Slow Days

More than 3 weeks have now passed since my last posting; following are a few of the better pictures I’ve gotten since then. Weather hasn’t cooperated very often lately, I’ve gotten busy with taxes and other menial tasks, and I haven’t been getting many good photo opportunities. There have been lots of porcupines about lately, which are always fun to spot.

Porcupine

I’ve been focused the last few weeks on finding more nesting Great Horned Owls after spotting my first one for the year at Albuquerque Academy on February 17 (photo shown on my last blog update). Since then, I’ve found three more. The first one, during our Audubon Thursday Birder trip to Durand Open Space on February 28 was a total surprise we just happened to notice.

Great Horned Owl – Durand Open Space

(I’d actually checked eBird that morning but none had ever been reported there, and our trip leader had just mentioned looking for them unsuccessfully during her scouting trip the day before.) Another highlight that morning was a young Bald Eagle that entertained us by flying fairly low right above us.

Bald Eagle

Next up was the one at Pueblo Montano Open Space I found on March 1 after looking around where some recent eBird reports suggested they were.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

Checking back a week later, we spotted the male hiding out fairly close to that nest.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

I’d imagine this is the pair that I’d seen sitting on the same branch of a tree much further south for about a month (and got to show the Thursday Birders on the February 7 trip).

Just today, I got to see my fourth nest so far for the year, interestingly nesting on the basalt cliffs of the Petroglyph National Monument.

Great Horned Owl – Petroglyph NM

There’s a couple of other individual owls I keep seeing in the same spot on every visit, but have so far been unable to locate a nest that almost has to be nearby. I’ve been seeing one near the Rio Grande Nature Center since early February, and most recently think that one has taken up a spot just in front of the entrance to the Visitor Center.

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

Keep expecting to find one of the old Cooper’s Hawk nests there occupied with a female, but haven’t been able to see any evidence of one yet. And then, of course, there’s the ones I’ve been seeing in Corrales for quite some time now (including yesterday’s Thursday Birders), but try as I might still can’t find a nest.

Great Horned Owl – Corrales

There’s also a quite obvious one in a tree by the City Place office building, a quite urban setting, but any nest just isn’t very easy to see buried in that tall ponderosa pine.

Great Horned Owl – City Place

Something I’d been looking for regularly over the last few weeks, knowing they should be flying any day if the temperature just got high enough and the sun was shining, was the Sandia Hairstreak. A specialty of our area that was first seen in 1958 or 1959 by Noel McFarland in the Sandia foothills, scientifically named by Paul Ehrlich and H. K. Clench in 1960, and the New Mexico State Butterfly since 2004, I regularly have visitors from all over the country hoping to see one. They do fly from here down to Texas and into Mexico, but Albuquerque is where they were first recognized as a unique species and are not that hard to find during their seasonal flight. A treat nonetheless to see one right on schedule on March 6 in Embudito Canyon.

Sandia Hairstreak (Callophyrs mcfarlandi)

Also had a nice visit with a Cactus Wren that morning, a bird that’s only been seen here (nesting no less!) the last several years.

Cactus Wren

Looking forward to seeing some baby owls soon and lots more butterflies that ought to pop out as soon as the weather warms up a bit.

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Posted in Birding, Butterfly, Critters, Photographs | 7 Comments

Bosque Trip and Owl Update

A month to go before spring officially returns and our weather has gone back and forth over the last two weeks. Usually still pretty cool all day, the typical clear and sunny weather is regularly disrupted with stiff winds, overcast skies, and even a bit of precipitation now and then. When I have gotten out, on most days there haven’t been too many birds about maybe because of where I went and when but probably just staying quiet hidden in some warmer spot.

In my last posting, I’d mentioned hoping to show the Audubon Thursday Birder group on February 7 the pair of owls at Pueblo Montano. We were a little worried since although we’d seen them there a week earlier, they were nowhere to be found on visits a day or so before bringing the group. It was a treat to see that they were again back in the same spot when the group showed up. I keep hoping they’ll start nesting somewhere nearby soon, but as of last Sunday they were still just parked next to each other.

