During the last week of December, I was able to take a trip to Bosque del Apache. I try to visit there every December as that’s when the winter bird count is pretty high.
I left well before sunrise. As I was driving down, I started getting into thicker and thicker fog. At one point I had to slow down to 40 mph on a 75 mph interstate.
It was difficult to bird first thing due to the thick fog, so I took a few scenic shots.
Boardwalk through the marsh
A lone American Coot walking through the marsh area
I was pleased to see a beautiful coyote in his handsome winter coat.
Beautiful coyote among the hoarfrost
Fortunately, the fog cleared up once the sun rose and I was able to start hunting for birds.
I first noticed a Great Blue Heron grooming.
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
There were lots of raptors about. Most of them seemed reluctant to move from their morning perch.
American Bald Eagles
I started driving around the ponds to see what waterfowl was about. I happened to notice two Northern Harriers squabbling. They were quite a ways away but I managed to capture a pic.
Northern Harriers fighting
I was surprised to find that there really wasn’t very many waterfowl about. I had to really search the ponds to find any. Not sure where they were all hiding.
Bufflehead – male
Bufflehead – female
Of course there were lots of Snow Geese about. But every time I made it around the circle to see them, they were flying.
I always hear there are wading birds that winter at the refuge, but I rarely see them. But on this day I saw three Lesser Yellowlegs feeding in the shallows of a pond.
I saw a few songbirds about that day. There were a couple of rare sightings for the area, but I never saw them. Drat!
One of my favorite sightings of the day was a Crissal Thrasher singing his little heart out atop a bush. Surprisingly he let me get pretty close singing the whole time.
I sat and watched a roadrunner look for lunch. They are always entertaining. He hunted for awhile before he noticed me watching. I took this pic the moment he realized he wasn’t alone. 🙂
My last sighting of the day was a grebe off in the distance. When I zoomed in and took a pic, I was delighted to see it was a Clark’s Grebe. These are considered a rare sighting for the area, so that was a real treat.
I left around noon and decided to drive a different route home. I took the Quebradas Scenic Route home. I had heard a lot about this road. But to be honest I couldn’t really see why it was considered so beautiful. But there was one place on the road I found very picturesque, so I got out a took a pic.
Quebradas Scenic Route
Just before leaving that highway, I came across some deer feeding in the fields.
I still had some light left in the day, so I stopped in at the Bernardo Refuge. The Sandhill Cranes seem to prefer this area over Bosque del Apache.
I got there near sunset, and all the cranes were coming in to the pond to drink. It was a beautiful sight seeing and hearing the cranes flying overhead in the soft light of sunset.
While photographing the cranes, I happened to notice the Super Moon had risen. It was big and blue!
I had a wonderful day birding. It had been quite some time since I had been able to take a whole day to bird.
Temperatures have finally started getting cold in New Mexico. It’s definitely feeling more like winter now. And with the colder temps we’ve started seeing more birds arriving for their winter stay. Along with the usual suspects, we’ve had a few seldom seen and rare birds arrive in the area. It’s so exciting to hear about an unusual bird near home.
So of course, I just had to head out to find them. Work has been so busy that it’s been difficult getting away for some birding. But I managed an hour here and there. I stopped in at the Alameda open space to check in on some gull sightings. For some reason, the seagulls love to hang out there.
I first noticed a pair of Common Mergansers swimming among the gulls. Someday I’d love to get a better photo of these birds. This is about as good as I ever get.
Common Merganser male and female
I scanned among the many local Ring-Billed Gull searching for any gulls that looked different. Immediately what stood out was a couple of Lesser Black-Backed Gull juveniles. They are much larger than the Ring-Billed and are dark brown speckled. The juvenile birds could have been one of several species, as they are so similar. Thankfully one of them flew and I was able to correctly identify the species based on the tail markings.
Lesser Black-Backed Gull with Ring-Billed Gull behind him
After searching further I spotted several California Gulls. They are also much larger than the Ring-Billed.
