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My (not so) Big Day

04/07/2013

I was up and out of the house early on Saturday planning on having myself a little big day.  The plan was to visit 4 areas covering desert to mountain conifer with marsh and bosque in between.  I had some target birds at each location for my Birds of NM Guidebook challenge that I was sure to get.  But alas, no plans survive contact with the enemy, or at least reality.
My first target was the Great Horned Owl at the Alameda Bosque.  I got better directions for the nest and it seems that I was off by a quarter of a mile before at my last attempt of finding it.  But today I was confident of finding her.

The first bird that I saw was making quite the racket with a song that I was not familiar with (I’m no good at song IDs).  I spied the bird up in the very top of a Cottonwood singing away.  When I got a good look at it I thought that it was a Say’s Phoebe that looked grey in the early, cloudy light.

Mystery Flycatcher

Mystery Flycatcher

When I looked up the songs of the Say’s and Black Phoebes in the iBird app, they didn’t match what I was hearing.  But I was in a hurry and planned on trying to pin it down by photo and go see that Owl.  I was crossing the footbridge over the Rio Grande when I spotted a Belted Kingfisher on a wire on the Southern side of the road bridge.  This has been a nemesis bird for me as far as good photos go, so I decided to turn around and cross closer to it using the road bridge’s sidewalk.  I managed to get some good shots, considering how lousy the light was being.

Belted Kingfisher over Rio Grande, ABQ NM

Belted Kingfisher over Rio Grande, ABQ NM

I was soon on the West side of the river and on my way to the Owl nest when a very large hawk flew right in front of me and landed in a large, dead tree in someone’s backyard.  It was a Juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk.  Fairly dark, no red tail and an odd light colored eyebrow, but nothing else fits.

Juv. Red Tailed Hawk, ABQ NM

Juv. Red Tailed Hawk, ABQ NM

I stood there for ten or fifteen minutes watching it looking around until a Cooper’s Hawk flew towards it and mentioned that he didn’t care for the hawk being in the neighborhood.  The Red-Tailed couldn’t care less.  The Cooper’s finally alighted in the same tree and sat there waiting for the bigger cousin to get the message.

Cooper's Hawk (left) and Red-Tailed Hawk (right), ABQ NM

Cooper’s Hawk (left) and Red-Tailed Hawk (right), ABQ NM

And then to add insult to injury a couple of House Finches flew in right beside the Red-Tailed Hawk and proceeded to ignore him, apex predator my butt.

Red-Tailed Hawk and House Finch, ABQ NM

Red-Tailed Hawk and House Finch, ABQ NM

I then heard lots of singing directly behind me, and turned to see 3 or 4 Bewick Wrens singing and flitting around. They let me get really close to them and get a few good shots.

Bewick's Wren mid-song, ABQ NM

Bewick’s Wren mid-song, ABQ NM

And then I turned around to check on the Red-Tailed Hawk and it was gone.  Sneaky, sneaky.  But that gave me an excuse to continue on to try and find the Great Horned Owl.  Anticlimatically it was right where I was told to look.

Great Horned Owl on Nest, ABQ NM

Great Horned Owl on Nest, ABQ NM

The nest looked awfully small for an Owl’s Nest, but I guess squatters can’t be too picky. I plan on taking the family down there soon to get a good look at her.  And it should be pretty easy to see the chicks when they get big enough.  I decided to take the other path back to the bridge that went through the woods.  I got to see lots of Downy Woodpeckers, a Flicker, some Bushtits and what used to be a Crow.  And as Bryan mentioned, this is a Hairy Woodpecker and not a Downy.  The bill is an easy giveaway that I missed.  Thanks!

Downy Woodpecker, ABQ NM

Hairy Woodpecker, ABQ NM

Maybe I should have been watching for White Walkers...

Former Crow, ABQ NM

I made it back across the bridge and noticed a large number of Turkey Vultures North of Alameda in the area of El Pinto.  I estimated 70-100 of them.

