesting how many male harriers we’re seeing this year, since it’s usually much more often females are seen. We didn’t try all that hard, but it was a little surprising we didn’t come across the usual huge flocks of Snow Geese (although occasionally they’d lift off in the distance) and only saw a single immature Bald Eagle. Plenty of Sandhill Cranes, of course. We did have some good sightings at the large pond right as you enter the refuge, including an alert Killdeer,
several Bufflehead (this one showing off quite a bit of color) in among all the Northern Shovelers,
and, first for the year and a species I’ve been looking for the last month or so, a Wilson’s Snipe.
Determined to get a picture since it was out in the open, I tried sneaking up on it, but it’d quickly scoot off a short distance away and do a remarkable job of hiding in the limited amount of cover available. On my third attempt, it took to the air to put some distance between us and I managed this shot of it coming in for a landing before deciding I’d best leave it to go on about its business.
A few days later wandering around Pueblo Montano Open Space near the Rio Grande, I’d spot another winter species I’d been waiting to see for the last month, a Bald Eagle.
This adult apparently had been dining on a rather large fish it caught that I hadn’t noticed until it took off up river to dine in private.
The next day, I headed back to Corrales thinking maybe I’d find Cedar Waxwings again along a different stretch of the bosque than we’d gone the previous week. No luck on the waxwings, but I did see a good mix of species for this time of year. At my first stop, this Downy Woodpecker was just so focused on tapping the branches of this bush that he totally ignored me while I watched for at least ten minutes.
Then later, while walking the irrigation ditch from La Entrada to Dixon Road, I’d see a male Belted Kingfisher, who’d (typically) let me get just so close before flying a short distance further away,
Great Blue Heron,
and get a pretty good shot of a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet.
Surprising to me, since I’m really not at all good at sparrow identification, was spotting a White-throated Sparrow working the brush alongside the irrigation ditch.
You can’t see that white throat in this next picture of the same bird, but those yellow eyebrows are my main clue it’s not a White-crowned Sparrow, and this picture shows it from a rather unusual perspective.
Another highlight of that morning was spotting the Great Horned Owl that I’d seen there a few times back in March and April. Admittedly, I had to spend some time and look pretty hard at that stretch of trees, but just had a feeling it might be around. Absolutely incredible how well such a big bird can hide in a tree with few leaves, but from one particular spot next to the trail something about the view had me look close, and there it was (naturally looking right at me!).
It was rather cloudy that day, so 3 days later I returned thinking the day would be sunnier and maybe the owl still there. Still kind of cloudy and once again I had to work pretty hard for it, but yep, there it was in a little bit different spot. To give you an idea of how well these guys can hide, here’s a shot of it from the path–that’s it in the top center of this picture lined up perfectly with the main trunk of the tree.
Once I knew what tree it was in, I circled back along the east side of the irrigation ditch to see if it was visible, and yep, if you know what to look for, those ears are perfectly obvious just a little left of center in this picture.
Returning along that route (I’d done it the opposite direction last time), this time I didn’t see the kingfisher but instead had two Great Blue Herons standing in the ditch, one of which marvelously took off and flew right over me.