After walking along the river for a little while, I soon had to head back home and work. Before leaving though I decided to see what might be on the pond next to the parking lot. I saw a couple of mergansers feeding. I initially thought they were Common Mergansers, but after looking closer I realized they were Red-Breasted Mergansers. A lifer for me! And a more rare sighting for our area.
I watched them for a while and was thrilled when they swam closer to me. I even got to see them successfully fishing!
She caught a bluegill!
Next she needed to position the fish for swallowing without letting it go
That’s a big fish to swallow!
I had heard there were Tundra Swans spotted at Bosque del Apache. I just had to go see them. I begged my husband to have the day off so I could go see these beautiful birds. Sometimes it’s a blessing to be self-employed, and sometimes it’s a curse. LOL!!
Thankfully he let me go. I got up at 4:30 am so I could get there at sunrise. In the past I have always stopped at the ponds just before the refuge to watch the Sandhill Cranes take off. But this time I decided to go to the main pond and take photos of the early morning light. It was a beautiful winter morning.
Bosque del Apache at sunrise. Bald Eagles are perched on the dead tree.
I headed over to the marsh boardwalk to see what might be about. In the early morning light I spotted a muskrat eating a fish for breakfast.
I also saw a juvenile Common Gallinule but he was too far away for a good photo. This is a rare sighting for the area in winter. Also about were lots of Common Mergansers feeding in the distance. Then from under the boardwalk a pair of female Hooded Mergansers swam out. I was able to get some good closeup photos of them.
Hooded Merganser female
A Pied-Billed Grebe made an appearance as well.
While standing on the boardwalk, I heard a bird calling above and behind me. I didn’t recognize it so I turned around quickly to see what it was. And to my amazement it was a Tundra Swan! A lifer for me!
It landed a ways away on the pond but at least close enough for a photo to correctly identify it. You can just see the yellow spot between the eye and the bill.
It kept honking and then I heard more flying overhead. I guess he didn’t want to be left behind. He quickly took off again and joined his buddies. In all I saw 6 of them fly off to the south. My trip was successful!
Tundra Swan. You can see he’s quite a bit larger than the Canadian Geese
I never saw the swans again that day so I was very thankful I had visited the boardwalk first thing. I then drove the loop seeing what else might be about. There was a Great Blue Heron snoozing in a picturesque setting. I couldn’t resist taking several photos of him.
Great Blue Heron
The bird of the day would have to be the Northern Pintail. There were hundreds of them about. Needless to say, it was easy to get many good photos.
I saw lots of American Coots, a few Gadwall and Ruddy Ducks that I was able to get decent photos of. I also saw several other variety of ducks, but they were always too far away for pics.
Gadwall – male and female
I didn’t see very many little birds. Here’s the few I managed to see.
And of course, there were lots of Snow Geese about. For the most part they were too far away for any great pics. I took a few of them feeding in the fields. Upon closer inspection of my pics, I noticed I got a Ross’s Goose among the Snow Geese. I don’t see them nearly as often so it was a real treat.
Ross’s Goose in the foreground. Snow Goose behind him.
That day there were lots of raptors about. I love seeing these birds. They can be a challenge to photograph as they always manage to stay just out of reach of my long lens. So my photos are rarely sharp. But I’m still happy to see them.
I saw several American Kestral about. Such beautiful little birds.
As always there were lots Red-Tailed Hawks about. I never tire of photographing them.
I spotted a large dark bird in a tree quite a ways from the road. I took a few pics to see if I could identify it. I couldn’t decided if it was a juvenile Bald Eagle or a Golden Eagle. It was that big.
Golden Eagle – eating a raven (you can see its feet hanging down)
But then it flew and I had a conclusive identification. Golden Eagles legs are completely feathered. I was thrilled! Such a beautiful bird of prey.
Now every time I visit the refuge, I always see people with those giant camera lenses. You know what I’m talking about. The lenses are so large they need their own tripod. I always think someday it would be nice to have a setup like that but I don’t feel the need to go out and get in massive debt to get one. But on this day at the refuge, I was truly jealous of those people. The Bald Eagles were very active and just out of range of my little camera. As I was taking photos of them, I was wondering what kind stunning photos these people were getting with their expensive lenses. It would have been worth every penny to get some of the shots I know they got. Ah well……. here’s what I got of the Bald Eagles.
