With the leaves off the trees and the days starting to get longer, ’tis the season to start looking for this year’s Great Horned Owl nests. Usually by late December, they’ll start pairing up and start looking for a nest site, and over time I’ve realized Valentine’s Day is about when I’ll first start finding occupied nests. Those leafless trees also make it easier to spot the old hawk nests that the owls seem to prefer. Any large lump in the trees is worth taking a closer look at and will probably be either an old nest or surprisingly often a snoozing porcupine.
Only last year did I realize owls regularly use the same nesting spot year after year so in addition to looking around for new nesting opportunities as I walk the trails, I definitely take a look at old nesting sites. Not too much luck so far this year, although I’m now up to four likely locations they’ll be nesting soon if not already. Along the way, there’s been a few other interesting sightings as well, such as this Spotted Towhee lit by the sun,
a Hairy Woodpecker busy looking for bugs,
and a pair of Common Mergansers; birds that are usually only seen way out in the river.
In addition to the owls in Corrales and the Albuquerque Academy mentioned in my last posting, I’ve now found some in two more locations following up on suggestions from friends and eBird reports. First up was the exciting news that owls were again seen near the spot they’d nested in several years ago near Calabacillas Arroyo. Indeed, the first time I stopped by one was sitting right on the snag with the nesting cavity.
A few days later it higher up the branch to the right of the broken off snag
and trickier to spot – here’s more what it looks like without a zoom lens. Going up that right diagonal branch, the owl’s lined up with that vertical branch.
Friends report that they’ve actually photographed an owlet at least two weeks old peeking out of that snag, which would be quite unusual in my experience having hatched at least a month earlier than any I’ve known before. Naturally, I’ll be returning again soon in hopes of spotting that little one.
My other sighting was of both owls at Willow Creek Open Space. I’d been unsuccessful in spotting them on a visit a week earlier, but found the first one very easily on my next visit sitting out in the open not very high above the ground.
Having missed the other one at first, when I returned later that morning, the second one popped out at me very close to the trail but well-hidden in the branches.
A couple of other fun pictures over the next few days included a Rock Wren at Piedras Marcadas,
and from our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to El Oso Grande Park, the famous headless Greater Roadrunner.
Some friends I’ve kept in touch with over the years, but haven’t seen since meeting them on my first Peru trip in 2004, dropped into town this past weekend and we’ve been out to a few spots looking for some of our local residents. Missing the rosy-finches up at Sandia Crest on their first visit, we headed out to Clements Road near Estancia for some raptors. Several good sightings that afternoon including Scaled Quail, several Loggerhead Shrikes, American Kestrel, and Prairie Falcon, but it was a great treat to get good looks at one of what may have been a total of 3 Golden Eagles,
and a Ferruginous Hawk that let us approach rather closely.
We figured it was less interested in us than in a large flock of Horned Larks working the field by the side of the road.
The next day we met up at Bosque del Apache NWR, where we would see the last of the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese now migrating back north. Several Northern Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks, but it seems the Bald Eagles may have already departed. It was fun getting good pictures of a Pyrrhuloxia despite shooting through the Visitor Center window,
and one of my Lesser Goldfinch shots from out in the garden area came out well.
One of our target birds, the Tundra Swan, wouldn’t appear until our very last stop for the day and was just off the Flight Deck.
Yesterday, I made my rounds of all of those Great Horned Owl nests (except Willow Creek) to see if nesting had yet commenced. No luck near Calabacillas, seeing only one owl even further away from that snag and other than possibly a single white feather caught in the bark, no evidence of the female or that little one. Fun, however, to see a Great Blue Heron first in a tall cottonwood and later along the irrigation ditch, and then to have a Belted Kingfisher drop by.
I hadn’t been to Corrales for awhile, and interestingly only saw a single owl there
…the female could easily be nesting in their usual cavity, but I couldn’t see any evidence that she might be there. Wrapped up my morning by stopping by Albuquerque Academy where I’d last seen one of the owls tucked into its winter roost in a big Ponderosa Pine. Surprise of the day was to find nesting finally underway in their favorite spot!