Sunday, December 27, 2009

Winter Raptors

Winter is a good time to find raptors on the hunt in New Mexico. After a visit with family near Albuquerque, exploring a few new counties in the north east quadrant of the "Land of Enchantment" promised the possibility of new landscapes and maybe some bird photography. Tucumcari is in Quay county and north of Quay is Harding county where we find the metropolis of Roy which is surrounded by the Kiowa National Grassland. There are a few lakes in the area, Ute Lake and Conchas Lake being the largest. Lakes often harbor migratory birds and the grasslands nourish large numbers of rodents that forage all winter and they, in turn, attract raptors.

A visit to Ute Lake at sunrise found the lake covered with fog that slowly burned off as the day progressed. Wind frost coated the bushes at the edge of the lake and the honking of Canada geese echoed over the water.

Waiting on the shore for a while was rewarded with a good view of many groups of Canada geese flying out of the lake on their way to forage for breakfast.

Driving to Roy revealed that none of the towns along that route north of Logan have much to offer in the way of lodging, gas stations, or eating establishments although there are the bare minimum (one gas station and one restaurant open in Roy). A trip along NM state route 120 west from Roy led to the Canadian River Valley (about 600 feet deep) where the Canadian river was found to have ice on it but wasn't particularly photogenic, at least not in this photographers opinion. The surrounding grasslands seem to be mostly grazing lands and would perhaps be more attractive in summer. However the raptors were everywhere, particularly the hawks and kestrels. About every quarter mile along the road there would be a hawk on a utility pole or a kestrel on a wire. More rare were great horned owls and I didn't see any eagles.

The raptors were successful, I watched an American kestrel catch and eat some kind of rodent. A closer shot would have improved the image but this guy didn't trust the photographer enough to let him get too close. As ever, click on an image to see a larger version.

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