The sky sparkled in the cold morning air as 12 people gathered at Tingley Beach to participate in the Botanical Garden’s Great Backyard Bird Count. They ranged from very experienced birders to a family and their young son who wanted to learn more. Our count was to take place in the bosque west of the main fishing ponds. I was leading the group representing Central New Mexico Audubon.We crossed over the bike path and headed into the bosque. Our first stop was to check out a nesting Great Horned Owl. I pointed to the tree where the female was incubating. “The Great Horned Owl is an early nester,” I explained. “It doesn’t build its own nest, but instead takes over another nest – in our bosque it is usually a Cooper’s Hawk’s nest.” I went on to tell the group that she had begun nesting about a week prior and would be on the nest for about a month, with the male bringing prey to her during the night.
Northern Flickers flashed their red feathers as they chased each other between the trees.
Our next stop was one of the bosque ponds.
“See the duck with the long white stripe down the side of the neck?” I told the group. “It is a Northern Pintail.
“Notice how long the tail feathers are and how they stick up,” Beth added. “That’s how it gets its name.”
I next pointed out the Ring-necked Ducks and we began to count them.
Two cormorants flew in and landed in the pond. They tilted their long snake-like necks upward as they paddled along. Before long, they took to the air and flew off. “They are Neotropic Cormorants,” I told the group. “Notice their long tails and the crook in their necks when they are flying.”
There were more types of waterfowl in the next pond – a female Bufflehead, a pair of Lesser Scaup, several Redheads,
and 14 Northern Shovelers trolling in a circle with their heads in the water. “Their swimming creates a kind of a vortex,” Steve commented.
We heard a Bewick’s Wren calling in the trees behind us and turned around to catch pairs of both Eastern and Western Bluebirds flying down to the ground and then back up to a tree. A Downy Woodpecker tapped nearby – one of five we would see during the morning.
Out towards the river, we saw four different Great Blue Herons fly by.
We headed south along a marshy area, the result of run-off from the ponds, where we spotted a Song Sparrow and Spotted Towhee.
While we saw several Red-winged Blackbirds, there was no sign of the Rusty Blackbirds that had spent almost six weeks in the area, starting mid-December.
We searched two locations where Winter and Pacific Wrens had been seen recently, but saw no sign of them.
“There’s a hawk perched in that cottonwood over there,” Fran reported. It was either a Cooper’s Hawk or a Sharp-shinned. And then it flew – a sharpie since its head barely protruded in front of the wings.
We made our way out to the river. A male and two female Common Mergansers swam near the far shore. About forty Sandhill Cranes rested on a sandbar, while skeins of cranes called as they headed north.
Clearly, north-bound migration was in full force.
We had heard Killdeer calling. After carefully scouring each sandbar, we finally saw two of them probing in the mud.
As we wandered back along the main trail, we encountered a group of American Robins and a Hermit Thrush.
We noticed a large raptor circling overhead. “It’s a second year Bald Eagle,” I said. I found the picture of the eagle flying on the Sibley’s app on my phone and showed the group the way Bald Eagle plumage varies from first year to second year to adult.
As we headed out of the bosque, we spotted a Greater Roadrunner prancing by and stopped to enjoy more bluebirds and Yellow-rumped Warblers.
By time we returned to the parking area, we were surprised that it had been four hours since we began. Time flies when you are enjoying and counting the birds! All that was left was to enter the data in eBird when I got home. The Botanical Gardens would enter the group count for the Great Backyard Bird Count.