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! 🙂