Saturday, January 25, 2014

Birding in Albuquerque: Foothills to Bosque

Yesterday I took the opportunity to get away for the morning and try my luck at finding a Crissal Thrasher before I leave (in 10 days!).  There are multiple canyons in the foothills and I've been to most of them, but there was one that I had never had the chance to visit.  Embudo Canyon is between 2 places that I frequent, Embudito Canyon and Copper Open Space.  Crissal Thrasher have been reported there before and the Thursday Birder group visits there, so I thought that it was worth a visit.
The Canyon can be better described as a dry dam.  The opening to the canyon is really wide and there's even a concrete spillway and a large water tank there.  I decided to walk Southeast and try to circle back with the Sun behind me.  I saw lots of small Dark-Eyed Juncos, House Finches and some White-Crowned Sparrows at first, but nothing really noteworthy.  I made my up and over the earthen part of the dam and walked north parallel to the Sandias. I noticed a dark shape way up high on some rocks that looked a bit odd.  As I got closer I identified a Red-Tailed Hawk waiting for things to warm up.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Keeping my eye on the time, I decided to head back east and towards the parking lot.  I heard a Thrasher singing ahead and almost walked into a Curve-Billed Thrasher sitting on a shrub.  It let me get fairly close and I was able to get a good shot of it. I think that it was a bit too cold to bother moving away from me.

Curve-Billed Thrasher

I would end up seeing 2 more CBTHs, but no Crissals were around.  I decided not to bother this Thrasher since it was being so cooperative, so I back-tracked a bit and crossed to a parallel trail.  But I did see a bird fly into a Juniper and got a clash of orange and some spots before it disappeared.  I had thought that it was a Cactus Wren, a bird that I did not see in 2013 at all, and pshished it out.  But instead of a wren, it was a nice Spotted Towhee.

Spotted Towhee

I then saw some small birds hopping around on the ground and waited for them to show themselves.  I was rewarded with seeing some Black-Throated Sparrows.  There were five in all and two of them sat still for long enough for me to get some shots.

Black-Throated Sparrows

Black-Throated Sparrow

Maybe my favorite type of Sparrow and I've never seen that many at one place before. And if anyone can guess what that is sticking out of it's side, please leave me a comment. I'm thinking that it could be the end of the branch or maybe it's knee.
Well, by this point I had to get out of the foothills and help someone find the American Dipper that has been seen in Corrales, and that I had seen a few weeks ago
I got there in time and we walked to the stream where it likes to hang out and saw it within 5 minutes of crossing into the Bosque.  We spent more time counting some Mallards that were downstream of the bridge than it took to see the Dipper.

American Dipper

We got to sit and watch it for a long time.  Long enough for my friend to run back to her car for her camera and come back.  We watched it swim for a bit (not why it's called a Dipper).

American Dipper
My friend got to see it flashing it's eyelids at us.

American Dipper

American Dipper

And it looks as if it's eating mussels!  No wonder it's staying around.  It was surrounded by lots of Dark-Eyed Juncos and Song Sparrows, like this one.

Song Sparrow

And we saw 3 different Hermit Thrushes, a first for me. Usually I just see 1 on any given trip.

Hermit Thrush

This one really threw me off. I had never seen one without such dark spots on it's breast, and the Sibley Guide didn't show any that looked like this.

Hermit Thrush

The odd birds didn't stop there.  A Ladder-Back Woodpecker was working it's way through some Cottonwoods.  I normally associate these birds with the foothills and more open environments, this was the first one that I had seen in the Bosque.

Ladder-Back Woodpecker

We then left Corrales after a very successful walk.  I think that I've seen 40 species there this month on my 3 trips there.  
Earlier this week my son and I went looking for some Great-Horned Owls in a park down near where I live in Rio Rancho.  The park is actually a poster-child for what not to do to your Bosque.  Most of the undergrowth has been removed and wide, gravel-filled trails are everywhere.  There are hardly any birds there.  Contrast the 40 or so species seen just 5 miles down-river in Corrales to 5 different species seen at this park.  
But the owls ended up being right where a friend of mine saw them a week prior.

Great-Horned Owl
This was the first night that I saw the owl, and right at Sunset.  We found it by hooting to it and getting an answer and then watching it fly off into another part of the woods.

