Category Archives: NM06

New Mexico Trip Report

This is the index to my trip report for New Mexico, November 8-11, 2006. We birded Bosque del Apache, several places between Socorro and Albuquerque, Sandia Crest, and several places in the Albuquerque area.

Besides the birds, I’ve commented a bit on other things in the trip. We didn’t do much of anything other than birding, so the other commentary is pretty limited.

Individual pieces:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Trip Wrapup, Logistics, etc

Day 4 (Saturday) – Up to the Mountains

Today was a bit limited by the fact that Enterprise closed at 2. We got up and were out a little after 7, first stopping at Einstein’s Bagels. We started our way up towards Sandia Crest.

Three Gun Spring Canyon

Our first stop was Three Gun Spring Canyon. We found a few birds in the housing development on the way in, but nothing interesting. Walking up the trail, we quickly found a few Western Scrub-Jays, along with a Curve-billed Thrasher, Bushtits, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and more juncos.

Scrub Jay

Further up the canyon, we found a few more good birds and lots of spectacular scenery. The bird highlights included a Crissal Thrasher (lifer #6), a couple Canyon Towhees, and a quick view of Western Bluebirds.

I wish I took a photo, but there was a sign telling us that hang gliding wasn’t allowed in the middle. On our way back, we took a different trail and ended up back on the road below the parking lot somehow. A few White-crowned Sparrows were about it for down there.

Sandia Crest

We then started for Sandia Crest. Quite a nice ride on the highway before reaching the road to the crest. Last time out here, we had gone to Cienega Canyon at the start of the road up, so I hadn’t really been on the road.

The road up is fairly good for winding mountain roads. Apparently no major storms yet as there were only a couple small spots of snow off to the side. Several fairly spectacular views but nothing more than a couple of juncos and robins.

At the top, we parked in the upper lot. Another birder was just about to leave, so we talked to him and got a few details. Walked over to pay and found out it was free for the holiday weekend.

Ethan’s camera had stopped working, so he went to the gift shop to try new batteries. I walked up to take a look at the view, which was truly spectacular. Ethan came out with new batteries and a camera that still wouldn’t turn on. I headed down to the feeders while he went to take in the view.

View from Sandia Crest

Sandia House

A couple Rosy-Finches appeared and took off very quickly, good enough to say I saw some, but not what I was hoping for. I stood down at the base of the stairs and waited. Ethan came down and shortly after, a large flock flew in. I managed a few blurry shots before they took off again.

Black Rosy-Finches

(one more)

We decided it would be worth getting the scope, so Ethan went for the car. Forgetting Sandia Crest is at almost 11,000 feet, he ran up the stairs and almost had heart attack #2. The flock made another pass while he was gone and a Steller’s Jay flew over as well.

As soon as the scope was set up, the birds decided to leave for a while. We were entertained by lots of ravens high overhead and of course the views all around were still spectacular. Ethan decided to go check out the trail that lots of people were walking, and as he left a Clark’s Nutcracker flew over (life bird #8).

Eventually both Ethan and the finches returned. The wind had picked up a bit by now, so once they left again, we packed up and went to the gift shop for finch apparel and then the long drive back down.

Rest of the day

That basically ended the birding, although there were a couple White-winged Doves flying around.

We stopped at Ethan’s to drop off all our stuff before we returned the car. As we were about to go, his neighbors, Juan and Mary, came out. They were about to take their dogs out for a walk, but offered to take us out for lunch and then drop us off. We quickly agreed and headed to return the car.

At Enterprise, we dropped off the car. The Accounts Manager asked us if there was anything we thought could be done better. Ethan asked for a drop box or later hours. She said that wasn’t possible because of their location on the grounds of a dealership and gave him a 10% off coupon for his next rental.

