The Days Before Christmas

The last two weeks leading up to Christmas tomorrow have included some remarkably nice weather for this time of year and some good bird sightings mostly from the three Christmas Bird Counts we’ve participated in so far this year.  On December 14, we joined the count for Sevilleta NWR, the next morning the count for Bosque del Apache NWR, and a week later the Albuquerque count. We’ll do one more, the count for the Sandia Mountains, the day after Christmas, when the weather is expected to turn a bit iffy with the weather forecast to get colder and with a good chance of snow.

Before our trip to Socorro for the first two counts, Rebecca and I did a little scouting for the area of Corrales we’re assigned to for the Albuquerque count. One of the birds we’d see that day but miss during the count was a Black Phoebe, normally rather common along the irrigation ditches.

Black Phoebe

At a spot further down the ditch a Great Blue Heron posed regally from its tall perch. We would see one during the official count, but only from a distance standing in the ditch.

Great Blue Heron

A treat to see that day but would also miss on count day were a couple of Green-winged Teal, this one really flashing that green wing patch.

Green-winged Teal

We enjoyed the Sevilleta count that Friday, where we got to drive and walk areas normally behind locked gates near the small settlement of San Acacia. A nice sunny day that warmed up nicely, but we wouldn’t turn up too many species. Interestingly, however, was that some birds, such as Eastern Bluebird and American Kestrel, were rather unusual for that area while common maybe 25 miles south around Bosque del Apache NWR in what seemed to me fairly similar habitat.

For the Bosque del Apache count the next day, Rebecca has long been responsible for the area within the count circle north of the refuge to Hwy 380 through the town of San Antonio, NM which we’ve done together for the last several years along with our friends Bernie and Pauline (and Lenny the dog). We had some good sightings that day, starting with a Phainopepla in a spot we’ve seen one before and right next to the car,


a Verdin, again in a likely location – not a great photo, but I’ll keep working on getting a better one,


most of the usual suspects, including large numbers of Western Meadowlarks in several spots.

Western Meadowlark

I’d have never looked for that Verdin if Rebecca hadn’t recognized one calling as we drove slowly past some mesquite bushes. Her incredible birding by ear skills would later turn up a most unusual species, a small group of five Inca Dove buried in a large flock of other more commonly seen doves.

Inca Dove

I can’t say I ever even detected that soft call, let alone would have recognized (as Rebecca did instantly) it as anything unusual. Good find!

Late in the afternoon, Bernie and Pauline took us to a hotspot they’d found earlier that day where we’d see Cedar Waxwings, bluebirds, American Kestrel, Phainopepla, and several other species, most notably one that would turn out to be a Prairie Falcon. Not a bird I’ve seen very often at all, this was the first we’d get close looks at and that for me was the first time I’d realize how similar their facial markings are to a Peregrine Falcon (also not often seen but more often than a Prairie).

Prairie Falcon

Sunday morning, I wandered down to Corrales again to check on my owls for a friend that hadn’t succeeded in seeing them earlier in the week, and hoping to maybe see the kingfisher or teal we’d stumbled across scouting almost a week earlier. Waldo and Waldette were right there in the same tree, and my friends also would find them there later that day.

Great Horned Owl

A couple of days later I got out to Embudito for a short visit. It was a bit windy and the birds were mostly hiding, but I got a nice shot of a Bushtit


and had a scrub jay making quite a bit of a racket in the scrub oak.

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay

Friday morning had me checking out Los Poblanos Open Space unsuccessfully hoping to see a Northern Harrier or one of the other raptors that tend to hang around there at this time of year along with all the Sandhill Crane and Canada Geese. No harrier (or even any screech-owls in those nest boxes), but did get a fun picture of a young Cooper’s Hawk eyeing me from a Russian Olive near the vegetable gardens.

Cooper’s Hawk

Count Day for the Albuquerque Christmas Bird Count started out a bit chilly and a few clouds started building, but the weather would turn quite pleasant, sunny and warm later in the day before a bit of a breeze kicked in at the end. Usually for this count, we spend most of our time cruising around in a warm car without doing much walking, but this year spent quite a bit more time walking and exploring a few areas that we don’t often visit. Cedar Waxwings were seen in several spots, including some early on, so we knew it was going to be a good day. We’d go a little out of our way to ensure Waldo and Waldette were included in the count, since I’ve rarely found an owl anywhere in December,

Great Horned Owl

and Waldette (I’m assuming since females tend to be a little larger than males) continued to pose for her close-up.

Great Horned Owl

Interestingly that day they had moved back to the tree I’d first seen one in on December 5 before they’d moved a bit further north for the last couple of weeks.

A house along the ditch with a variety of bird feeders attracted a good number of species, including a flock of Bushtits that would flit among the bushes, take a break at the feeders, and then take off somewhere before returning a few minutes later. Fun to get this shot of a pair of them goofing around in the open.


Also got a nice photo of this adult Cooper’s Hawk bathing in the ditch. I’d first spotted it from quite far away and was surprised it let me close in and pass right by without taking off in alarm; I’m guessing it figured it was pretty well-hidden and it would only slowly turn its head to keep an eye on me as I passed.

Cooper’s Hawk

At one spot we had a few turkeys wandering around I thought look like Wild Turkey, but that are probably being fed regularly by the neighbors as I suspect is true for other flocks I’ve seen recently in Corrales.

Wild Turkey

Toward the end of our day, it was fun coming across a pair of Belted Kingfishers unusually staying put on a phone line hanging above the dirt road along a ditch despite people occasionally driving by in cars or even out walking their dogs. Here’s the best I got of the male

Belted Kingfisher (male)

and then the female.

Belted Kingfisher (female)

And it wouldn’t be Christmas (or at least winter) around here without a visit to the Crest for the rosy-finches, where Rebecca and I joined some friends visiting from Arizona the next day. The birds, lifers for our friends, put on quite the show for the holidays!

Black Rosy-Finch




About joeschelling

Birding, butterflies, nature photography, and travel blog from right here in Albuquerque New Mexico.
This entry was posted in Birding, Photographs. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Days Before Christmas

  1. Rebecca Gracey says:

    The pair of Belted Kingfishers are striking birds, and your pictures of them are great.

  2. paula graham says:

    Some striking photos, you are so blessed with your wildlife in the USA.

  3. 1nmbirder says:

    You and Rebecca had some great birding days! I hope to do as well when I go on my bird count in a few days! Wonderful post Joe!

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