Great Horned Owlet Captivated Us at Quarai

The surface of the water at Manzano Pond, was like glass with the shimmering reflection of the fresh green leaves of the cottonwood trees. A couple of American Coots made their way along the in the reeds at the west end of the small fishing lake.

As I caught up with the group of Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders, they were all staring into the top of one of the trees.

“What do you see?” I inquired.

“A Yellow Warbler,” someone replied. It didn’t take long before it flitted into view – a tiny spot of yellow among the green.

A couple of people had seen a Red-naped Sapsucker before it flew off.

At the far end of the pond, a male Bullock’s Oriole foraged in another tree.

“There’s the female,” someone pointed out.

The questioning call of a Plumbeous Vireo came from the trees, but we could not locate it.

The chattering of several Western Kingbirds sounded like a tape-recorder on rewind as they chased each other in and out of the trees.  Nearby we heard a Cassin’s Kingbird calling.

Five Spotted Sandpipers bobbed along the east shore. In their breeding plumage, they sported orange beaks and the identifiable round, brown spots on their breasts. They flew up and out over the pond, circled around and landed back on the shore. A short time later, they flew to the far shore.

Spotted Sandpipers

A few Barn and Violet-green Swallows swooped over the water.

As we worked our way around the north side of the water, we watched two Hairy Woodpeckers fly into a tree overhead.

“There’s also a Ladder-backed Woodpecker in that tree,” someone in the group said as he pointed.

“Eastern Phoebe,” Rebecca exclaimed. “Its distinctive fee bee call was coming from the depths of a large tree. A few minutes later it flew out and headed in the opposite direction.

Our next stop was the Quarai Unit of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, one of the sites featured in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico.

‘Blinky’ – Great Horned owlet

“About a week ago when I was volunteering at Wildlife Rescue,” trip leader Bonnie Long told us, “I took a phone call from the ranger about a Great Horned Owl chick that had fallen from the nest high up in one of the niches in the ruins.  When I went to check on it the following day, it had walked out of the convento ruins and around the corner where it would be at risk from predators.”

She went onto tell us that as a result of her training, she was able to pick it up with gloves, put it in a box and place it back inside the ruins. The ranger has cordoned off the area with cones to protect it, and someone has nick-named it ‘Blinky.’

We entered the ruins in small groups. It was dozing in a far corner.

“The parents are feeding it,” the ranger told us. “We found the end of a snake one morning and yesterday there was the tail end of a rabbit. Both were soon devoured. We hope that it continues to thrive.”

We could see that it is growing its flight feathers and were in awe of the little owlet’s spunk.

We followed the trail into the riparian area where we could hear a Yellow-breasted Chat calling and could see it perched in a tree across a clearing.

I was near the end of our group of 27 birders and saw a bird with a black hood and the distinctive wing bars of a grosbeak fly by and into a nearby tree.

“Rose-breasted Grosbeak,” someone at the head of the line called. We learned that it has been coming to the ranger’s feeders adjacent to the monument.

There weren’t as many species as we had hoped – and no migrating flycatchers or warblers, which was a puzzle. This normally is a great spot for these species in mid-May.

As we ate our lunch under the cottonwood trees, several Black-headed Grosbeaks entertained us with their frolicking and calling, while Barn Swallows flew low over the field in search of insects.

Even though the Eastern Phoebe was a second county record for Torrance County, we all agreed that the owlet was the ‘bird of the day.’

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