Easter Weekend – Sunday – Prospecting and Birding

We didn’t have any specific plans for our trip after going to see Kilbourne Hole.  So since we had to drive back through Truth or Consequences, we decided to stop there and let Tim have some coil time on his metal detector.  We first went to a canyon hear Hillsboro, NM.  We both struck out…no birds….no gold.  So we got back in the car and headed towards Caballo Lake.  While heading out of Hillsboro, we saw several cars parked along the highway and you could tell they were working dirt looking for gold.

Tim pulled in and spoke briefly to a couple about what they were finding.  I stayed in the car.  When he came back, he told me it was a husband and wife he spoke to.  He said they were camping at Percha Dam State Park.  The wife was a fellow birder and she said she had seen a Black Hawk and a pair of Vermillion Flycatchers.  WHAT!!!???!!!  I need both those birds!!!!!  So, of course, I told Tim we had to go there before leaving town.

Since it was around noon, I knew the birds would be quiet at this hour.  We headed over to the Caballo Mountains so Tim could do some prospecting.  While he metal detected, I went searching for birds.  By this time the temperatures were warming up.  Scarlett was looking for every patch of shade she could find.

I didn’t see many birds.  Mostly my favorite Black-Throated Sparrows.  They always seem to be about all times of day.

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Black-Throated Sparrow

I walked to a natural waterfall hoping for a trickle of water there but it was dry.  I sat awhile and let Scarlett enjoy the cool sand and shade.

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Miss Scarlett

After looking vainly for any birds, I headed back to the vehicle for some shade and comfort.  Scarlett immediately crashed in the back seat enjoying the shade and cool breeze coming through the truck.  I worked on editing photos from the day before.  Then I saw a movement out of the corner of my eye.  When I looked down, I saw a lizard camouflaged in the bushes.  I love the turquoise coloring on him.  Soon he darted away never to be seen again.

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I believe this is a Common Sagebrush Lizard

Tim came back to the vehicle after a couple of hours.  He found one tiny piece of gold.  At least he didn’t get skunked!

We finally got to head over to Percha Dam State Park.  I really wanted to see if I could find that Vermillion Flycatcher.  When we arrived I walked the park by myself while Tim relaxed in the vehicle and kept Scarlett with him.  I immediately saw several Phainopepla.  I tried getting some good photos of the male, but it was extremely windy.  So the bird moving around on a swinging branch in the wind made for difficult photography.

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Phainopepla

While I was looking for that flycatcher Tim called me over to the truck.  He said he had something he wanted me to photograph.  He got out of the truck and pointed out a huge bullfrog in the grass.  I mean huge!

He said while he was relaxing in the truck, he watched this bullfrog leave the dry canal and was slowly make his way toward the river.

I took a few photos of this bullfrog.  He wasn’t moving very quickly but was clearly heading straight for the river, which was more than 100 yards away.

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American Bullfrog

We decided we needed to help him get to the river.  He was on the far side of the park and the gauntlet he would have had to traverse was crossing two roads, a playground, several campsites and the woods before he even got to the river’s edge.  I figured he would have a better chance of surviving if I just carried him to the water’s edge.  Being Easter Sunday, that park was pretty crowded.  It took both hands to handle this giant.  He was very cold so I figured he must not have been out of his hibernation spot very long.

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Kelly with the Giant Bullfrog.  You can see his hazardous path to the river behind me.

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Once we got him to the river’s edge, he still was reluctant to move much.  But we wanted to make sure he was safe.  So I found an area along the river that had lots of cattails so he could be at the water but also hidden from view.

After a little prodding on my part, he finally jumped into the water and safely out of harm’s way.  He briefly stayed above water for a quick photo, then shot away with one powerful kick!

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Tim stayed there a little while longer to make sure the bullfrog got safely away.  There were lots of fisherman at the water’s edge.

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Tim keeping a watchful eye on the bullfrog until he swam safely away.  You can see the cattails I left him in. 

That bit of excitement over, I was back to looking for that flycatcher.  After about 10 minutes, I gave up and we got in the car to head home.  We were both tired and hungry. Then just as we were driving out of the park, I saw a flash of bright red fly down from a tree and grab a bug on the ground.  I yelled out “STOP!!!!”  I jumped out of the vehicle and made my way over to the bird.