Great Horned Owl – Pueblo Montano

The next week had the group on an all-day outing to Bosque del Apache NWR that turned up an excellent list of at least 60 species for the 19 birders on the trip. One of the first birds I’d see at our first stop on the refuge was the Brant that had been reported (and photographed for an eBird report the day before) – easily identified by its field marks but its odd posture confused us until we realized it had died sometime in the last day.  At that first pond at the north end of the refuge, we’d also have 3 Bald Eagles in the big cottonwood there and another adult in a snag off to the east – the first of at least six we’d see that day. My best picture of them was the two on the tall snag from the Eagle Scout deck.

Bald Eagle

The group spent a fair amount of time just working the gardens at the Visitor Center where we stopped for lunch. It was fun for me getting nice close-up shots of the Green-tailed Towhee

Green-tailed Towhee

and female Pyrrhuloxia,

Pyrrhuloxia (female)

but somehow got so occupied with those two (and lunch) that I missed out on nearly all the different kinds of sparrows being seen right there (Black-throated, Brewer’s, Harris’s, Golden-crowned, White-throated, White-crowned, and Song).

After lunch we drove the North Loop of the refuge, stopping first at the Eagle Scout deck to be treated to the Snow Geese lifting off in a blizzard of birds,

Snow Geese

and a flight of American White Pelicans coming in for a landing.

American White Pelican

Working our way around the North Loop, we’d get good looks at a Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk close to the road that patiently sat for pictures,

Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk

and not much further along a young Bald Eagle.

Bald Eagle

Lots of Sandhill Cranes and a large flock of Wild Turkey were busy wandering the open corn fields, but none of my photos of them were all that good. Returning to the Visitor Center to run through the birdlist before heading for home, a young Red-tailed Hawk caught our attention and we weren’t sure of its identity until seeing that red tail as we watched it fly off.

Red-tailed Hawk (immature)

This past Sunday, I started out at Albuquerque Academy in search of their owls. For the last few years, they’ve had an “open campus” allowing visitors public access to the grounds any time, but recently are limiting access to students and official visitors at least when classes are in session (as I’ve noticed on two weekday occasions in the last few weeks). On Sunday, however, all the gates were open and I went first to check on the winter roost tree I’d seen one in recently but others have missed (not too surprising since they can hide really well in that big, thick Ponderosa pine). No luck for me that morning, either, but then I wandered over to the nearby tree where they’d nested before and was thrilled to see the female back in the old nest – the first owl nesting I’ve heard about so far this year!

Great Horned Owl – AA

That, of course, got me checking in on a few of the other owls around to see if any of them are yet nesting. Just saw one in the usual spot in Corrales, the two (first photo in this posting) at Pueblo Montano just sitting there, and today again saw a single individual parked in a tree close to the bike path north of the Nature Center,

Great Horned Owl – RGNC

but  none of them have started nesting as far as I can tell.

Two other fun birds to see that day were this Cooper’s Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

and a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet – always tough to photograph (as my book says “a hyperactive midget”) and only sometimes showing that ruby crown.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

 

 

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Schrödinger’s Owl?

Just like the quantum mechanical paradox posed by Schrödinger’s cat, I’m beginning to think a similar situation applies to owls.  Whenever I’m out looking for them, they can either be there or not and we’ll at least know if they’re there if we actually see them. If we don’t, they might or might not be there. Several times in the last few weeks, I’ve wandered around spots where either I’ve seen them in the past or had seen recent reports on eBird without managing to see any. But then in a few other spots have been fortunate to get a look.

My last posting had a photograph of one I’d lucked into seeing in the area at Pueblo Montano where they’d nested last year. Returning about two weeks later after seeing eBird reports of more than one owl there, it was cool seeing a pair out in the open albeit in a tree somewhat farther away than the first time. (They’d be in the exact same spot a few days later, so we’re hoping to show them to the group on this week’s Audubon Thursday Birder trip.)

Great Horned Owl

The same day, I decided to take another look around the Albuquerque Academy. I’d looked there a number of times over the last month or two after seeing regular eBird reports of at least one being seen; a photo in one of the most recent reports gave me the idea to check a particular location where they’d roosted in previous winters, and following my Schrödinger’s Owl hypothesis decided to give it a really good look. It took some pretty serious scrutiny from a number of angles, but (yay!) I finally spotted one deep in the Ponderosa pine.

