Thursday, May 06, 2010

A morning in Albuquerque

On finding out I had to travel on a Saturday to Albuquerque, to arrive in time to set-up for the start of an exhibition on the Sunday, I was sorry that meant another whole weekend (and week) away from home. The one plus was that meant I would have the Sunday morning to spare, in a completely new part of the world (at least to me). So, where to go? Bosque Del Apache is one of the premier birding locations in the United States, if not the world, but being 90 miles south of Albuquerque it would have taken a good four hours out of the already shortened day. A little research however turned up the Rio Grande Nature Centre in the City of Albuquerque itself.

I decided it would be more sensible to visit there and use the Sunday morning as 'reconnaissance' for a potential future trip...

Typically, for me anyway, the weather was unseasonably poor, with overcast skies, cold winds and a forecast of rain, in the desert!

The hotel (Best Western Rio Grande) kindly agreed to drop me off, using their shuttle, so dropped me at the gate. I'd recommend this hotel, the staff were very friendly and helpful throughout my stay.

So to the Nature Centre, the first bird I spotted, walking down the drive, was a Wood Duck, in a tree!

In the car park, a small group was gathering. It turned out some of the Centre's volunteers were hosting a bird walk and, invited to tag along, I gladly accepted. Everyone on the walk was, without exception, very warm and friendly and some were very knowledgeable too, which is always helpful in a new place. First-up we looked over one of the ponds. Zooming across the water were hundreds of swallows, including Violet-green Swallows:

On the far bank I spotted the one bird I really wanted to see on this little trip, a Greater Roadrunner:

Which having been sat for a while, then stood-up:

A Say's Phoebe was fly-catching in the grasses next to the car park:

Back out on the water, the morning light had taken on a serene quality, before the rain clouds rolled in. A Pied-Billed Grebe was reasonably close to the observation point:

The weather was already closing in though:

So the light quickly went, from now on a grey steely background predominated as the temperature dropped further and the wind picked-up:

We walked on from the first observation point to a second pond. A tree held some perching Northern Rough-winged Swallows:

One of many flycatchers, this one identified as an Ash-throated Flycatcher:

The first raptor soared over, a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk:

The hawk flushed up a pair of Killdeer that made a very noisy movement away from what was presumably their nest area. A strategically positioned feeder attracted Black-chinned Hummingbirds. A female is perched on the feeder while a male hovers below, note the blue band under the black chin too:

You can tell how fast they fly, this image had a shutter speed of one one-hundredth of a second and the bird has completed at least two full wing movements, staying completely stationary, in that time:

The only good views of a warblers were Yellow-rumped Warblers, both Myrtle and Audubon's sub-species. We also had brief views of a Yellow or Wilson's Warbler and a Virginia Warbler, though I cannot be certain on either of the last two birds, so they don't get counted. The locals were all surprised by the number of Eastern Bluebirds present:

There were a few woodpeckers including Downy and this Hairy Woodpecker:

A third new species for me, the Western Wood-Pewee (thank you Linda):

Further along the trail, a pair of Northern Flickers were mooching on a tree:

And a male Spotted Towhee was sat high, singing:

Normally these birds are scratching around on the floor, through leaves, looking for prey. We crossed a bridge across a small stream that was swarming with swallows. I managed a semi-decent snap of another Violet-green Swallow, though nothing some sunlight wouldn't have helped:

A fourth new species, a Dusky Flycatcher:

We walked around an area with a Great Horned Owl nest, however the young had fledged days earlier and now the area was empty, the last sighting was the day before... sigh. Anyway back around the centre, they have a small garden of native plants, attracting more Black-chinned Hummingbirds:

As well as Mourning Doves, which we've seen before, this reserve hosts White-winged Doves:

A big flock of Red-winged Blackbirds had established itself on the reserve, this female was taking advantage of the abundance of food in the feeders:

A Cooper's Hawk (new species) caused a bit of a stir as it flew up from cover to a watching post in a tree:

The ladies who had guided me to the Owl area and back and I, sat and chatted in the Centre while a brief rain shower passed over. I was clock watching as I needed to get back and get myself ready for the evening, so once the rain stopped I took my leave and headed out for a brief wander around the part of the reserve between the Centre and the car park. In doing so spotted this unexpected bonus, a Black-headed Grosbeak, feeding on a fat lump (with White-crowned Sparrows in attendance):

A Bewick's Wren showed briefly:

With more rain coming in, I called the hotel to request the shuttle back, which arrived in less than fifteen minutes (thanks again Best Western Rio Grande). In which time I spotted my last new bird of the trip, a Curve-billed Thrasher:

My thanks to Douglas on the walk earlier for telling me a pair was nesting near the gate :)
Other birds seen but not pictured included Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Mallard, Ruddy & Gadwall Ducks, American Wigeon, Canada Goose, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, House Finch, Dark-eyed Junco, White-throated Nuthatch, American Crow, Raven (not sure which species) and Turkey Vulture. So that little trip added seven new species to both the US list and the life list :)

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