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,


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