Great Horned Owl

Yesterday, on a walk in the Rio Grande Nature Center bosque I started walking along the bike path to an area where we’d had nesting Great Horned Owls late in the season in 2016 and where I’d once seen a hidden Western Screech-Owl also in 2016. As I approached, a woman walking her dog asked if I’d seen the owls yet (guess my bins and camera gave her a clue what I was up to). When I said I hadn’t, she laughed and said “Well, any day now!”.  Too fun about five minutes later when she’d continued far down the bike path that this one just popped out at me, close to eye level and near the path.

Great Horned Owl

This morning, I started out looking around Willow Creek Open Space where an eBird report from a couple days ago included a photo of an owl in what could’ve been the tree the male hung out during the 2017 nesting season. Never found a nest or saw the owls there last year, but seemed worth a look. This time, I was unsuccessful and will have to return when the weather improves for a closer look. Since it was on the way home, I stopped in on the Corrales location thinking maybe I’d get a better picture of them more out in the open than on my earlier visits. Strolling down the irrigation ditch, one immediately popped out against the sky high in a little different tree than I’d seen them before.

Great Horned Owl

I kept walking along looking to see if I could spot the other one that’s been nearby on my last several visits. When that didn’t work, I came back and bushwhacked around the tree to see if I could be a little better view – oh yeah!

Great Horned Owl

But then it struck me as I was walking away back toward my car that I didn’t remember that huge branch above the one in this second picture being there in the first picture. Wondering what was up with that, I turned around and looked a little closer…if you look close on the left side of either of those two pictures, you’ll see there’s two owls there. In the first picture, one is almost completely camouflaged by the tree trunk with only his eyes giving him away, and in the second, she’s effectively blocked by a few dead leaves.

Crossing over the main ditch to the east and looking back from a good distance away, it was a little easier to see those silhouettes.

Great Horned Owl

A few other pictures from the last couple of weeks include a Brown Creeper trying to distract me from the two Corrales owls,

Brown Creeper

one of the Western Bluebirds (of which there were quite a few in Corrales),

Western Bluebird

and a Cedar Waxwing from along the Rio Grande near the Nature Center yesterday.

Cedar Waxwing

I’d actually been walking along the river there looking (unsuccessfully) for the Bald Eagles that roost there this time of year, but where I’d also stumbled across a flock of waxwings last year, again busy feeding on the low New Mexico Olives and going to the water.

Our Audubon Thursday Birders had gone to Valle de Oro NWR on January 24 and had some good birds despite the rather blustery weather and quite large group. We would spot a few Bald Eagles that morning

Bald Eagle

but have a heck of a time getting on a Greater White-fronted Goose in a flock of Canada Geese. Rebecca and I returned a few days later hoping (unsuccessfully) to see the Brant that had been reported there, but got much better looks at several of those geese.

Greater White-fronted Goose

On a visit to Tingley Ponds a couple weeks ago, it was fun to see a female Bufflehead at fairly close range,

Female Bufflehead

and to come across this Great Blue Heron perched right above the trail around one of the ponds.

Great Blue Heron

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Winter Days

Almost a month into winter now and while there have been a few chilly days, the weather in general has been rather nice lately. Interestingly, birding has been a little up and down depending on the days I get out and where I go with very few birds on some days and then a good number and variety on others. Two weeks ago following my last update, things were pretty quiet between East Ella and Dixon Road in Corrales, but I got a nice shot of a Song Sparrow and its reflection,

Song Sparrow

and was glad to see the pair of Great Horned Owls still sitting in their usual tree. It continues to amaze me how well they can hide in that nearly leafless tree and I only spotted this one at first knowing it could be there; didn’t see the other one (not visible in this photo) sitting just feet away until really spending some time looking.

Great Horned Owl

That week, the Audubon Thursday Birders headed out to find some raptors in the plains near McIntosh, NM. The group ended up with a good list including American Kestrel, Prairie Falcon, Northern Harrier, Red-tailed Hawk, Ferruginous Hawk,

Ferruginous Hawk

and a fly-by of a Rough-legged Hawk (first I’ve seen in a year) along with a number of other non-raptor species.

Rough-legged Hawk

We’ll sometimes see a Golden Eagle out there at this time of year, but didn’t spot one that day.