Bald Eagles and a Raven
One of the Bald Eagles took off after breakfast
Success! Bald Eagle eating a Snow Goose
The Sandhill Cranes finally got within camera range later that day. Such beautiful birds.
Sandhill Crane among the winter grasses – beautiful!
I went in the garden area of the refuge to see what might be about. I heard a lot of birds, but not much luck seeing them. I did get some good shots of a Great Roadrunner. I love these birds! And it was a great way to end my day at the refuge.
One other day during the week I was able to pop in at Tingley Beach to see what might be about. You can usually count on seeing lots of waterfowl during the winter months. On this day I got to see a pretty ugly Muscovy Duck. I don’t always see what looks like a pure bred Muscovy so I’m guessing it’s probably a more rare sighting for this species in Albuquerque.
Here’s some of the other waterfowl I saw that day.
One day I was driving home and I saw a Mountain Bluebird in the middle of the road. I thought it would fly, but it didn’t and I drove right passed him. I quickly stopped and ran back to pick him up. He looked pretty sad. I brought him home to see if I could help him. Here’s a pic of what he looked like when I picked him up.
I set him on a towel in the sun on my couch in the living room. He seemed very dazed. I think he must have flown into a passing car and stunned himself.
He sat there on that towel for several hours. At one point I made him take a few sips of water then put him back on the towel. After several hours he finally perked up and started looking around. Truthfully I thought he was a gonner. He looked that bad. So I was so happy to see him looking more alert. When he seemed coherent enough, I decided to take him back to where I found him. I know he has a girlfriend there and that they live by the church. I seem them every day I drive by.
He still couldn’t fly that great. Probably had a hell of a headache. But I put him on the ground and he quickly started gulping down juniper berries. I figured that was a great sign and was happy to leave him there to find his gal.
Mountain Bluebird – he was eating those berries you can see on the ground
Since that day I have seen him and his lady there at the church. It feels good knowing I saved that beautiful bluebird!
I can’t wait to see what other rare birds might make there way into my area this winter. During the past two weeks I’ve gotten 4 lifer birds. It’s been awesome! There is a Rusty Blackbird in town at the Albuquerque Open Space Visitor’s Center. That would be a lifer for me to see him. I’ve gone by there a few times and have yet to see him. I heard him one day but no sighting yet. Drat! Hopefully I will see him soon. I will keep you posted! 🙂
I woke up again bright and early… ready for another full day of birding. Since I had pretty much birded the area out yesterday, I decided to head home first thing… with a stop at Bosque del Apache first of course.
I left well before sunrise. As I was driving down the interstate I couldn’t help but notice the full moon setting. It was just beautiful. But by the time I found an exit (they are scare in this area) and changed my camera settings to capture a night shot, the moon had almost set. I did manage to get a couple decent photos before it was gone. I had hoped to have time to set my camera so that the moon would be in focus instead of just a ball of light. Sadly I just didn’t have time. I rarely shoot at night so the settings just aren’t automatic for me. Now ask me settings for different lighting conditions to capture a bird, I’ve got those memorized!
When I arrived at the Bosque del Apache, I was very disappointed in the weather conditions. When I left TorC it was calm and warm. But when I got to the Bosque it was cold and extremely windy. The ponds were all choppy and nothing was out feeding. Big disappointment. I drove the loop once, saw two more skunks! But mostly things were just very quiet.
I took a few photos of birds trying to feed during the windy morning conditions. But it was so windy I had a difficult time taking photographs. Either the bird was moving all over because of a swinging branch and/or I couldn’t hold my camera steady in the gusts of wind.
Since it was so quiet at the Bosque and the weather conditions just awful, I decided to head up to Bernardo and see what was happening there. Of course, all the Sandhill Cranes were here. I can’t understand why they prefer this location over the Bosque del Apache, but they do. And surprisingly the wind had calmed down considerably in this area.
