Wildlife Highlights 2020

I began documenting my annual wildlife highlights in 2008, and it has become an annual tradition.  While 2020 started off with a bang, I have been staying close to home since mid-March, so this year’s highlights will focus on what I have had the opportunity to experience during this COVID year.

Since I am not a New Year’s Eve party person, I head out on New Year’s Day. Depending on the weather, it is often ‘car’ birding west of the Petroglyph NM.  On January 1, 2020, one of my stops was at the Shining River bosque area where an American Dipper had taken up residence for the winter again.

American Dipper

While a Tundra Swan or two often show up at the Bosque del Apache during the winter, Trumpeter Swans are rare. I saw the report on the New Mexico Rare Bird sightings and headed down to La Joya WMA, adjacent to the Sevilleta NWR. By time I arrived, they had flown off, but returned in the early afternoon when I was able to see the pair.

Trumpeter Swan pair

Little did I know that when I led a trip to the Bosque del Apache NWR for the Thursday Birders in early February that it would be my last trip for the year. One of our highlights was seeing a Tundra Swam.

Tundra Swan

Once COVID changed life as we knew it, my wildlife highlights were, with one exception, in the greater Albuquerque area.

In late February, a friend mentioned feeding meal worms to a Greater Roadrunner in her neighborhood.  I decided to give it a try. Within 24 hours, one of the roadrunners who I would see occasionally in my yard discovered the dried meal worms I put out.

Greater Roadrunner discovers meal worms

That gesture started a roadrunner adventure that kept me entertained throughout the lock down. Within a month, it was clear that I had a couple visiting together.

Then one of the parents brought its juvenile to my yard in early April

and I was able to watch it grow and be fed for about a month.

In July, the parents must have had a second brood and would bring more chicks to the yard. At one point, I counted five Greater Roadrunners – 2 parents, the young juvenile that has been here for almost 2 weeks, and 2 more juveniles – all 3 begging juveniles were being fed.

In late July, one of the young roadrunners was evidently left overnight in my yard. I discovered it perched on a horizontal branch where it appeared to be safe.

night perch

It would stay there until its parent arrived to feed it.

After a few days, it would leave its perch on its own. I decided to see how curious it would be and left the door to my sunroom open. After a while it wandered over, came in and sat near the door for a few minutes.

I was also able to experience the birth of two different litters of Desert Cottontails.  On April 4 I noticed two adults in my yard and labeled this picture on Facebook as ‘Bunny Love.’

Someone responded that ‘if there are two, there will be more’ – and they were right.  Three weeks later I discovered they had made a nest by tunneling through a juniper bush when I saw a bunny sitting in the sun outside of the hole. 

One of the adults began digging burrows in my yard. I filled two of them, but left one and often saw an adult crossing the yard in its direction in the late afternoon.

And, for a while, I would see a baby bunny hiding behind a bush near my water spigot.

In June I was finally visiting some Albuquerque birding locations and was delighted the Hooded Warbler that had arrived earlier was still hanging out. I was able to sit quietly in my car and watch it emerge from a nearby bush and took a picture of it through the front windshield.

Hooded Warbler

By late spring, I could head to the mountains. Two of my favorite birding locations were the Cienega Picnic Area where flocks of Red Crossbills would come through and a Lewis’s Woodpecker spent a few days in late summer – and frequently encountered one or more birding friends while I was there.  

Red Crossbill

As I walked along the service road south of the Ellis Trailhead, I would almost always see a Hermit Thrush.

Hermit Thrush

I was thrilled when my niece asked me whether I wanted to go with them to the Jemez Mountains in early October – and got my Mountain Bluebird ‘fix’ for the year.

Mountain Bluebird – Valles Caldera

When fall migration began, there were rare bird sightings that took me to places around the city. There was the mid-September weekend when three rare warbler species were being seen at the UNM Duck Pond. In early October a Black-throated Blue Warbler spent a couple of days at the City View Park in Albuquerque’s NE Heights,

Black-throated Blue Warbler

and at the end of the month I was able to see the Golden-crowned Sparrow at the Rio Grande Nature Center.  

Golden-crowned Sparrow – Rio Grande Nature Center

By early November pandemic cases were starting to rise again, and New Mexico residents were urged to stay close to home. While I participated in two Christmas Bird Counts and it was so good to be out, they did not result in any exciting wildlife highlights. 

As the year comes to a close, I am dreaming of opportunities to travel beyond Central New Mexico and hopefully, more exciting wildlife highlights.

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