A couple of days later, I took a good long walk at Pueblo Montano on a morning that seemed unusually quiet for birds (and porcupines for that matter), but maybe due to the somewhat overcast sky. During the Christmas Bird Count about 3 weeks earlier, an expert birder reported 4 Western Screech-Owls and 3 Great Horned Owls in the area (at 4:30 am!), and recently I’ve been seeing owls more regularly in other spots they’ve been seen before. Not having much luck with anything, I spent a little time looking carefully to see if I could find any owls about.  Sure enough, after looking closely enough near where they’d nested last spring, I picked out a Great Horned Owl just sitting there looking like a branch.

Great Horned Owl

Another expert birder has since reported seeing two of them just a few days ago, so I might be taking another look soon.

Two other birds I saw that morning included a young Red-tailed Hawk in a tree close to the Bosque School that was there at the start and had apparently only turned around by the time I finished,

Red-tailed Hawk

and a Great Blue Heron in the pond close to the river, who seemed a bit surprised to see me out there but only flew a short distance away when it saw me.

Great Blue Heron

Last Tuesday and then again on Thursday with the Audubon Thursday Birders, I got out to Alameda Open Space and (on Tuesday) across the river in the bosque on both sides of Alameda. Both days it was fun to see a Black-crowned Night-Heron on the pond nearest the parking lot

Black-crowned Night-Heron

and six more in an inaccessible roosting area on the west side of the river north of the bridge. There were a good number of Ruby-crowned Kinglets along the irrigation ditch that morning where I often see them at this time of year, but none that would pause long enough for me to photograph, and a most cooperative Brown Creeper pecking along the lower trunks of several trees but still tough to photograph well.

Brown Creeper

A large Bushtit flock busy in the bushes lining the irrigation ditch were a little easier to photograph.

Bushtit

And, as usual at this time of year, porcupines were hanging out in the leafless trees; this is one of a pair occupying the same tree in the Corrales bosque.

Porcupine

I’ve made several trips to the Rio Grande Nature Center lately hoping to spot the Bald Eagles that sometimes fly by or roost in several spots close to the river. On the way there, I stopped once to check in on the Western Screech-Owl that’s found the most spectacular cavity to call home for most of the last year and was glad to see it still sitting out in the open taking a nap.

Western Screech-Owl

A nearby tree had a Hairy Woodpecker making quite a bit of noise hammering away.

Hairy Woodpecker

And, finally, on my most recent visit to the Nature Center, I did come across a young Bald Eagle in a tree busy eating a fish on my side of the river. It did let me get reasonably close without seeming too concerned, but then took off with its meal heading to a favorite snag on the west side of the river.

Bald Eagle

 

 

 

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Start of the New Year

Since Christmas, we’ve had three snowstorms one after another. In recent years we haven’t had much snow, but are expecting some this year with the El Niño weather pattern. We can always use the moisture and they’ve now gotten enough on the mountain for the Sandia Peak Ski Area to open. At least in town, the snow hasn’t made driving difficult for long since it typically evaporates from the roads rather quickly. Also typical is how the powdery snow finds a way of drifting into a tall pile right in front of my garage door – always a treat to discover when I decide to head out.

Having completed three Christmas Bird Counts under remarkably nice weather conditions before the holiday, the Sandia Mountain CBC is traditionally conducted the day after Christmas coinciding with the start of the first of those three snowstorms. It hadn’t really gotten going in town yet, but on the east side of the Sandias where our count area is the snow had been coming down over night and would continue to fall all day. We managed to cover most of our assigned roads and ended up with a reasonable number of birds and species variety, despite the birds generally seeking cover and a few of the roads starting to get a little dicey. What was most interesting that day was that when we would see birds, it usually was a large number of one species parked together in a tree. These Cedar Waxwings had taken up their position in a short tree just next to a mailbox station and were obviously waiting out the snow since they didn’t fly off despite all the people driving up and walking around to check their mail.

Cedar Waxwing

Another surprise flock was this bunch of Western Meadowlarks parked (unusually) in a tree. That yellow really popped out in my binocular view and it was thrilling to realize what they were since they normally are tucked into a grassy field or one or two individuals will be spotted on a fence or similar perch.

Western Meadowlark

Bluebirds all seemed grouped together as well if not quite so tightly packed. Mountain Bluebirds were fun to see, including this male

Mountain Bluebird (male)

and a nearby female.

