It is normally difficult for me to participate in the Albuquerque CBC since it inevitably falls on the same Sunday that our church choir is performing its Christmas program where I am one of the altos. As the count leaders were reporting the results of scouting city parks within the count circle, I had a moment of clarity. If I counted in parks near my house and the church, I could do both. My friend Barbara, who also sings in the choir, agreed to join me and we were assigned several parks and neighborhoods.
Counting in parks might not be exciting; however, Michael Hilchey, our of Albuquerque’s young-adult superstar birders reminded us about the serendipity of park counting in his blog post – Urban Birding – Christmas Bird Count Style.
Barbara arrived at my house at 7:30 am and we started with a 30 minute feeder count in my yard where we got our only Western Scrub Jay for our route.
It was still in the high 20’s when we left the house. The nearby park and senior center didn’t produce much. Our next stop was Hahn Park – essentially a compilation of Little League fields. “There should be robins foraging in the grass,” I lamented as we gazed at the barren fields. However, as we explored the shrubby area behind a batting cage, we picked up Dark-eyed Juncos from both the Oregon and Pink-sided races.
As we emerged from the park, we heard an American Robin. Then, three flew across the street into a tree in front of us. We realized there was a lot of activity across the street near the La Vida Llena retirement community and went to explore. There were trees with red berries clinging to the bare branches that were the focus of multiple robins – we added another 18 to our total!
In the nearby ponderosa pines were several Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warblers and a feeder hanging from a resident’s balcony attracted House Finches and a Lesser Goldfinch.
And, then it was time to take a break and go warm-up with the choir.
We left before church was over and returned to our route. Our next stop was Conchas Park where our new bird for the day was a European Starling. While not a great sighting, they are part of the urban scene and it is important to know their numbers.
We birded the neighborhood and then drove to Hoffman Park. “This is one of the park’s where I have monitored Cooper’s Hawk’s nests and there are always lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers in the late winter,” I told Barb.
A bush across the street from the park was alive with bird sound. While they sounded like House Sparrows, we thought we should check it out. A Lesser Goldfinch popped up and sat at the edge of the bush. “We need to check the bush out more closely. I will knock on their door and get permission to bird in the yard.”
The homeowner was pleased to let us check out his bush for the Christmas Bird Count. It was an opportunity to spread the word, while gaining us better access.
As we entered the park, we saw the first of two Northern (red-shafted) Flickers.
We circled the park, checking out all of the trees, adding an additional Yellow-rumped Warbler. It was acting like a nuthatch.
A flock of European Starlings circled just west of the park – I started counting: 18, 19, 20, 21, 22.
As we slowly drove through the adjacent neighborhood we encountered a series of houses laden with American Crows and a few perched strategically.
After stopping for lunch, we returned to my house. I texted Raymond VanBurkirk the compiler inquiring whether anyone had birded along the Bear Canyon Arroyo behind my house. He gave us the go ahead. As we entered the paved trail, we saw a flock a pigeons flush – with a Cooper’s Hawk in pursuit. White-crowned Sparrows were foraging with House Sparrows as we started up the trail.
Further along the trail we noticed that the Cooper’s Hawk had landed on the branch of a tree along the arroyo – as if checking us out. And in the apartment complex behind her was a nest visible in a bare tree.
We turned around at Morris and headed back, crossing Eubank and following the arroyo west to Moon. It was a beautiful afternoon with temperatures in the mid-to high 40’s – a delightful day to be out birding. Along the way we added a Greater Roadrunner to our list for the day.
When we returned to the house to total our species, we had 18 species – not great, but worth our time and effort. We had driven 4.1 miles and walked 5.5 miles.
The event space at O’Neill’s Pub was alive with birders sharing their sightings. The bird of the day was a Brant, first spotted at the Rio Grande Nature Center in the morning, then later along the river and by mid-afternoon was with a flock of Canada Geese at the Ladera Golf Course on the west side. With a few lists still outstanding, the count total at the end of the evening was 118 species – not bad for an urban count.