Since there was nothing new here, I drove further north and stopped at Los Lunas to see if I could find the Burrowing Owls that have returned for nesting. Sadly, they were not showing themselves either.
So far, this day has been a bust!
So I headed yet further north and popped in to the Valle de Oro. I usually always see lots here. But nope! Another quiet location. I did get a nice shot of a Horned Lark.
Horned Lark – female
So by now I’m back in Albuquerque. It was only 1:30 which meant I still had plenty of time to bird. So I took Joe’s instructions and decided to find a Great Horned Owl nest he told me about off Montano. It was literally off the main road way up in a tree. I couldn’t see the male, but she was fairly visible from the ground.
Great Horned Owl
I still wasn’t ready to call it a day. So I decided to head over to the Rio Grande Nature Center. There’s always activity there… right??! Nope, this day was definitely the birds day off.
Just before getting into my car, I saw a couple of folks taking pictures of something in the parking lot. My guess was a Roadrunner. And I was right! This guy was very tame. I sat on the ground at the picnic tables and he came up to me looking for a handout. I didn’t have anything to give him, but some other folks shared some tidbits. I got several great photos of him.
Finally! Something worth shooting! 🙂
Great Roadrunner – my favorite pic of the day!
So that concludes my late winter birding trip to TorC. I had a blast. Over the three days of birding, I saw/heard 76 different species of birds.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing about my birding weekend! I’m ready to go again once spring migration starts!!!! After all….I still need that Vermillion Flycatcher photo!
Last weekend I traveled to Truth or Consequences to meet up with a birding group from Santa Fe. They had planned a trip birding in locations I hadn’t been to before. So I was really looking forward to this trip as I know the birding is always good in the TorC area.
I drove down the day before and made it a point to get to the Bosque del Apache at dawn. I figured if I have to drive right past it, I might as well go early and spend the day there.
The sunrise was very pretty….. for about 5 minutes. Then clouds moved in and it stayed overcast the whole time I was there. As usual, the low light conditions always prove to be a challenge to me photographing birds. But it made for beautiful landscape views.
I stopped at the ponds along the highway prior to the visitors center to see what might be about. The Bosque has let these ponds start to dry up. There was very little water in just a small area. The shore birds were enjoying it, but no ducks, geese or cranes about.
I was the first and seemed to be the only car there. Which was nice because all the wildlife hadn’t been disturbed. I drove extremely slow around the main loop. The light was still very low so I couldn’t make out what was on the ponds yet. So I kept driving past them to see what wildlife might be out along the backside of the loop. It’s more treed and brushy there so critters are more likely to be seen here. As I rounded the bend I was thrilled to see a Ring-Necked Pheasant. A male too! Just beautiful. I took several photos but because of the low light they aren’t as sharp as I’d have liked them to be. But he was a gorgeous sight!
Then to my surprise a skunk was walking along side the road. I’d smelled plenty of them in my life and had trapped a very young one in my chicken coop. But I’d never seen one in the wild before. They are actually very pretty. The fur on the tail is very long and wispy. I took several photos but definitely stayed in the car! He decided he didn’t like me following him, so he dove into the brush alongside the road – tail up!!! Yikes!
As I watched him move into the brush, a Red-Tailed Hawk landed in a tree right next to me watching that skunk. He was thinking “Breakfast!”. I took several photos quickly before he moved off following that skunk. He was so intent on that breakfast that he never even noticed me. Just beautiful!
As I made my way to the farm area, I scanned the brush next to the road. There’s usually sparrows of different varieties in there. But all I saw was a small flock of Savannah Sparrows.
As the morning progressed the activity started picking up. I made my way to the ponds to see what waterfowl might be around. There’s a dead tree out in the middle of the main pond. The Bald Eagles love to sit on this tree. It’s great to easily see them, but I just wish that tree was much closer! Lol! Since it was impossible to get a decent photo of the eagle in the lighting I had available, I made the photo more artistic 🙂
There were the usual suspects on the ponds. Mallards, coots, northern shovelers, buffleheads, northern pintail, etc. A Song Sparrow was singing away in the brush next to a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker.