Mountain Bluebird (female)

The next day was the Audubon Thursday Birder trip to the Rio Grande Nature Center. Roads in my neighborhood in the foothills had been plowed but still looked a bit tricky, so it was pleasant surprise to find perfectly dry roads and little snow closer to the river and a sunny day for the outing. The birding turned out well, too, but my only picture from that morning was this Greater Roadrunner we very nearly overlooked sitting on a fence all fluffed up to soak up a little sun.

Greater Roadrunner

A few days later, I made another visit to the open fields of Los Poblanos Open Space hoping to photograph one of the several species of raptors that are often there this time of year. Not much luck on that score, but I did have a close encounter with the roadrunner that seems to have adopted the garden area at the northwest corner of the area,

Greater Roadrunner

and did find one of the Western Screech-Owls at home.

Western Screech-Owl

Most places I’ve gone over the last several weeks have turned up at least one porcupine, a critter easy to see snoozing away the day up in a tree during the winter.

Porcupine

It was a hardy bunch that appeared the next week for the Thursday Birder walk around Los Poblanos Open Space the morning after another good snow, but while it was indeed pretty chilly at the start the weather was calm and sunny and made for a most enjoyable outing with a good list of birds seen. No owl that day, unfortunately, which I suspect was deep in the nest box keeping warm. We saw a number of American Kestrels around the fields, a couple of which posed nicely for photographs.

American Kestrel

This past weekend, Rebecca and I drove down to Truth or Consequences to do a bit of birding around the area on Saturday and then joined Kim Score for a CNMAS Field Trip on Sunday to Percha Dam State park and taking a leisurely drive home at a few more spots. First up was a visit to Animas Creek where I’d never been before. The (dry) creek is lined with large sycamore trees, which aren’t often seen in New Mexico but are known to attract several bird species not commonly found in the state. One that we were hoping for popped up high in a sycamore right at the start, but then showed up again toward the end of our visit just feet from the car, a Bridled Titmouse.

Bridled Titmouse

A few other fun birds we’d see there included quite a few Acorn Woodpeckers,

Acorn Woodpecker

several Phainopepla (of which we’d see plenty later in the trip), and a few Cedar Waxwings (we’d see lots of them later as well but I wouldn’t get good photos of any of them).

Cedar Waxwing

After Animas Creek, we headed back through Truth or Consequences to have lunch at Paseo del Rio campground just downstream from Elephant Butte Dam. We spotted a small flock of Pyrrhuloxia just as we pulled in to park and I jumped out to try to get a few pictures since I rarely see them and they are usually pretty far away and buried in the bushes. I worked them a bit that day and would try again the next day when we returned with the Audubon group, but never quite got the picture I was hoping for; this one at least shows the bird out in the open.

Pyrrhuloxia

I also had a very cooperative Hermit Thrush presumably trying to stay warm and out of the breeze while I snapped away.

Hermit Thrush

A nice surprise that day was coming across a Hooded Merganser pair in one of the two ponds of this former fish hatchery.

Hooded Merganser

They were nice enough to let me to take a couple of pictures before they flew off to points unknown and wouldn’t be seen when we looked the next day.

The field trip the next day was most enjoyable despite the weather starting out with a bit of unexpected drizzle and ending with a good list of birds seen, several of which I don’t see all that often, and some really excellent photo opportunities. An easy one was an American Kestrel early in the walk,

American Kestrel

while we were busy looking at a good-sized flock of Cedar Waxwings, assorted bluebirds and goldfinches, and a ridiculous number of both male and female Phainopepla. Here’s my best shot of a female from that morning,

Phainopepla (female)

and this is my best one of a male (taken later that day at Paseo del Rio).

Phainopepla (male)

This was my first winter visit to the park and we covered quite a bit more of it than I’d done on previous visits, making it interesting seeing a different variety of birds this time. Bird of the day for me, however, was when we finally spotted the Prairie Falcon other birders had mentioned earlier that morning. Although it flew off as we first approached, it soon returned and stayed around long enough for all of us to get a good look and some good photos.