Kettle of Turkey Vultures, ABQ NM

Kettle of Turkey Vultures, ABQ NM

And back over at the wetlands near the parking lot off of Alameda I saw this guy hooting away.

Greater Roadrunner, Alameda Open Space, ABQ NM

Greater Roadrunner, Alameda Open Space, ABQ NM

I was on my way back to the car when I heard that first bird again singing from across the ditch.  I decided to try and get another look at it and managed to get some more photos a bit more clear.  It still looked like a black and white Say’s Phoebe, but without the black hood and chest of a Black Phoebe.  It flew off towards the north side of the road, where I first saw it, and I went back to my car.  But then someone came running up the hill from the river asking me if I had seen the bird.  I said yep and she said that it was an Eastern Phoebe!  New bird to me, I had no idea there was one and that’s why I couldn’t match the song with with photos.

Eastern Phoebe, Alameda Open Space, ABQ NM

Eastern Phoebe, Alameda Open Space, ABQ NM

They aren’t exactly rare, but not very common this far west either.  But the other birder said that a pair had nested in the area last year.  Really exciting way to start the day.

Alameda Open Space: 7:30-9am.  Number of species seen: 24, 1 life bird and 1 bird towards my challenge (the Eastern Phoebe isn’t in the NM book).

Since I was in the area I thought that I would go to the Tramway Wetlands off of 4th street in the hopes to see a Blue-Winged Teal, a bird that I needed for the challenge.  I stopped by and sure enough there was a Blue-Winged Teal.  There was actually a duck convention going on.  I saw Green-Winged Teal, a Cinnamon Teal, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Pintails, Mallards, Canada Geese, and Gadwalls.  I also saw 4 Killdeer, but no Snipe.

Blue-Winged Teal, 1 male and 2 females, Tramway Wetlands ABQ NM.

Blue-Winged Teal, 1 male and 2 females, Tramway Wetlands ABQ NM.

Ruddy Duck, Tramway Wetlands, ABQ NM

Ruddy Duck, Tramway Wetlands, ABQ NM

Northern Pintail, Tramway Wetlands, ABQ NM

Northern Pintail, Tramway Wetlands, ABQ NM

I also managed to see some Cliff Swallows flying in and out of nests on the Western side of the bridge over the wetlands.  There are 5 types of Swallows in the Guidebook and I had only seen a Barn Swallow so far this year, so it was a bonus bird for me.

Cliff Swallows, Tramway Wetlands, ABQ NM

Cliff Swallows, Tramway Wetlands, ABQ NM

It didn’t take me long to see what there was to see, and I wanted to get up to the foothills, so I soon left.

Tramway Wetlands:  9-9:30am  Number of species seen: 14 and 2 birds towards my challenge, numbers 74 and 75.

Next I decided to stop by Elena Gallegos Picnic Area East of Tramway.  This was the only place where I had seen a Ladder-back Woodpecker before. Plus there were a few other birds that are in the guidebook that I might see.  I consulted Birding Hotspots of Central New Mexico and was disappointed to read that I shouldn’t see any Towsend’s Solitaires this late.

The parking lot was really crowded, but after 2 loops I managed to find a parking spot and I took off for the small pond and blind via the nature trail.

Nature Trail, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

Nature Trail, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

The first thing with wings that I managed to see was a really colorful butterfly on a Cholla fruit.

Butterfly on Cholla Fruit, Elana Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

Butterfly on Cholla Fruit, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

Next I saw the first of many Western Scrub Jays that I would see.  I counted 10 or so on my walk, usually in pairs.

Western Scrub Jays, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

Western Scrub Jays, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

And I barely caught one diving out of the tree to the ground below.

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

I then noticed some smaller birds which turned out to be some Juniper Titmice.  Challenge birds and life birds for me!  And they posed very nicely for some photos.

Juniper Titmouse, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

Juniper Titmouse, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

I saw something else that I couldn’t make out at first.  I though that it was a Say’s Phoebe, but when I got a good look at it the eye-rings told me that it was a Townsend’s Solitaire, another challenge bird.

