The beauty of Bosque, more than the obvious...
Snow Geese & Cranes in early AM light @ Bosque Del Apache NWR, NM
When most people think of Bosque Del Apache NWR they think of the spectacle of tens of thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes. While certainly this is impressive to see, I always like to appreciate the local species that are IMHO every bit as impressive!
Gambell's Quail trio digiscoped @ Bosque Del Apache HQ, Leica APO Televid & C-Lux 2
The area surrounding the refuge is among the best spots ever to observe large groups of
Gambell's Quail like the trio digiscoped above doing their best "top shelf" impression! Here 2 males flank their favorite girl!
adult White-crowned sparrow, Bosque Del Apache NWR 11/15/07
White-crowned Sparrows were everywhere in the brush throughout the area. This one selected a thorny perch in the wonderful desert light that makes Bosque a favorite amongst photographers. Note the area between the bill and eye lacks a dark line, making this bird either the "mountain" or "Gambell's" subspecies. I believe from the bill color, this is likely the latter.
By looking through hundreds of White-crowned Sparrows, you will eventually run into some other sparrow. One of the most common "other" sparrows I saw in the brushy desert terrain around Bosque were Brewer's Sparrows. This little bird gave me one of the most accomodating views I've ever had of this species, even allowing me to train my scope attach my camera and rattle of 5-6 frames! Others spotted Sage Sparrows as well.
Other desert denizens were common in this area as well, and birds like the Pyrrhuloxia shown above, Canyon Towhees, and Curve-billed Thrashers predominated. These birds offered a very different feel than I'm accustomed to seeing here in Florida, however, there were always Northern Mockingbirds nearby to keep me from being homesick.
Despite the beautiful fall colors behind this bird and the cool AM air (days started in the low 30's), the Curve-billed Thrasher above chose to sing away anyway..... Optimistic?!?
Eagles congregated at the edges of the geese flocks waiting patiently and watching intently. This adult Bald Eagle perched on a snag in front of the Marsh Deck as the sun set below the distant mountain range.
The highlight for me though was the numbers and variety of falcons present. The big immature female Prairie Falcon I photographed above was only one of the 5 species of falcon I saw on the refuge during this trip. Others included Peregrine Falcons, and at least 2 individual "prairie" race Merlins (richardsoni). These birds differ from the more typical dark race of Merlin seen across most of the country by showing longish tails with many alternating light and dark bands of equal width. American Kestrels were the most abundant falcon species though.
immature Aplomado Falcon, digiscoped at Bosque Del Apache NWR
The big surprise though were two individual Aplomado Falcons that were hunting the refuge daily. This rare raptor once inhabited both sides of the Rio Grande River, but were extirpated here in the US. Recent introduction programs in Texas and here in New Mexico allow us to once again see this attractive bird here in the states. It was fantastic watching this bird sally out and chase dragonflies. They are incredibly stunning to watch, with their extra long wings and tails. Just one of the MANY highlights from the trip!
Friday, November 16, 2007
The rarest winter finches!
These were just the birds at the edge of the lower parking area, I'd have to climb the stairs to find my target. So I hiked up to the gift shop & snack bar, ordered a green chili chicken quesadilla, and settled in on the far end of the outside deck. I then stared at the famed tray feeder I'd seen in so many images over the years with great anticipation.
I sat and watched as common montane species came and went. First Mountain Chickadees then Juncos.... a Clark's Nutcracker sailed overhead.
Finally I saw the first of the birds I'd come to see. A lone Gray-crowned Rosy Finch swept into a nearby tree and then cautiously flew over to the platform feeder. As I watched, a second bird came in from out of nowhere. I soaked in views of these awesome little birds until a massive Abert's Squirrel leapt to the feeders and chased them off.
I sat and continued to eat wondering if it was too early or perhaps too pleasant for these nomadic tundra nesters to be here in any number. More chickadees came and went, Red-breasted Nuthatches chased each other wildly, and a Golden Eagle sailed over with 8 Common Ravens hot on its tail!
Wow!... stunning views of Black Rosy-Finches sitting right below me. As I soaked up my first ever views of these wonderful little birds my study was disrupted by a loud rush of wind. A brown streak split the Rosies and they burst into the air, circling off as a group, and finally disappearing against the distant hillside. Wings emerged and the streak transformed into an aggressive (and still hungry) little Sharp-shinned Hawk. Unsuccessful but not undeterred, the young bird continued to sail over the ridges in search of food.
A pair of noisy Steller's Jays commandeered the feeder, but before long a brave bird came in and nervously bounced back and forth on the handrail of the deck. I carefully studied the bird and have to admit I was more than a bit confused.
I really didn't know what to make of this one, lightly colored like a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, but patterned similarly to a Brown-capped... ?!? Who knew?... It was a Rosy-finch, it was neat looking, but since I so rarely get an opportunity to study these birds I couldn't put a name to it.
intermediate plumaged Rosy-Finch @ Sandia Crest
Gray-crowned... Brown-capped?!?... couldn't say! The guides don't begin to cover the full range of variation in this group. So when I finally checked into my hotel that night, I searched online for more information and images. It was funny to note that the VAST majority of Rosy-Finch pictures have come from this exact feeder although in most it was ice-laden! My research showed me a number of birds that were extremely similar that folks has labeled as Brown-capped. Again I can see cases for either Brown-capped or Gray-crowned so would love to hear your opinions.
I lingered a bit longer and was able to get excellent views of the Black Rosy-Finch flock when they came back and weren't blasted off by a dive bombing Sharpie! Content after a few hours of sheer enjoyment with some of the most difficult finches in North America to see, I decided to make my way down the mountain in the fading light. Before getting even 1/4 way down I was treat ed to one more consolation prize!
Great Horned Owl digiscoped in low light along Sandia Crest Road 11/14/07
Leica APO Televid 77 scope, Zoom lens, C-Lux 2 camera, and digital adapter2
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
A trip to RGV
So naturally upon exiting the airport in Harlingen I was excited to see what I could see. Even the birds I saw between the airport and my hotel were good to see. Great-tailed Grackles and Inca Doves were seen immediately, but what drew my eye was the brilliant red spot across the rental car parking lot. A quick glimpse confirmed my suspicions so I quickly dug through my suitcases to retrieve tripod, scope, camera, and adapter.
male Vermilion Flycatcher, digiscoped in Harlingen, TX, 11/7/07 Leica photo
Shortly after this episode, I was snapping images of one of the more colorful residents of suburban Harlingen, a male Vermilion Flycatcher! Tropical Kingbirds chirred nearby as well. This once localized resident of "the valley" seems to have exploded on to the scene of late and just as they are south of the border are becoming a more common sight near human habitations. The similar Couch's Kingbird seemed much less abundant on this trip.
Tropical Kingbird digiscoped with Leica C-Lux 2 and APO Televid scope, Harlingen
As I drove diagonally across town I passed a water treatment area where large flocks of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks roosted.
adult Black-bellied Whistling-Duck perched on wall
Behind m e, Great Kiskadees called loudly from the wires, each time giving their name, "Kis-ka-DEEE!" Common in the valley and all points south, Kiskadees are hard to see in North America anywhere else.
Great Kiskadee calling from the wires
Continual stops added an extra half hour to the trip from airport to hotel, but the sun was out, it was a beautiful day, and I was happy as always to return to the valley. Even the neighborhood "junk" birds were fun to see. I stopped to photograph just one more bird before checking in, one of the male Bronzed Cowbirds perched right above my parking spot in the hotel parking lot. With the common birds out of the way I was ready to find the more unusual valley specialties.