Prairie Falcon

A bit later we wandered over to the dam but wouldn’t see too many birds since the upstream side was pretty much frozen over. A couple of birds were hanging around on the downstream side, including a single American Pipit, a couple of ducks and this Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

Then it was off to Paseo del Rio for another visit with those Pyrrhuloxia, but no Golden-crowned Kinglet that Kim had heard about there or the Hooded Mergansers we’d seen the day before. While everybody was busy checking out the ducks in the nearly dry river, I’d slipped off to look for Pyrrhuloxia – they eluded me until I rejoined the group, but I did get a good look at a Great Egret that flew over (and that we’d seen in the river the day before).

Great Egret

The egret appeared headed for one of the ponds, but wasn’t there by the time the group took a look. We also had two very cooperative Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in different spots that seemed much more interested in poking around for something to eat than to worry about all those birdwatchers staring at them.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

We ended the day with a stop at the marina on Elephant Butte Lake, where there were more grebes than I’ve ever seen anywhere. Mostly Western Grebe and a few Clark’s Grebe, they were still pretty far away and the water pretty turbulent under a stiff breeze.

Western Grebe

Heading for home the next day, Rebecca and I were surprised to note several Golden Eagles on the power poles close to the interstate south of Bosque del Apache.

Golden Eagle

This time of year there are usually plenty of hawks (most often Red-tailed) sitting on those poles, so it was quite surprising to realize first one and then the next couple we’d see were indeed eagles. We tried to sneak up on them but they’d be pretty quick to fly away before taking up watch usually a couple of poles further down.

A quick stop at Bosque del Apache turned up two Bald Eagles hanging out on their usual snag in the middle of a large frozen pond, a couple of Northern Harrier that wouldn’t stick around long enough to photograph, and a fun bunch of Bufflehead – all male except for one female. Here’s a picture of the boys figuring out what to do next after the female decided to leave.

Bufflehead

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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,

Phainopepla

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

Verdin

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

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.

Bushtit

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

 

 

 

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Seasonal Highlights

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.

Porcupine

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.

Cedar Waxwing

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.

Horned Lark

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.

Phainopepla

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.

White-crowned Sparrow

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,

Killdeer

several Bufflehead (this one showing off quite a bit of color) in among all the Northern Shovelers,

Bufflehead

and, first for the year and a species I’ve been looking for the last month or so, a Wilson’s Snipe.

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.

Wilson’s Snipe

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.

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.

Bald Eagle

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.

Downy Woodpecker

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,

Belted Kingfisher

Great Blue Heron,

Great Blue Heron

and get a pretty good shot of a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

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.

White-throated Sparrow

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.

White-throated Sparrow

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!).

Great Horned Owl

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.

Great Horned Owl

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.

Great Horned Owl

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.

Great Blue Heron

 

 

 

 

 

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Something a Little Different

This post is going to be a little different than usual since it seems some of the pictures I’ve gotten recently are of a couple of other critters, birds in unusual poses or ones not seen all that often around town. Weather, distance and equipment issues had some of them turn out leaving a little to be desired, but I figured still worth sharing.

This shot of a coyote at Poblanos Open Space turned out reasonably well. The leader of the pack, this one struck me as looking in great shape and kept its eye on me as Iong as I was in the area….three others were a short distance away lazing around in the field.

Coyote

A few days later wandering around Bear Canyon on a bit of a cloudy, blustery morning I wouldn’t see many birds at all but did spot a couple of Black-tailed Jackrabbits that would high-tail it outathere as I approached. Always surprising to me how much larger they are than our more usual Desert Cottontail.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

On November 15, Rebecca and I went with our friend, Ken, to Coyote del Malpais Golf Course in Grants, NM on a scouting trip for a future Thursday Birder trip.  The course had a number of large ponds and has done a good job of leaving some undisturbed natural habitat away from the fairways that resulted in our having fun seeing a variety of ducks and other waterfowl and a fair number of raptors. A highlight for us was getting good looks at a Rough-legged Hawk, a species we’ll only see in winter and not all that often.

Rough-legged Hawk

A couple of Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels also appeared along with several Northern Harriers. Highlight for the duck species was the Common Goldeneye, which I’ve only seen maybe once every other year – on this trip we had about six individuals, including both male

Male Common Goldeneye

and female.

Female Common Goldeneye

It was fun getting a shot of a male Bufflehead in flight that morning.

