Wildlife Highlights of 2017

It is always inspiring to look back over the year and relive some of the highlights with nature over the past year – a practice I started in 2008. This year, again, was no exception.

On the afternoon of Jan. 6 as I was getting ready to head off for my monthly massage, I received a text from a friend telling me about a Northern Saw-whet Owl that had been discovered along the path to the Visitor Center at the Rio Grande Nature Center. I knew it would not be at the same location the next morning and that I needed to make it to the Nature Center before it closed. I forwarded the message to my friend Barb Hussey as I was leaving the house. I arrived at the Nature Center about 4:45, still in my lavender-smelling oily clothes and was able to enjoy the owl before the Nature Center closed.

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Northern Saw-whet Owl with head tucked

In late January my friend Barb and I did point counts in the East Mountains to record the prevalence of bluebirds for the National Audubon Society’s Climate Watch program. The winter of 2017 was a spectacular year for Mountain Bluebirds and we were awed by their cerulean blue as they searched for insects – at one point fluttering in a juniper acting like butterflies.

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Mountain Bluebirds

The Mexican Spotted Owl was a bird I never expected to see. They inhabit steep canyons and there are not many in central New Mexico. On February 28, I noticed the owl had been reported behind the Visitor Center at the Petroglyph National Monument. I initially presumed it was an error; however, it was confirmed as a valid report. I headed over there the following morning in hopes that the report was real and that it was still there.  I joined a number of other local birders watching it snooze.

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Mexican Spotted Owl

On my trip to China from mid-April through early May, I had the opportunity to see a number of new species of wildlife. One of the requirements for picking a tour was one that included the Panda Preserve outside of Chengdu, Sichuan Province, on its itinerary. I had seen the two Giant Panda’s at the National Zoo, but wanted to see them in their natural habitat. The sprawling grounds of the preserve provided me an opportunity to see many Giant Pandas.

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Giant Panda

A real surprise was to discover that the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda also had an area set aside for the Red Panda, also an endangered species.  Since they often get out of the area that fences them off from the public, I had the opportunity to have one almost brush again my legs as it wandered down the boardwalk trail.

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Red Panda

As opposed to many of the tourist sites we visited, the preserve provided opportunities to observe bird species as well. I was quite taken with the Red-billed Leiothrix, endemic to southern China and the Himalayas. Even the other tour-group members stopped to take a look at this diminutive bird with striking colors.

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Red-billed Leothrix

A White-browed Laughingthrush paused on the boardwalk in the Red Panda area enabling me to get a better look at it than I did in a Chendu park.

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White-browed Laughingthrush

On our first day in Llasa, Tibet, my friend Jan and I walked over to the nearby park and gardens adjacent to the Portola Palace. While I was able to enjoy a number of local bird species, two stood out:

A Bar-headed Goose was floating on the park’s lake. It looked regal with the black barring on its white head. I saw a female at another location on the lake – a good sign as it breeds in this high-elevation area.

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Bar-headed Goose

Another favorite was a Great-crested Grebe. While it has quite a wide range, I had not seen it when visiting Europe.

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Great-crested Grebe

While visiting the campus of Ching, Chi College (Chinese University of Hong Kong), I was delighted that the campus now highlights the bird species that can be found with colorful signs.

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While not exotic, I was delighted to see a number of breeding-plumaged Cattle Egrets strutting across the athletic field!

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Cattle Egrets

In mid-July I stopped by the Osprey platform along NM-22 near Cochiti Lake and was thrilled to witness a parent encouraging the two offspring to take flight. While watching, one of the Osprey got up its courage and flew first to a nearby power pole and then take off towards the lake.

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Osprey juveniles getting ready to fly

In mid-December, an American Dipper – one of my favorite birds – was spotted in Albuquerque. I was able to see it. The highlight for me was seeing it swim under water. While I had seen one swim before, the head was not submerged. I was able to capture the bubbles as it swam – thrilling.

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American Dipper – swimming under water

It was truly a year of wildlife highlights!

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