Townsend's Solitaire, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

Townsend’s Solitaire, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

I was watching the Titmice again when I heard some knocking on wood.  I had to do a double take because it was a Titmouse making the noise!  And then another flew in to join it.  When I got home and looked at my photos it was even crazier.  They were using their heads and not their beaks to make the noise!

Juniper Titmouse headbanging, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM.

Juniper Titmouse headbanging, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM.

The only thing that I could find online was that a Titmouse will pound on seeds to open them out.  But I can’t see that going on here.
I continued my hike up into the foothills a bit and saw many more Western Scrub Jays.  I also heard a Gamble’s Quail, but never saw it, and this Curve-Billed Thrasher.

Curve-Billed Thrasher, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

Curve-Billed Thrasher, Elena Gallegos OS, ABQ NM

And shortly after that a bird flew in front of me and across an arroyo.  It was too far to get a good shot, but through my binoculars I could see that it was a Ladder-backed Woodpecker, my 3rd challenge bird at the open space and the 6th of the day. I ended up spending the most time there, but seeing the fewest number of birds.  There were stretches of 15 minutes or more without seeing anything but dog crap and mountain bikers.  Plus it got really hot.  I was next planning on going over to the East Side of Sandia Peak to try and see some Red-Breasted Nuthatches, Crossbills, Stellar’s Jays and anything else worth seeing.  But I had heard of an American Avocet at the Rio Grande Nature Center, so I decided to go there instead.

Elena Gallegos Open Space: 10am-1:30pm 7 Species, 3 challenge birds, 1 life bird.

Finally I made it to the Nature Center.  I found out that the Avocet was seen at the River and 2 days ago.  So a waste of trip.  And funny enough, I managed to see almost the same waterfowl there that I had seen at Tramway Wetlands that morning.  There were the usual suspects there, along with Ruddy Ducks, Green-winged, Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal.  But also female Buffleheads and some Lesser Scaup.

Ruddy Ducks and Canada Geese, RGNC, ABQ NM

Ruddy Ducks and Canada Geese, RGNC, ABQ NM

There were lots of Red-Winged Blackbirds there, both males and females discussing the coming breeding season I’m sure.

Red-Winged Blackbirds, RGNC, ABQ NM

Red-Winged Blackbirds, RGNC, ABQ NM

And I managed to see some males that were developing their adult plumage.

Red-Winged Blackbird, RGNC, ABQ NM

Red-Winged Blackbird, RGNC, ABQ NM

And on my way back to the car I saw a Yellow-Rumped Warbler that gave me a good look at the back and belly colors.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, RGNC, ABQ NM

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, RGNC, ABQ NM

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, RGNC, ABQ NM

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, RGNC, ABQ NM

Rio Grande Nature Center: 21 total species, no challenge birds

So at the end of the day I manged to see 47 species, 2 life birds and knocked 6 birds off of my guidebook challenge.  I’m well over the half-way point now.  This weekend I’m going to try and make it over to the Sandias to get some higher elevation birds.  And I sent some photos to Birdseye Birding to see about getting them into their new app and to enter to win a pair of sweet binoculars, or at least to get a free copy of the app.

I’d also like to say that I’m selling my long lens.  It’s a Sigma 50-500mm (Bigma) for Canon mount.  It’s what I’ve used on every photo that has been put on my blog.  But I’m ready for something with IS.  So if you are looking for a nice versatile lens, send me a message.
Thanks for making it this far!

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From → birding

2 Comments
  1. Bryan permalink

    Your Downy Woodpecker photo is, in my humble opinion, a Hairy Woodpecker. Look at the size of that honkin’ bill and the lack of black spots on the outermost white tail feathers. Also, your butterfly is a Great Purple Hairstreak, one awesome insect! Great birds! I’d love to visit someday; super jealous of that Solitaire and Titmouse, and best of luck in your future travels. I look forward to reading about it!

    • steve permalink

      Thanks! I didn’t think it was that big of a bird. But you are right on the bill. I mostly see Downys and got lazy. And I just like to look at butterflies, I need to get my birds down first.

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