Bufflehead

On the way home after lunch in Grants, we stopped at La Ventana Natural Arch and then The Narrows since it was basically on the way but hoping to maybe see the Peregrine Falcons or Pinyon Jays we’ve seen there before. Neither of them were around then, but we did get good looks at a couple of Juniper Titmouse working in the shade of the juniper trees. Fairly common in that kind of habitat, it’s rare for me to be able to get a decent photo of one.

Juniper Titmouse

Seeing a report on eBird a few days later that the rosy-finches had arrived at Sandia Crest House, we headed up there Sunday morning to take a look. The flock would swirl in for a feeding frenzy for a few minutes before flying out of sight for awhile before suddenly appearing again. Occasionally, a few would perch in the nearby trees long enough to photograph.

Black Rosy-Finch

On the way home, we stopped at Doc Long and Ojito de San Antonio, both of which were fairly quiet (no surprise given the season and time of day), but did have fun watching a few White-breasted Nuthatches working the leaf litter for something to eat,

White-breasted Nuthatch

and a Townsend’s Solitaire catching a little late afternoon sun.

Townsend’s Solitaire

Back to Poblanos Open Space and the Rio Grande Nature Center a couple of days later didn’t turn up any of the species I was hoping to see, but gave me a few nice looks at Sandhill Cranes,

Sandhill Crane

and at the Nature Center what is obviously the resident Greater Roadrunner – this guy seems to be running around their parking lot on almost every visit there.

Greater Roadrunner

The next morning I made my way to Valle de Oro NWR and got several photographs of Western Meadowlarks quite close to the road. I’d never before noticed the fascinating fractal pattern of feathers on their back.

Western Meadowlark

Over Thanksgiving this year, Rebecca and I headed to Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge looking for some of the raptors and waterfowl that hang out there for the winter. Weather the first day wasn’t that great – cloudy, cold, and windy, but turned up quite a few raptors often “kiting” by hanging in the air searching the fields and with the steady wind able to hold their position without having to flap their wings much at all. There were some ducks, grebes, coots, and such on some of the ponds, and a young Bald Eagle on one of them but they were too far away for other than views through a spotting scope.  The second day was clear and sunny but still pretty windy as we first stopped in at Storrie Lake and then another loop through Las Vegas NWR. A fun picture from the first day was this Red-tailed Hawk settling down in the wind.

Red-tailed Hawk

All the clouds turned up lots of Ferruginous Hawks, sometimes one on each of several power poles along the road. Interestingly, while we saw so many on the cloudy day, very few were seen on the following sunny day.

Ferruginous Hawk

We also had a good number of Northern Harriers in the area that we’d spot flying low over the fields, but only one that was still close enough by the time I got my camera squared away. And although most were the brown colored females, this one was the “Gray Ghost” male that is less commonly seen.

Male Northern Harrier

We kept our eyes out for any shrikes having seen a report of a Northern Shrike from earlier that week, but only saw the usual (but still not all that common) Loggerhead Shrike, this one with an insect snack.

Loggerhead Shrike

There were several Mountain Bluebirds around, typically sitting on fenceposts like the shrike, but one I was photographing in a tree flew off just as I clicked the shutter.

Mountain Bluebird

It was also a treat to see a few Black-billed Magpies in several of the areas we visited. They don’t seem to get quite as far south as Albuquerque, but are reasonably common further north. What we hadn’t noticed before were those white bands on the top of their wings. Pretty cool, but I’ll have to work on getting a shot like that under more favorable conditions someday.

Black-billed Magpie

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Fall Treats

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,

Northern Harrier

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).

Merlin

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,

Geologic Unconformity – San Lorenzo Canyon

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.

San Lorenzo Canyon Wash

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.

Western Screech-Owl

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,

Ladder-backed Woodpecker

and also had a large flock of Wild Turkeys wandering around the neighborhood blocking traffic and apparently unaware of the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

Wild Turkey

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.

Hairy Woodpecker

Roadrunners showed up in a number of locations, usually acting as if they wanted us to pay attention to them.

Greater Roadrunner

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.

Great Horned Owl

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.

Great Horned Owl

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.

Loggerhead Shrike

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).

Prairie Falcon

We’d also see several young Red-tailed Hawks, this one much more strikingly marked than most,

Red-tailed Hawk (Juvenile)

and a Ferruginous Hawk that has arrived for the winter.

Ferruginous Hawk

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).

