A couple weeks into Fall, always my favorite time of year in New Mexico. The weather lately has been nice and sunny with daytime temperatures easing into the low 80s and cooling off nicely at night. Aspens are well into their Autumn colors high in the mountains while lower down the chamisa is kicking into high gear and the cottonwoods are just starting to change. For the first time in almost 50 years, like everything else the Balloon Fiesta was cancelled because of COVID-19, so the morning skies this week aren’t filled with balloons as usual (maybe 30 this morning instead of the usual 500-600). Lots of haze in the air due to all the wildfires this year, too. Bird activity has seemed to pick up recently and the annual migration is underway with lots of warblers showing up, everyone noticing the first Sandhill Cranes flying over, and a few crazy reports of most unusual bird sightings in New Mexico: Eared Quetzal, European Golden-Plover, Common Redpoll…
My sightings, of course, have been much less unusual, but still some interesting days out there. Back on September 24, Rebecca and I made our way down to Carlsbad hoping to spot two Giant-Skipper butterfly species we’d been wanting to see. We’d see the hostplants (Agave lechuguilla and Agave parryi), but had no luck with either species. On the Walnut Canyon Desert Drive in Carlsbad Caverns National Park that had large areas of lechugilla, it was fun to spot a young mule deer with its mother…first time I’ve ever seen a fawn with those white spots.
Later we’d head down to McKittrick Canyon, which crosses the New Mexico border into Texas and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, looking for Parry’s Agave; we’d see a few agave but again no luck with our target butterfly. Instead, we got great looks at several Acorn Woodpeckers
and a good look at a Townsend’s Warbler.
Several trips to the Corrales Bosque recently have turned up a few good birds. It’s been one of my ‘go to’ places this year since it’s usually easy to avoid running into other people and birding along the irrigation ditches has been productive, although I usually don’t manage to get there until later in the morning when birds are less active. Some of those seen recently include one more of the Wilson’s Warbler that’s being seen this year in large numbers just about everywhere, but not usually this close,
the ever present Black Phoebe,
and one that had me stumped until I got home and studied in the book, a young Yellow-breasted Chat, also at quite close range.
A nice sighting there the other day was of this coyote, who seemed in better shape than most.
Wandering around Pueblo Montano one day turned up a bird I’ve only occasionally seen, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. It’s probably not all that unusual a sighting; I just haven’t paid much attention to sparrows.
Last weekend, I had a chance to drop by Capulin Spring fairly early in the morning. This year word has gotten out about how good it can be for birding and it’s either that or everybody hitting the woods because of COVID, but every time I’ve gone there have always been several other people (usually with big lens cameras) standing around waiting to see what will show up. So it was odd finding I was the only one there that morning. Pretty sure one or two Band-tailed Pigeons were around, but they’d disappear the instant they picked up on my presence. When I first arrived, there were just ridiculous numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos all around,
and then a flock of Wild Turkeys I’d seen a bit earlier made their way through the brush to line up to get a drink before wandering back into the woods.
It had already seemed a bit odd seeing all those Dark-eyed Juncos and pretty much no other birds around when suddenly all of them flew off and disappeared; they must have noticed the hawk that sailed by high overhead just then. A few minutes later, they all came back and went about their business. A short time after that, tho, a dark shape that had to be that hawk came out of nowhere and just blasted past again causing the juncos to scatter. This happened a couple more times over the next ten minutes or so, and finally the attacker stopped and perched on a branch quite close by. Pretty sure it’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk based on the head and tail and recall thinking it seemed considerably smaller than the Cooper’s Hawks I usually see in town or down by the river.
With it hanging out right above the spring, I doubted any other birds would show up anytime soon, so seemed like time to leave.