I made my way to the pond across from the boardwalk. There I saw Pied-Billed Grebes and an Eared Grebe. I’ve only seen the Eared Grebe a couple of times in the past. They are not real common in New Mexico.
I then walked the boardwalk. Very quiet on the pond. There were lots of turtles sunning themselves in the weak sun and a Great Blue Heron was trying to get some breakfast.
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
After touring the loop a couple times, I made my way to the visitor’s center to see what might be visiting the feeders there. Lots of finches, sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Gamble’s Quail.
House Finches – male and female
After a fun morning at the Bosque, I decided to drive on down to TorC and scout out the meeting location of the birding group. So I headed to Percha Dam State Park. This area is touted as one of the top year-round birding spots in New Mexico. It’s a park along the Rio Grande River below Caballo Lake. This time of year, the water level is very low in the river. By the time I got there, it was late afternoon.
I walked along the river and was pleasantly surprised to see lots of little sparrows in the dense brush. I saw White-Crowned Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows. But when I clicked a photo of one bird, I had to zoom in and study it further. To my delight I saw it was a Swamp Sparrow. Evidently they are commonly seen in this area in the winter. It’s a terrible photo but it’s a new bird for me! Why are all my new bird sighting photos so terrible??? I managed to get several bad photos with which to help identify the bird. Otherwise I might have had to pass this observation by.
I saw a Belted Kingfisher and a few Black Phoebes that afternoon. It took several tries, but I was finally able to get a photo of that kingfisher. He was very skittish!
Belted Kingfisher – female
I was looking forward to the next morning. Should be a good birding day! Forecast called for plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures!
Earlier this week I took advantage of the beautiful warm weather and decided to spend an entire day at the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge. I had never been there before at dawn so was really looking forward to it.
In order to be there at sunrise I had to leave my house at 4:30 am. It was worth the early alarm as I had a fabulous day.
My goal for the day was to get a good photo of a male bufflehead, see the snow geese fly off in mass ascension, and get a decent photo of a bald eagle. My friend Joe had told me they had been spotted there recently.
So warm clothes donned, camera and tripod loaded, and a large cup of coffee I hit the road. I was greeted at the entrance to the refuge by a stunning sunrise.
I love my Nikon 1 camera as it is very small and lightweight and my zoom lens goes to 810mm. But sadly its performance drops in low light even with a tripod. So my photos of the dawn flights of the sandhill cranes are not very sharp.
But it was fun to watch them climb up onto the ice before taking off.
After watching the cranes for awhile I thought I’d see how the snow geese were doing at the pond next door. Sadly I missed the mass ascension. I hoped I’d get to see them later in the day.
I then drove around the large ponds at the main part of the refuge. I caught a mallard in mid lift off but the light was still pretty low.
I stopped to watch a few of the various songbirds feeding in the bushes along the road.
Western Meadowlark – Can you see two of them?
While watching these birds I happened to hear a Marsh Wren. I was determined to get a photo as its a new bird for me. I managed to get a pretty decent shot. They are tough to photograph as they are fast, shy and usually stay hidden in the reeds.
Next I visited the main pond. I saw lots of Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintail – which I think are elegant.
Northern Shoveler – love the purple sheen
Northern Shoveler – female
Then much to my delight I saw several pairs of Bufflehead! Success! One of my goals completed! I wanted to capture the beautiful colors on the male’s head.
Bufflehead – female
Bufflehead – male
I saw a few other waterfowl but not in great numbers like the shovelers and pintails.
Killdeer – cute looking head on
I had at this point been birding for several hours. I hadn’t seen any bald eagles and was also surprised I hadn’t seen any deer. But I did run into my friend Joe 🙂 He was there with his friend Terry and it sounded like they had a good morning as well. It’s always great to see him out in the field. 🙂
On the back road of the refuge I came across an old timer Heron. You could tell he has been a long time resident of the refuge because he was perfectly at ease being photographed from just a few feet away and I even got out of my car. I watched him preen for a good several minutes.