Horned Lark

 

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A Few Goodies

Definitely moving into Fall around here the last couple of weeks with a few of those spectacularly nice days as all the trees turn color along with a couple of cooler, rainy days, and today even a bit of snow for the foothills. Most interesting the last two weeks has been seeing a few birds around that are either passing through on migration or have returned for the season since they aren’t usually seen in the summer. Then there’s a couple other special sightings of a couple of owls, supposedly here year-round but that I almost never see for a few more months from now.

Two weeks ago, Audubon Thursday Birders were out on a rather chilly morning at Valle de Oro NWR for what turned out to be a pretty good trip. At several spots, we’d see good-sized flocks of mostly Yellow-rumped Warblers with maybe one or two other species.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The highlight for me that day was seeing a couple of shorebirds on the mud banks of the Rio Grande. After walking through the bosque to the riverbank, we’d first spotted them far upstream and couldn’t quite decide what species they were. But after getting much closer at a spot where you could get through the tall brush to the river, we did get good looks at a couple of Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

and a Spotted Sandpiper.

Spotted Sandpiper

A couple of days later, Rebecca and I returned to Bosque del Apache NWR where we’d hoped to get closer looks at a cool moth, the Nevada Buckmoth, that we’d seen flying around in good numbers a little more than a week before. After that much time had passed and having had at least one cold snap, we didn’t have very high expectations of getting to see it. It was a treat therefore not only seeing quite a few of them still flying, but spotting several quietly perched. We think it was mostly the males busy flying around while the females were the ones sitting around.

Nevada Buckmoth (Hemileuca nevadensis)

Along with all the moths, we noticed a few Common Buckeye butterflies that seemed to sit on the ground, flying up to chase any of the buckmoths that passed over.

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

One of the few butterflies we still have flying, these seem to have only recently started to be seen most places I’ve looked. Still a few dragonflies hanging out, too, but those I’ve seen recently turn out to be Variegated Meadowhawk.

Variegated Meadowhawk (Sympetrum corruptum)

Kind of fun at Bosque del Apache NWR seeing a couple of grebe species, including an Eared Grebe

Eared Grebe

and a Western Grebe.

Western Grebe

More than a week later, back home at Tingley Ponds there was a Pied-billed Grebe, which is generally more common and can be seen there pretty much year-round.

Pied-billed Grebe

A little more than a week ago, I stopped by Los Poblanos Fields wanting to see if the Sandhill Cranes had started arriving (a few were there already) and maybe a Northern Harrier or other raptor species who tend to show up there in late Fall (nothing but a Kestrel for me that day). Couldn’t help myself but take a look at the owl boxes to see if any of Western Screech-owls had yet appeared, although I usually don’t expect to see them until after the New Year. So it wasn’t too disappointing not to see any on my first pass, but after walking around the farm fields just happened to take one more look at the boxes close to where I had parked and there one was!

Western Screech-Owl

Checking back maybe a week later, no sign of anybody home in any of the boxes, but I did see a few feathers around the easternmost box which makes me think that box might well be occupied, too. Maybe you just gotta be there at the right time of day to get lucky to spot these guys. Stopping near the Open Space Visitor Center on the way home, it was fun to play tag up and down the irrigation ditch with a Belted Kingfisher. He’d only let me get so close before flying a little further down the ditch and wait for me to catch up – we’d do this about five times before he finally tired of the game and darted past me heading back to where we’d started.

Belted Kingfisher (male)

I’d managed to spot a Great Horned Owl at Piedras Marcadas in mid-August and the end of September this year, and since I was in the area I decided to take a look there again last Friday. More typically, I’ll see Great Horned Owls while they’re nesting from late January until late April when they seem to just disappear one day after the little ones leave the nest and the trees leaf out for the summer. So, anyway, I looked around the huge cottonwoods where I’d seen the one before and after looking closely from different directions (it’s amazing how well a bird that large can disappear into the background), saw it sitting in the sun and snapped a quick picture.

Great Horned Owl

It wasn’t until I got home to look at the pictures I noticed the second one there on the left. I did take a little time after that first picture to get a bit closer and a better angle on them where both of them are more obvious and definitely focused on whatever I was doing there. These birds seem a little more nervous having people around than most of the others I see, so I didn’t hang around for more than a minute before leaving them alone and heading back to the car.

Great Horned Owl

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