Early Fall Birding

Signs of early fall are definitely here. The temperatures are cooler, the foliage is starting to change color and the birds are fattening up on fall’s bounty of insects and seeds.

While hiking in the Bosque along the Rio Grande I enjoyed watching the Lesser Goldfinches gleaning seeds from the abundant sunflowers.  I think they look like circus acrobats in the tightrope as they hang upside down to eat the seeds. 

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A white-breasted nuthatch was enjoying the sunflowers as well.

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I was treated to a pair of Summer Tanager while hiking the Bosque.  Always a lovely sight.

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I had heard a red phalarope had been spotted at the Taco Bell Marsh in Belen several times this past week. I headed down there a couple times in hopes of seeing this bird as it would be a new sighting for me.  Sadly I never saw or heard the little guy.

But I did see a Virginia Rail while there. Only the second time I’ve seen this bird.  I was able to get a much better photo this time. 

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I enjoyed watching the graceful Black-necked stilts and was treated to a pair of white-faced ibis.

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I decided to head back along a quiet highway instead of the interstate.  I’m glad I did because I was treated to lots and lots of egrets! And I got to see a female ring-necked pheasant.  This is the first time to see a female in the wild. 

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I decided to stop in at the Valle de Oro.   As always there where many Vesper Sparrows flitting here and there.

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On the way out I saw a coyote running along the railroad tracks.  A nice treat!

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On the way home I saw a single Western Kingbird.  In the spring you’re happy to see them arrive as you know spring has begun. During the breeding season you are driven crazy by their constant chatter and squabbling.  Then after the breeding season they begin to quiet down.  By fall you enjoy their quiet beauty before they migrate. And during the winter you long for the sight of the first Kingbird to herald the coming of spring.

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Great Day at Capulin Springs

About a week ago I got up extremely early and drove up to Capulin Spring.  I think this was the earliest I had ever gotten there – practically still dark as I pulled into the parking area.  But the early rising from bed paid off big time! Plus I was excited to use my new camera.  I upgraded from a Nikon 1 V1 to a V3.  It’s a much better camera with lots more features.  It didn’t disappoint in it’s performance in the low light of dawn!

On the drive up the crest road there were lots of mule deer grazing right on the side of the road.  I drove very slowly and creeped up to them.  They didn’t spook and I was able to get some nice closeups of both the male and female.

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Mule Deer Doe – such a sweet face

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Buck still in velvet

There were so many birds coming in first thing.  I didn’t know where to look as they were EVERYWHERE! A real dilemma for a birder!

I have noticed there at the spring that birds tend to come in by species.  You will see mostly one species at a time.  First thing I saw that day was lots of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets.  There were several and they all wanted a bath.  One got completely soaked and sat in front of me grooming for at least 5 minutes.

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Soon after the kinglets were done bathing the Townsend’s Warblers came in.  A real treat as they are so beautiful! One got in a spat with a Yellow-Rumped Warbler and won – surprising because they are quite a bit smaller.

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Townsend’s Warbler

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Townsend’s Warbler

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Townsend’s Warbler bullying a Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I usually see lots of Juncos when I’m there but not so many this day.  Mostly the really pretty birds came in – to my delight.

Next came the crossbills.  I’m always fascinated by their bills.  I can see how they are very useful in prying open the pinecones but wonder how difficult it must be to drink and groom.

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Red Crossbill – Male

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Red Crossbill – Female

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Red Crossbill using that unique beak to pry apart a pinecone

While all this activity was happening at the spring, there were about 5 Band-Tailed Pigeons wanting to come in for a drink and a Sharp-Shinned Hawk way up in a dead tree.  He never got the nerve up while I was there.  I kept as still as I could and was finally rewarded with the pigeons coming in for a drink.  They are so nervous.

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Sharp-Shinned Hawk

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Band-Tailed Pigeon – there is also one behind him getting a drink

After they left lots of song birds started coming in and the spring got very busy.  It was so wonderful to just sit and enjoy seeing all the beautiful birds flying about and getting baths.  My jaw hurt from the constant smiling.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Wilson’s Warbler with a Yellow-Rumped Warbler

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Western Tanager – Female

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Virginia’s Warbler irked that another bird was splashing him 🙂

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Lesser Goldfinch

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Hermit Thrush

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Cassin’s Vireo

I’m always entertained by the little chipmunks running around the area.  They are always so busy.  While I was there one crawled into my camera bag.  Probably smelled the lingering scent of a protein bar I had carried in it.  I was especially entertained by a young one.  I got a great pic of him enjoying some little morsel he had found.