Great-Horned Owl

I wanted to show my wife and her visiting family the owls, so I arranged to meet them at the park along with my friend from the Corrales walk.  Despite only seeing the one on my first visit, we quickly found the pair in the same tree as before.
Can you spot the 2 owls in the photo?

Great-Horned Owl Pair

Based on the apparent sizes, it looked like the male was closer to us and the larger female was further back,and had a nice white patch on her breast.  We tried not to bother them and succeeded in not making them fly anywhere in the middle of the afternoon.  But everyone got good looks and were amazed at how easy they blended into the trees.

Great-Horned Owl

Hopefully they find a place to nest near there.  I'll miss seeing the owl nests in the Bosque in February and March.  It's easy to see them before the leaves come in.  
But we're out of here in just 10 days, it's amazing how quickly that date is approaching.  I'm planning on trying one more time for Crissal Thrashers tomorrow after I drop my father-in-law off at the Sunport.  And then the Thursday Birders are going to Bosque del Apache NWR on Thursday and I'll have one more Saturday morning walk at the Rio Grande Nature Center next Sunday and then my birding in New Mexico will be over.  I really discovered birds here and will really miss the "locals" as well as everyone who have taught me to much these past 2 years. 

Thanks for making it this far,


Thursday, January 16, 2014

Winter (Wren) is Coming

     Today I got to on a Thursday Birder Trip. Our local Audubon Society branch, the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, hosts an excellent series of walks to a different spot in, and around, Albuquerque each week. My wife's work schedule is back to what it was when she started, Sunday-Wednesday, so I'm able to get out to a few walks before our move.  But I used to attend them every week and they really pushed me into enjoying birding and taught me so much.  I'm going to miss them and hopefully Portland offers something similar.
   But today's walk was in the Corrales Bosque and the target bird was the American Dipper which I had seen the previous week.  As it turned out, we would not see the Dipper, but plenty of other good birds were around to make it a good morning.
   We would see three Cooper's Hawks, including one that was chest-deep in the water, which I didn't get a shot of, but I did get one after it landed in a tree.

Cooper's Hawk

There were plenty of small birds about.  We would see two Hermit Thrushes, including this one.

Hermit Thrush

And White-Breasted Nuthatches were everywhere.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

But when we got to the area where I had seen the American Dipper last week, it was empty.  No Dippers, but we did see a small bird in the thick brush across the water from us.  We ended up working really hard to draw it out, lots of pshing and some audio clips seemed to help.  Then we finally got a glimpse of the bird, a small rusty-brown bird with a short tail and an eye-stripe.

Winter Wren

It was a Winter Wren.  Rare for our part of New Mexico and a lifer for me.  There had been reports of Winter Wrens in the area for as long as I've been birding there, but this was the first time that I had actually seen it. And after spending so much time hiding, it decided to drop right down to the water's edge and everyone got some very good looks at it.

Winter Wren

We also got to see an adult Bald Eagle circling over the Rio Grande, but the tiny Winter Wren would be the bird of the day.

After I got home the family decided to go down to the Rio Grande Zoo and see their newest guests, Tasmanian Devils.  They are only the 2nd zoo in the US to have them, and the other is the San Diego Zoo.  Getting Tasmanian Devils out of Tasmania and away from the nasty facial cancer that has killed 80% of them is really important for their survival.  Although there are 4 here at the zoo, we only saw 2 of them out in the enclosure and they are really cute and cool looking animals.

Tasmanian Devil

I don't really like to post photos of birds that I see in zoos or Aviaries alongside the ones that I find in the wild.  But our zoo has a large pond in the center which is always full of wild ducks and geese that hang out for the free food.  We were there at the right time for me to get some good shots of the better looking ducks.
This American Wigeon looked like it was trying out for an insurance commercial.

American Wigeon

And out of all of the fowl there begging for food, only the Wood Ducks were able to catch food in mid-air.  But a solitary Ring-Necked Duck stole the show.  This photo shows where it got it's name from.

Ring-Necked Duck

and another one of the beautiful duck.

Ring-Necked Duck

And a couple of the captive birds.  The first is a Crested Caracara with dinner (their Bald Eagle had a whole fish and a soft-ball sized lump of ground meat sitting on a rock waiting for it).

Crested Caracara

And this odd Jungle Thrush was singing away and my son really enjoyed seeing it. 