By this time the wind was really blowing.  And that Vermillion Flycatcher male was not letting me get very close for a photo.  So my pictures weren’t very good.  But I still remember the joy and excitement I felt at seeing that gorgeous red bird come into focus in my viewfinder.  Just breathtakingly beautiful!

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Vermillion Flycatcher male

Shortly after seeing the male, I spotted the female.  She’s very pretty as well.  I was thrilled! A new bird for me!

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Vermillion Flycatcher female

It was a great Easter Sunday adventure.  We had a great weekend full of fun memories.

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American Robin

 

Late Winter Birding in TorC – Day 3

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.

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Killdeer

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American Kestral

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Red-Tailed Hawk

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Red-Winged Blackbird

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.

 

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Sandhill Cranes

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Western Meadowlarks

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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Greater Roadrunner

 

Finally!  Something worth shooting! 🙂

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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!

Late Winter Birding in TorC – Day 2 (Part 2)

Last time I wrote, I had left off around mid-day on my second day of birding near Truth or Consequences.  I had decided to eat my picnic lunch back at the Caballo Lake State Park where I had birded earlier that morning.  I was hopeful that there was still a lot of bird activity there even though it was later in the day.

I wasn’t disappointed! Upon arriving back at the park, I saw a pair Cinnamon Teal in the river. Yes! This was a duck I was really hoping to see.  Such a beautiful bird.

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Cinnamon Teal

 

While walking along the river trying to get a decent photo of this duck before they decided they didn’t want me to photograph them, I saw lots of activity in the bushes.  There were lots of sparrows flitting around in the shade of the bushes.  It was a challenge getting some decent photos, but I had lots of fun trying.  I was surprised by the variety of sparrows in one small area.

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Savannah Sparrow

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Vesper Sparrow

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Brewer’s Sparrow

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Chipping Sparrow

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White-Crowned Sparrow adult

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White-Crowned Sparrow juvenile

Hanging out on a wire, I spied a Loggerhead Shrike.  I love seeing these birds.  I think they are so unique in how they have learned to hunt and save food.

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Loggerhead Shrike

 

There were lots of Yellow-Rumped Warblers flitting among the trees.  They were so busy it was a challenge to get a photo.  But I managed to get a pic of a male Audubon variety.  I think they are very striking.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler

 

Taking another peek at the river I saw there was a Green-Winged Teal this time.  He was very skittish.

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Green-Winged Teal

 

The day was getting on.  I wanted to visit Elephant Butte Lake while I was in the area. So I left Caballo Lake State Park and headed north.

On the road to the lake, I spotted a kingfisher hanging out on a wire above a creek flowing into the Rio Grande.  I had to stop on the bridge and take a quick pic.  Thankfully there wasn’t any traffic!

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Belted Kingfisher – male

 

I wanted to bird below the Elephant Butte dam before I went to the lake.  I had never birded this area before but had heard it was a good location.  As soon as I parked and looked out the window, I saw several Pyrrhuloxia feeding on the ground right next to my car.  I was so excited! I love these birds but have been challenged in the past to get a good photo.  I was afraid to open the car door, fearing they would fly far away never to be seen again.  So I carefully eased open my car door, softly stepped out of my car, and slowly brought my camera up for a photo.  Snapped a few pics before they flew to a nearby tree.

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Pyrrhuloxuia

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Pyrrhuloxia

 

I walked slowly to the tree and saw a male sitting sweetly on a branch.  Not a care in the world.  I realized I didn’t need to be so cautious.  These birds were obviously used to people in the park.  So I relaxed and enjoyed this moment.  He was happy to sit there and look at me while I photographed him.  I took a bunch of photos, then just stood there and watched this beautiful bird until he decided he wanted to go feed some more.  It was a fabulous moment!  And I was rewarded with some great photos.

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Pyrrhuloxia

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Pyrrhuloxia – my favorite pic!

 

 

I walked the park looking for other birds, but it was fairly quiet.  Just before getting into my car, I saw a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet flitting among the trees.  He was calling and looked agitated about something.  Which was good for me because I got a photo of him clearly displaying his ruby crown.  These colorful feathers aren’t always displayed.

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

 

From there I drove up to the lake.  I was hoping I would see some of those White Pelicans on the water, but they weren’t there.  I saw several Ring-Billed Gulls and Neotropic Cormorants.  Otherwise, the lake area was pretty quiet.