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Chipmunk

There was a Steller’s Jay squawking in the canopy for a while.  He didn’t like me there.  But my patience was finally rewarded when he came down for a drink.  They are my favorite jays.  For some reason the white markings on their face make me think of Spy vs Spy (hmmmm…showing my age LOL!)

steller's jayI got to see a Brown Creeper as well.  I’ve gone several years with only seeing one briefly.  But this summer I’ve seen several and am always thrilled when I do.  This particular creeper flew to the spring but was so nervous he immediately flew back into the trees.  I managed to get one decent photo of him in the deep shadows.

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Brown Creeper

There was one bird I photographed that I just can’t figure out what it is.  I’m hoping someone seeing this blog can let me know what they think.  My first guess was a juvenile Hermit Thrush but I’m not so sure after studying the photo.

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Mystery bird for me

As the morning passed I was so thankful to have seen so many variety of birds.  I will miss this place once winter comes.  But for a little while longer I can enjoy it’s bounty.

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Green-Tailed Towhee

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Northern Flicker

I sat there for about 4 hours.  My behind was numb! Next time I need to bring a cushion!

On the way out I noticed the sunflowers in bloom.  There were lots of interesting bees on them.  I couldn’t resist photographing a couple of them.

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Interesting red bee / fly?

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I liked the fuzzy butt on this one 🙂

I hated to leave but work was waiting for me.  I will have to return again soon before all the birds fly away for the winter.

Birding from Albuquerque to San Antonio and Back

Last August I drove to San Antonio to visit my parents.  Life has been busy and I’m late on posting.

I wasn’t sure how well the birding opportunities would be as it was the middle of August.  But I was surprised at how successful I was at seeing a variety of birds…several of which were new birds for me.  I realized quickly that it was soooo dry in Texas that if I birded in areas where there was water I was sure to get something.

I decided this trip to break it up into two-day drives coming and going.  In the past I would drive the entire 12-13 hours in one day.  I’d be exhausted by the time I got to my destination.  It was a much better choice to drive half way and rest.  Plus it afforded me opportunities to stop and bird and let Scarlett get out and stretch her legs and play in some water.

This was Scarlett’s first road trip and she did great!

On the highway outside of Fort Sumner I happened to see a Swainson’s Hawk perched nicely in a dead tree.  I can never resist photographing birds of prey.

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Swainson’s Hawk

I’m so glad I decided to stop and take a few pics.  Because in that same tree was a Common Nighthawk! I have seen them in flight many times but never had to opportunity to photograph one.  So I was excited to see this one so close.  🙂

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Common Nighthawk

On the way to San Antonio I decided to drive to Lubbock, Texas, and stay the night there.  I had seen on the internet that there was an arboretum there.  Now how many of you think of a nice, lush garden area when you hear the word “arboretum”?  Well…the arboretum at Lubbock was a huge disappointment.  Maybe at one time it was nice, but not now.  The wildflower garden was way out of control but did give me a few butterflies to photograph.

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Bordered Patch

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Painted Lady

The only highlight of the arboretum besides the butterflies was a family of Mississippi Kites.  They were determined to stay in the tops of the trees, but I did manage to catch one decent photo.

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Mississippi Kite

The next morning I was determined to find someplace on the way out of town that would be much nicer to bird.  I decided to check out Buffalo Springs Lake outside of Lubbock.  What a great choice!  A beautiful community with lots of water around and full of birds.

The drive from the highway to the lake wound through grasslands and I got a new bird.  I’ve heard Northern Bobwhite many times in the past but never got a photo.  And for those of you that know me well, I only count birds on my list if I managed to get a photo (even a crappy one! LOL!).

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Northern Bobwhite

I also got to watch a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher getting breakfast.  He was a ways away but I did manage to get a halfway decent shot of him in flight.  First time I’ve seen the red patch on their wings.  It’s usually hidden when the wings are folded.

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Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

There was a nice group of Cassin’s Sparrows but they were very shy.  I managed to get one shot before they all dove into the deep grasses.

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Cassin’s Sparrow

Scarlett was happy that she got to have a morning splash in the lake before hitting the road for another 6-7 hours.  From Buffalo Springs I took a little side road to connect to the main highway instead of backtracking.  I’m so glad I did!  The drive was wonderful because of the acres and acres of stunning sunflowers!