Exotic Thrush

It ended up being a nice day in the bosque and at the zoo with my family.  The Winter Wren was a nice surprise and made up for the lack of American Dipper, at least to me.  It's also nuts to think that we're leaving beautiful New Mexico in only three weeks more weeks.  I'll probably be too busy to bird much, but I want to make the last two Thursday birder trips in January and hopefully one or two of the weekend walks at the RGNC.  Oh, and I really need to see a Crissal Thrasher before I go.

Thanks for making it this far,

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dipping in Corrales

     An American Dipper was reported in nearby Corrales just before the Albuquerque CBC. This is a really odd place for a Dipper to be found, slow-clear water in the flat Bosque.  Not the mountain white-water they are normally found in.  I was dubious at first, but sure enough, it was confirmed shortly after by a reputable birder.  I really wanted to get down there and see it before we left for Pittsburgh, but time was against me so I missed it and needed it for a challenge that I was doing last year.
     But, I had some free time today and a good friend of mine, Joe Schelling (who had seen it last week), met me for some breakfast and a walk in the Bosque.  The weather was nice, a bit cold but Sunny and the wind hadn't picked up yet.  We first saw a Sandhill Crane standing just off of a path.

Sandhill Crane

But as we soon saw, it had a hurt foot or leg and limped away from us badly.  I notified the local birders and apparently it's a known issue and the bird won't sit still long enough to be caught.  But I managed to get close enough to get a shot of it's beautifully colored face.

Sandhill Crane

     ***Well, I just got an update on this guy.  Apparently it ended up flying into a ditch and couldn't get out.  A local wildlife officer found the bird and determined that it's leg was too badly broken and was euthanized, poor guy.

Joe and I made our way to the ditch where he had seen the Dipper the previous week, after almost a dozen tries. We ended up seeing lots of Song Sparrows and Dark-Eyed Juncos along the ditch.  
We would walk along and examine every nook and cranny along the sides of the water with no luck.  But then Joe said "there it is!" and pointed almost right below our feet.  

American Dipper

The Dipper was standing on the bank near us and jumped into the water and swam around a bit.  

American Dipper

It jumped out of the water and we got to watch it do it's thing.  The American Dipper gets it's name from the motion it makes while standing, which is a quick up and down movement, not from swimming.  

American Dipper

Another characteristic of Dippers are their bright, white eyelids which they constantly flash by blinking.  According to the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior, this may be a way to signal other birds in their normally noisy white-water habitats.  But this Dipper is really in an odd spot and it is really quiet there.  But nevertheless, the eyelids were constantly being shown and I managed to get a photo. 
American Dipper

Then the Dipper flew off across the stream and tried to hide in some shadows.  

American Dipper

It eventually flew off downstream while we continued on our way.

American Dipper flying away

The odd birds didn't stop there.  We flushed two different Sandpipers into flying away from us, and despite really trying, we couldn't see them again or get any photos, but they looked like Spotted Sandpipers to us. 
We saw one Townsend's Solitaire taking a drink from the stream.  It's normally not found this low, but this winter they have been all through the Bosque.

Townsend Solitaire
And a group of Mallards and American Wigeons had an odd duck tagging along with them, a beautiful Northern Pintail.

Northen Pintail

We would add some White-Crowned Sparrows, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers and a lone Red-Tailed Hawk to our list.  We ended up with 26 species, which isn't bad for my first list of the year.

Thanks for making it this far,

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Best of 2013 - Rarities

Last year was the first year that I went out chasing rare birds, when I could.  Having 2 kids accompanying me really put dampers on when I could get out.

The first rare bird of the year for me was a Common Goldeneye.  It was one of a few seen at the Tingley Beach fishing ponds in Albuquerque. There was a pair of them, and some people reported seeing 2 males.  they hung out for the winter, and now are back.
Common Goldeneye

The only rare bird that I was around to "discover" was seen at the Rio Grande Nature Center while on one of the weekend walks.  Someone spotted a warbler near one of the ponds and it turned out to be a Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler

I amazed to see the people showing up at the Nature Center to go see the bird and we were just done with out walk. It would be the only county record for the year.

The next rarity that I had heard of was while buying bird feed.  There were Bobolinks seen at the old Price's Dairy South of the city.  It would be my first trip to what was becoming Valle de Oro NWR.  My daughter and I set out of foot while my son was sleeping, but we were soon inundated with mosquitoes and made a retreat to our van.  We ended up cruising down the main ditch and I managed to see a male Bobolink singing away on a fence.