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Ring-Billed Gull

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Neotropic Cormorants

 

I decided to call it a day.  I was pretty tired.  I had been birding for almost 12 hours straight! But before leaving the lake, I took one landscape photo from a high vantage point.  The view was amazing.

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Elephant Butte Lake

As I headed back to TorC for a hot meal, hot soak and comfy bed, I had to stop as several deer crossed the road in front of me.  Just beautiful!

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Mule Deer

 

When I got to the hotel, I saw the Curve-Billed Thrashers were out enjoying the late afternoon sun.  These birds are so used to people around that they didn’t mind my photographing them.  I thought to myself… next time I come I’m bringing a tripod.  I’d love to get some sharper images of these guys.

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Curve-Billed Thrasher

 

Another great birding day.  One more day of birding ahead of me before I had to head home.  Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

Late Winter Birding in TorC – Day 2 (Part 1)

I woke up very early the next morning.  I was too excited to sleep 🙂

I knew I wouldn’t be meeting my fellow birders for a few hours so I decided to find an area called the Palomas Marsh.  I had noticed several sightings of birds in this area that I’d like to see, specifically the Cinnamon Teal.

As I meandered the roads along farming country, I was greeted by a very friendly billy goat.

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Well, either I didn’t find the marsh, or it’s really not a marsh after all.  It was basically a spot along the Rio Grande River that had a huge sand bar and a few cattails.  It’s located next to a huge farming area so there were few trees about.  I ended up birding along the river next to a field that had been burned of weeds recently.

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Turtle Mountain on the Left.  Burned field in the foreground.

 

There was a large flock of birds feeding in this burnt field.  I tried for quite awhile to get a photo of these birds to find out what they were.  It wasn’t until I was heading back to my car that a few landed near enough to get a half decent pic.  I realized it was a flock of American Pipits.

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American Pipit

 

While perusing the water, two White Pelicans flew right over me.  I’m always surprised at seeing pelicans in the desert.

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White Pelican

 

All I could see in the water was a bunch of Mallards and one Pied-Billed Grebe.  So I decided to head over to Caballo Lake State Park.  There’s a great spot to bird along the river just below Caballo Dam.

As I was driving back through the farming community, I saw this grackle singing away.  I think they are pretty birds with the iridescent black feathers.

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Great-Tailed Grackle

 

When I reached the park at Caballo Lake, I was greeted by beautiful birdsong all around me.  I had to smile big at this 🙂

I saw a pair of Hooded Mergansers hanging out below the dam.  First time I’ve seen this species this year.

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Male and Female Hooded Mergansers

 

As I drove through the park I was thrilled to see a male Phainopepla.  I love these birds! And nearby was a female.  Both were at the tops of trees and I had a difficult time getting a decent photo.  Only the male’s photo was worth sharing.

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Male Phainopepla

 

I heard a Northern Mockingbird but try as I might I never saw him.  Too bad, fun birds to watch sing.

I heard an interesting song in the trees along the river.  I usually bird by ear, and I knew this one was different.  After hunting for a while, I finally got a photo of the singing bird.  To my surprise, it was a Bewick’s Wren.  It didn’t sound like any of the Bewick’s Wrens I have at home.

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Bewick’s Wren

 

While birding around the park I got a call from the birders I was supposed to meet up with over at Percha Dam State Park.  So I headed over there hoping there would be more activity in this location than the night before.

Upon arriving at Percha Dam, I was greeted by about 20 Phainopeplas singing in the trees at the park entrance.  They were way up high and flying about, so it was impossible to get a photo.

I met up with the group and we started birding along the river heading south.  By the time I met up with them it was about 10 am.  So a lot of the birding activity had slowed way down.  It was warming up quick and would be a hot 80 degrees before days end.

In the bushes I spotted a Lincoln’s Sparrow.  I don’t see these birds very often.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

 

There was a Ladderback Woodpecker busy in the dead cottonwoods.

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Ladderback Woodpecker

 

Just before leaving the park, I spotted a female Phainopepla right at eye level.  I was thrilled.  Got a pretty decent pic, considering she was among lots of small branches giving off lots of shadows.

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Female Phainopepla

 

I decided to leave the group at this time and do my own thing.  They were moving pretty slow and I was feeling lots of birding energy yet in my bones!

I decided to head back over to Caballo Lake State Park.  There was a lot more bird activity over there.

To be continued……..