For the last several weekends of May, the Bosque hosted flood waters from the overflowing Rio Grande, but by June 4, I was sure the floods had receded enough that the main path I usually crossed to enter the forest would be dry. It would no longer be a raging stream suitable for ducks to swim in (but not deep enough for them to look tails up for food). I was right, the area was walkable. I was also right to worry about raging mosquitoes, so I dressed in white or ivory as much as I could and planned to spray on my hands, face and neck an herbal bug repellent I bought from the Kitchen Witch at the Downtown Growers Market. I walked west on Lead, then Alcalde, south of Kit Carson Park, and across Tingley Drive, the little railroad tracks and the bicycle/jogging path to the opening in the fence. There I applied the repellent and entered The Bosque.
If you’ve ever entered this way, you’ve noticed immediately to the south some large old mostly dead trees. You may also have noticed that a pair of Kestrels enjoy the trees, and they have neighbors like Flickers, Woodpeckers, Doves, and recently a crimson (male) Summer Tanager. This is a good area to bird watch. Further north, also just inside the fence, an area which was dry during the flooding, offered me a few weeks earlier good sightings of a Western Wood-Pewee, which is a favorite flycatcher.
But on June 4 I could continue walking west. I came to a main path that I like because it seems to run from the Central Bridge maybe as far as the Bridge (street?) Bridge, and it is tree lined and cool. It had turned into a picturesque, fast-running stream, but today it was just sandy and may eventually be rehabilitated, repacked, I don’t know. It served its purpose, directing the flood waters.
At this point I began hearing a loud sound that reminded me of broken car brake pads sounding awful. Metallic almost, but not human, and not staying still. I searched for the cause of the sound. One person I met thought it might be a heron but she hadn't seen anything. I searched around on the west side of the more northern pond/lake there in the Bosque, but only found two more folks who asked if I had seen a big black bird and what it could be. They indicated it was somewhere along the ditch that connects the northern and southern lakes. I had just come that way and hadn’t seen anything, but as my Search for the Sound along the area west of the pond/lake wasn’t working, I decided to look for the bird that sounded larger than a Redwing Blackbird.
Just as I turned to go back to the ditch, though, I saw a white dot in the distance to the west again. A confirmed sighting of something I could get closer to was more inviting than checking out the 2nd mystery. This is what I saw as I got closer:
A Snowy Egret. I had seen them from time to time over the weeks, in flight east of Tingley Beach, mostly over the Country Club area. Now I got several pictures of this one (note the big feet!) before it decided to take off and glide a bit south toward the ground. I followed and saw it land in a temporary swampy/grassy area, where it met with another one (to your left)!
They poked around in the water, maybe looking for fish or frogs. By this time I had come to the conclusion that these delicate (but large) birds might be the ones making the broken brake-pad sound. Later in the day I confirmed this on the internet on one of the many sites that includes recordings of bird songs. The pair hung around a bit. I may have irritated them, though I was 40 or 50 feet away and didn’t want to get my feet wet. They split up and the one returned to (his?) tree. I suspect this is the bird I saw near the end of May, when I was kept out of the Bosque by the flooding, but I could look and see a Snowy Egret in the very far distance. They do stand out!
After this I decided it was time to try to find the Big Black Bird. It turned out to be easy as it was on a tree branch hanging over that ditch connecting the two big ponds. The hard part was identification since it was in silhouette due to it being in the shade and the bright sky being behind it:
However, I was able to adjust my camera enough to get some details:
It was bigger than a crow, maybe about the size of a Wood Duck. It was sitting still some 20 feet off the ground (it was probably watching for breakfast residing in the ditch). I thought maybe I could sneak by and get better-lighted pictures, but I got only two steps when the bird left, flying south, probably to find another tree to sit in where it could watch the cat tails for signs of yummy eating (lots of turtles and bull frogs there). I have since decided this was probably a Green Heron, the smallest of the herons (according to the internet). I saw one a few years ago. It was wading in a shallow area of the northern pond/lake, and they are said to be rare visitors to our area.
By this time, while I had only once or twice been bitten, I was tired of being bugged by mosquitoes. This was a terrific test of the herbal bug repellent; I’ll continue to use it and dress appropriately. Fortunately by this time, too, about 8:00am, the swallows had finally woken up and were having breakfast (of mosquitoes). I figured it was time to leave – but I did get one more picture, of one of the several noisy birds who were in the brush along the path around the southern pond/lake, a robin-size Blue Grosbeak.
I had some trouble getting a good picture even though he was right there. My camera needs replacing, I guess. After I left the Bosque, the number of mosquitoes dropped sharply. I went walking again on the 14th while it was cool (6:15am-8am), but only as far as Kit Carson Park. No mosquitoes that I noticed (which is good as I had not gone dressed appropriately), but I did see a song-filled Summer Tanager (beware: they can sound like Robins sometimes). Since mornings are so cool, I am tempted to go into the Bosque again maybe tomorrow, dressed for combat (but in layers I can easily remove), to see if that Heron is still there.
Thank you so much for the improvements on the photo! The only art program I have on this new computer is Paint (or the new 3-D paint which I'll never use). "Paint" is good for cropping and resizing.
You have helped me understand what to look for when I see a bird who is new to me, and I really appreciate it! Maybe these herons are beginning to think of making their home in the Land of Enchantment, I really have to get into the Bosque more often, around sunrise when it's still cool :)
Another bird with a similar silhouette is the Black-crowned Night Heron. They breed in the bosque.
There are a number of free or very low cost photo editing programs for both PCs and Macs. A simple web search should uncover those. Pick one to try that has good reviews and a good customer base (so there will be others to help with questions). Learning just a few basic tools will really help your photos, I bet, and increase your enjoyment of your photography.