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
And right next to the Heron I watched a doe and two babies walk out of the deep grasses.
Young Mule Deer – you can still see some spots on its rump
I continued to drive along the back road and was happily surprised by seeing a pair of bald eagles relaxing in a shade tree. Success again on my goals! They were a ways away with no way of getting closer but I’m still pleased with my photo.
I drove along the farm fields on the refuge. The snow geese were there in great numbers but in the far back 40! So still no luck getting photos of them. But the sandhill cranes were close by as well as a couple of roadrunners and a hunting kestrel.
I saw several Red-Tailed Hawks at great distances. A number of Kestrels and several Northern Harriers. The last of which I was able to get a decent photo in flight. I’ve been practicing those “in flight photos”.
As I was making my way back to the visitors center I decided to stop and photograph some coots that were in a canal close to the road. I always love the coots. Most people overlook or dismiss them. But because I didn’t I was rewarded by a beautiful find. Sitting not 8 feet from me just grooming peacefully in the sun was a Common Gallinule. I was just standing there watching several coots when I realized this bird was different. I watched that bird for some time and he was never concerned about me being so close. He eventually walked back into the reeds. I was so thankful for such a wonderful experience.
I was one happy birder at this point. It had been a wonderful day so far.
I decided to see what was at the feeders at the visitors center as Joe mentioned seeing White-Throated Sparrows. And indeed there were those Sparrows along with Song Sparrows, dove and to my delight a Pyrrhuloxia!
The number and variety of birds was increasing as I sat and watched the feeders. I was curious to see what else might come in to feed when all of a sudden a Northern Harrier swooped in, grabbed for a bird and took off. Everything scattered and disappeared! So much for watching the feeders….
It was starting to get late in the day. I was hungry as I hadn’t eaten since 4 am and it was now 3:30 in the afternoon. I was having so much fun I hadn’t even felt hungry.
I made my way to the entrance pond and saw a large number of photographers set up filming a large number of snow geese. I immediately thought “mass ascension”.
I quickly found me a spot among the more professional photographers with their many thousand dollar camera and lens setups. You know….those giant lenses that need their own tripod…
I got several nice pics with my little Nikon 1 camera that didn’t break the bank…
Snow Goose – Blue Phase
I saw another goose that I initially thought was a dark morph snow goose. But upon closer inspection realized it was a Greater White-Fronted Goose. The same goose I had been looking for on my last birding day out. 🙂
Greater White-Fronted Goose
Then all of a sudden the Snow Geese started taking off in waves of mass ascension! They were heading off to their preferred sleeping pond. It was so spectacular! Joe and Terry ended up there with me too. We all enjoyed the beautiful sight!
Snow Geese – last wave of mass ascension
Now by this time I was feeling very thankful for the wonderful experiences of the day. Seeing God’s beauty and wonder in the varied wildlife and scenery around me. Thankful that my health had improved so much that I could spend an entire day soaking up the miracles of the refuge.
But sadly some of those photographers with their thousands of dollars in equipment just didn’t appreciate what was around them. After the last wave of snow geese had flown away this photographer next to me picked up his gear and mumbled “I waited 2.5 hours for that?! They didn’t fly in the direction they were supposed to for any good pics and they didn’t fly all at once as was expected.” He continued to grumble as he stomped grumpily to his car. I felt very sad for him that he had lost sight of the wonders around him because he couldn’t get a perfect photo…
As I left the refuge I was flying high on my experiences of the day. I was starving as it had been 12 hours since I had eaten. But I had to stop one more time for a few more pics as I saw a field with Sandhill Cranes and a huge flock of a variety of blackbirds.
Various blackbirds flying in front of Sandhill Cranes
A beautiful ending to a fantastic day. I drove home with thankfulness in my heart for the opportunity I had to visit the refuge and its winter migrants.