There were a few there, maybe some pairs, but they were gone by the time that Summer was in full swing.

And then in July was the big one, the one that I referred to as the most popular bird in America on my old blog.  I'm referring to the Rufous-Necked Wood-Rail of course.  I saw the news of it being sighted at Bosque del Apache first on Facebook and I really wanted to drop what I was doing and run down there.  But with the kids and my schedule, I had to wait until the following Saturday.  Lucky for me the bird was still around.  I got to take some good friends with me.  Seeing the bird ended up being almost anti-climatic.  We got down there late in the afternoon and the Wood-Rail made an appearance after less than 30 minutes of waiting.  

Rufous-Necked Wood-Rail
We watched it feeding and crisscrossing the marsh for another ninety minutes and went off to explore the rest of the refuge. 

This fall a Common Loon was reported in a lonely mountain lake north of Santa Fe.  I managed to drive up there one evening and found the bird before I even left my car.  It was the only thing on the lake.  I used a handicap fishing pier to get fairly close to the bird and watched it dive and feed for a few minutes.

Common Loon

And then a Pacific Loon was being reported at some fishing lakes not too far from where the Common Loon was.  This one took almost 2 hours of watching before I spotted it, but two Loons in the same week was pretty exciting for me.  

Pacific Loon
This guy hung out for a few more weeks.  I guess it enjoyed the company of the Western Grebes that it was seen swimming with.

I was fortunate to make it to the annual Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR in November despite the snow.  The crowds were sparse, but those of us at the Visitor's Center were fortunate to see a Golden-Crowned Sparrow visiting the feeder.
Golden-Crowned Sparrow
As far as I know it is still down there, there's one listed on the ebird rare-bird alert almost every week.

During the scouting for our Christmas Bird Count some interesting birds were reported.  A Northern Parula was reported behind some houses in town, but I didn't get a chance to see it.  And then a Pine Warbler was reported at the Duck Ponds at UNM.  I took my son down there on a very cold day and managed to find it hanging out with some Bushtits and Yellow-Rumped Warblers. 

Pine Warbler
And then on the day of the actual CBC count, our team saw another Pine Warbler at the Journal Center, across town from the one at the Duck Pond. 

Pine Warbler

Another bird seen during our CBC was a Brant Goose.  I ended up chasing it for a few days at different parts of the city. Buy my daughter and I finally found it at a golf course that it was favoring.

Brant Goose
You can see it here contrasted with some Canada Geese. It is also still being seen around the city. 

And finally the other big bird news of the year was the Snowy Owl Irruption in the North-Eastern part of the country.  As luck would have it we were going home to Pittsburgh for the holidays and a large number were seen around the state.  After chasing some on Christmas Eve, I ended up seeing 3 of them at Presque Isle State Park in Lake Erie.  They were some really amazing birds to see and I'm glad that I got to see them.

Snowy Owl

I keep getting the rare bird alerts for New Mexico, but with out impending move, my ability to get out and see any will be few and far between.  But hopefully I get to add lots of new birds to my list this year and maybe I'll get a decent photo of some.

Thanks for making it this far,


About me

I started Bothering Birds after my old blog, Burgh to Burque, became a little limited to me.  I had moved from Pittsburgh to Albuquerque with my family in 2011 and thought that I had found my new home.  Little did I know that after 3 years and a son born in New Mexico, that my family would be moving again.  My wife works for a little computer chip manufacturer that you've probably heard of.  They hired her out of grad school, she went to Carnegie-Mellon, and like her enough to send her on a new assignment.
So in February of 2014 we'll be moving to Portland Oregon for some training, and I can see a Varied Thrush, and in June we'll be off to Ireland for a few years. So nothing much going on with Pittsburgh or Albuquerque, thus a new look and new website was in order.  I had also moved from blogging about moving from the Northeast to the Southwest to almost only talking about birds and my bird photography.
I still consider myself a new birder, I hadn't started really learning about them or keeping a list until I moved to New Mexico.  Since then I've seen 260-some birds species, mostly in New Mexico.  I am looking forward to adding Northwest birds and European birds to my list.
I shoot with a Canon 7D and 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens. My photography can be seen here and on my Flickr page here.

Snowy Owl