Great Horned Owls at Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center

A pair of Bushtits buzzed in the trees on the west side of the Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center (one of the sites featured in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico) parking lot. “We should look and see if we can find the nest,” I suggested. However, there was no sign of the nest in those trees.

“They just copulated,” someone announced.

We continued on our way to the bosque, stopping to make note of a Red-winged Blackbird. “Take a look at it,” trip leader Rebecca told us. “We won’t see one once we get to the bosque.”

Along the way we spotted a Greater Roadrunner in the nearby scrub.

When we approached the bridge over the drain from the parking lot on the other side, someone noticed a Black Phoebe perched on the fence.

“The mate should be close by,” I told them. “And, there is another pair along the drain towards the river.”

“They will probably nest under the bridge,” Rebecca suggested.

As we walked along the levee, we stopped to watch a Belted Kingfisher surveying the drain for fish,

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

while two pair of Wood Ducks explored nesting cavities in the same tree.
Wood Ducks nest cavity hunting

Wood Ducks nest cavity hunting

“The female makes the decision about the nesting site,” I told the group, “while the drake follows dutifully along. They search in the early morning and the selection process may take several days.”

We headed down into the bosque and walked along the trail, stopping to ID a pair of bluebirds. Dave set up his scope and we could see brown on its back – Western.

Before long, we encountered a buzz of activity – White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy and hairy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers. We began to focus on the Hairy Woodpeckers.

“That one has brown on the wing-tips,” Lefty announced.

“I saw one that was rusty on the wings when I was here a week ago,” I told him.

“I wonder if they are a different sub-species; the western sub-species is browner,” Lefty wondered.

Later that day I posed the question to Cole Wolf who has down work on a number of sub-species. “There is only one sub-species of Hairy Woodpecker in New Mexico,” he stated. “I think that the brown wings that people have been seeing is a result of feather wear at this time of year,” he concluded.

Not too much further down the trail, we encountered the female Great Horned Owl peacefully snoozing in the nest.

female Great Horned Owl

female Great Horned Owl

“I wonder if the incubating owls we see are all females,” Rebecca wondered.

“I believe the female is the only one who incubates,” I told Rebecca. “The male delivers prey at night.” I confirmed this fact later in the day on Cornell University’s Birds of North America Online.

Joe and Leah took us to where the male was roosting – the same location where they had found him a few days prior. He was well camouflaged behind the leaves.

male Great Horned Owl

male Great Horned Owl

As we followed the trail into an open part of the bosque, two pair of Northern Flickers converged on a tree acting as they there was a courtship scuffle.
Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

A pair of Eastern Bluebirds flitted in the same tree and a Spotted Towhee sang at the edge of the clearing.

As we returned to the Visitor Center, we stopped to admire an adult Cooper’s Hawk sitting on a branch behind the windbreak that bordered the trail.

When we gathered to go over the checklist, we added two more species – a Western Scrub-Jay and a pair of Robins in the courtyard.

We were delighted to end the morning with 34 species.

As we were walking to our cars, Lou discovered the Bushtit nest next to his parking spot – soon to be housing an incubating female.

Bushtit nest

Bushtit nest


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