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Giant Sunflowers outside of Lubbock, TX

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Facing the early morning sun

While staying in San Antonio I had heard about this place called Warbling Woods.  It’s a privately owned residence on several acres.  The owners are bird lovers and have created a beautiful bird sanctuary that visitors can come and enjoy.  I got to go for a couple of hours one morning.  Nothing of note really except for hearing a Dickcissel – a new bird for me.  Sadly I didn’t get a photo so he couldn’t get added to my list.

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Black-Crested Titmouse

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Summer Tanager – Female

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Carolina Wren

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Northern Cardinal – Female

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Inca Dove

I did get one butterfly at the Warbling Woods location.

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Gulf Fritillary

The weather was in the 100+ degrees and the humidity was extremely high.  So it wasn’t the best weather for birding.

On the way home I took a different route.  I drove to Roswell, NM.  I wanted to check out the Bitter Lake Wildlife Refuge.  On the way out of San Antonio I stopped at a little park to let Scarlett run around before hitting the road for several hours.  I’m glad I chose that little park because it had a small pond.  Since Texas had been extremely dry for several weeks, this little pond was a big draw for birds.

While Scarlett played in the water I was fortunate to get several new birds.

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Louisiana Waterthrush – a new bird!

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Miss Scarlett relaxing after her swim

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Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher – yup! Another new bird!

Just as I was turning to leave I saw something larger fly overhead and land at the far end of the pond.  I was so excited to see it was a Little Blue Heron! Another new bird for me!

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Little Blue Heron

I would have loved to stay at that pond for several hours but I had to hit the road.  It was going to be a long day of driving.  Just outside of Fort Stockton I needed to get gas.  I couldn’t make it to the town so stopped at a little station in the middle of nowhere about 50 miles from Fort Stockton.  It was the middle of the day and 107 degrees!  I needed to let Scarlett out to do her business.  While she was doing that I noticed quite a lot of birds hanging out around a transformer on a pole.  It was the only decent bit of shade! The birds looked just miserable!

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Bullock’s Oriole – Female

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Northern Mockingbird

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Pyrrhuloxia

Back on the road I drove up through Carlsbad, NM.  I decided to stop at a little lake called Lake Avalon as ebird was showing several sightings there.  It was a very wild lake…more of a reservoir instead of a place for people to come picnic.  So the vegetation was thick and the roads around it terrible.  But I did manage to find one road navigable by my car and made it to the lake’s edge.  It was so hot Scarlett and I were only able to walk around for about 15 minutes before we dove into the car for max A/C!

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Scarlett cooling off at Lake Avalon

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Western Kingbird hitting a grasshopper on a limb

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Bullock’s Oriole – Female

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Western Kingbird – panting in the heat!

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Killdeer

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Greater Roadrunner

While sitting in the car getting ready to leave I heard an unusual bird call coming from the only two cottonwood trees in the area.  They were a magnet for lots of birds but pretty far away so was difficult to get photos.  But I was determined to figure out what was calling in that tree that I didn’t recognize.  I finally got a glimpse of it flying from one branch to another.  Quickly snapped a photo and zoomed in.  And saw it was a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo! A new bird for me!

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Yellow-Billed Cuckoo – I believe it’s a juvenile as it’s bill has lots of black

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I thought this photo looked like a watercolor painting

The next morning I got up very early (before sunrise!) and drove to Bitter Lake.  There wasn’t much water there so not many water birds around.  But on ebird there had been sightings of a Snowy Plover and that would be a new bird for me.  Needless to say I was excited to see one as soon as I got there.  The light was poor and the bird at a distance but I did manage to get a decent enough pic for my book.

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Snowy Plover

The refuge was a peaceful place to walk Scarlett and enjoy the sunrise and cool air.

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Scarlett enjoying the walk at Bitter Lake

While walking I saw a pair of raccoons go running past me.  Those guys can run!  As it was very early sunrise my camera just couldn’t get a sharp pic as they were moving so fast.  Briefly one stopped (sort of) so I grabbed a quick pic.

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Very fast racoons!

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Glad one paused for a quick look back

There were Scaled Quail everywhere and lots of Meadowlarks singing.  I can see how this would be a great place to visit for birding at other times of the year.  I will have to see if I can visit again in the spring.

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Scaled Quail

We finally made it home but the excitement didn’t stop.  I had to drive all the way into town and pic up photos for the State Fair photo contest and get them submitted that day.  But it was worth the effort and extra driving time.  I won an Honorable Mention ribbon for my Burrowing Owl photo 🙂

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Burrowing Owl

I was surprised at how good the birding was for me for a late hot summer trip!