Wildlife Highlights of 2016

It is always inspiring to look back over the year and cherish some of the highlights in my interactions with nature over the past year – a practice I started in 2008.  This year was no exception! While there were many wonderful bird sightings and three new North American ‘Life Birds’, it was also a year of several mammal ‘firsts.’

A Northern Cardinal, a rare visitor to Albuquerque, was observed at the Botanical Gardens on December 31, 2015.  During early 2016, it was frequently observed in the early morning. A bad case of bronchitis prevented me from being out in the cold weather until the end of February. I was able to hear it singing as I approached, and was lucky to have it perch close enough for a photo.

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Northern Cardinal – Albuquerque Botanical Gardens 

I am grateful for my friend Joe who is diligent about scouting nests of Great Horned Owls and it is always a delight to observe mama owl as she sits on her nest. I have documented this experience in a separate blog post in the past – Albuquerque’s Great Horned Owls. Observing Western Screech Owls is trickier. Sometimes they can be found snoozing in the nest cavity entrance when the sun is shining on it and the owl can catch its rays.

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Western Screech Owl 

In March I visited a picnic shelter where a Western Screech Owl is known to roost under the eaves.

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Western Screech Owl

At the end of April, my friend Barbara and I drove to Texas to go birding with friends from Roswell who had sponsored a trip to Palo Duro Canyon. One of the highlights of the trip were opportunities to watch courtship behavior of Golden-fronted Woodpeckers,

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Golden-fronted Woodpecker – Palo Duro Canyon

and observe a Shrew, one of my mammal ‘firsts.’

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Shrew – Palo Duro Canyon

I added to my birding Life List in late May when Barbara and I flew to Ashland Oregon for the Mountain Bird Festival. While birding on our own the day before the festival started, I was finally able to see Mountain Quail when we came upon two of them near the forest road in the Cascade Mountains. I had hiked all over the mountains in Southern California in locations where they often had been observed and never seen one. It was wonderful to sit in the car and watch them up close as we ate our lunches.

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Mountain Quail – Cascade Mountains, OR

Our primary target bird for the trip was Great Grey Owl and we were not disappointed when we had the opportunity to observe two of them on a field trip.

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Great Gray Owl – Cascade Mountains, OR

While visiting the Pacific Northwest in early July, I spent the Fourth of July at Mount Rainier National Park and encountered a Hoary Marmot perched on a fence along the trail up from Paradise Lodge.

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Hoary Marmot – Mount Rainier NP

A few days later I met up with friends that I bird with in Albuquerque to do some birding on the Olympic Peninsula and take an evening Puffin Cruise. While I had seen Tufted Puffins on a very rough boat trip out of Seward Alaska, a number of years ago, I was able to get good close-up views of them on the calm waters off Port Townsend.

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Tufted Puffin – Protection Island

While scouting for an Audubon field trip that Barbara and I were going to lead at the end of July at the Valles Caldera National Preserve, one of the hot spots featured in our book – Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos, and Northern New Mexico, we discovered a Long-tailed Weasel peeking out from under our parked car at one of the trailheads – another mammal first.

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Long-tailed Weasel – Valles Caldera NP

A couple of weeks later while we were leading the trip, I finally was able to observe a Zone-tailed Hawk – long a nemesis.

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Zone-tailed Hawk – photo by Michele Weisz

Just before we had to head back, we heard chattering in a prairie dog colony and then saw the object of their conservation when an American Badger trotted past the colony and then crossed the road in front of us.

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American Badger – Valles Caldera NP

As the year drew to a close, I participated in the Sandia Christmas Bird Count. On my route in the Sandia Park area, we were delighted with a plethora of Mountain Bluebirds.

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Mountain Bluebird – Sandia CBC

 

 

 

 

 

 

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