We hopped in with Juan, Mary, Jack, and Cholito, which proved interesting as the dogs really liked to lick us and look out the window. They were planning on a cafe nearby, but it was closed. After debating a few options, they decided to bring us to Barelas Coffee House, which was basically a Mexican diner. The place was packed when we walked in (probably about 2PM) and we had to wait a little while for seats. It was well worth it, as the food was by far the best we had. Ethan and I both had chicken enchilladas, Juan and Mary split 3 burritos (the waitress gave Juan’s to Mary by mistake and she ate half before they realized).

After eating, we decided that we wanted to crash, so they dropped us off at the house and invited us for soup for dinner. We crashed for awhile, then did most of our packing.

We eventually went over to Juan and Mary’s and watched them prepare the soup. I have no idea what was in it, but it smelled delicious. Mary also was making a tea that smelled as good. Juan talked to us about the course on inventing that he was taking at work.

Eventually we sat down and ate. There was the soup, some sort of yogurt/tofu mush, and some rice. Apparently the Mexican (Bolivian?) way is to put the stuff on the plate, take a bite, have a bit of soup from the side, and go back and forth. Everything was quite tasty, although rather different.

We sat around for quite a while talking. Juan was telling us about his work at the Intel factory and Mary was talking about her teaching and how she’s about to go back for her master’s. They’re very interesting people, but eventually we needed to get back and go to bed.

We finished packing and got to bed. Up early the next morning, the taxi got to the house a few minutes ahead of time. Both flights were on time, even with lousy weather in Hartford. The bags came off the baggage claim quite wet but that was the worst of it. Stepped outside and almost immediately caught the shuttle back to the hotel and back home we went.

Day totals: 21 species (3 life, 7 state)

Wrapup

Overall, we saw 84 species of birds, 11 butterflies, and 4 dragonflies, plus a few mammals, lizards, and other things. It was a great four days. And I missed plenty, so I can’t wait to get back.

For planning, we relied primarily on the New Mexico Bird Finding Guide. This is an excellent book (even though my copy had the index out of order). Definitely a must if you head to the state. There were a few spots that I thought could use a bit more details, but that’s likely from the scarcity of birders in the state. The annotated checklist was extremely useful, although I would have liked bar graphs as well.

I also read reports on birdwg05 and rosyfinch.com. For butterflies, there’s DesertLeps and SoWestLeps. I also sent a personal note to someone for a few more details. There doesn’t seem to be much interest in odes, but TexOdes has very occasional posts.

We picked the hotel in Socorro pretty much at random, as with the meals. Since Ethan has the house in Albuquerque, we didn’t have to worry about that, but there’s plenty around (there were several large conventions going on while we were there).

The weather was spectacular the entire time (almost too warm, it didn’t feel right to look for the rosy-finches in a light jacket). It’s probably more likely to be much colder at this time of year, so packing heavy stuff is necessary.

I’ll end by repeating that the evening flight of cranes and geese at Bosque del Apache is something that everyone needs to see at least once in their lifetime.

A few of the pictures really don’t work scaled down, so here’s a few full-sized:

Socorro

Bosque Ducks

Bosque Cranes

Bosque Geese

Evening Flight

Bernardo Cranes

Three Gun Spring Canyon

Rosy-Finches

Day 3 (Friday) – Back to Albuquerque

Today we slowly worked our way back to Albuquerque. We started with the continental breakfast at the hotel, which turned out to be our choice of white, wheat, and raisin bread, coffee, and orange juice.

NMT

Our first stop was at the New Mexico Tech campus. The directions were a bit misleading and we drove way past the parking area, almost entering a security restricted zone. Coming back, we found the correct parking lot, which was covered with American Crows. There was supposed to be a pond around with potentially good birds. We wandered around a bit before finding it. Lots of wigeon, coots, and domestics. A yellow-rump and some juncos around the edges.

There was a small wooded area on the other side, so I wandered over to check it out. Ethan decided to see what was in the building. I found a Cooper’s Hawk, a kingfisher, a Mountain Chickadee, and a Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Ethan came back with a t-shirt and a pile of brochures about the conference for science teachers going on inside.

We then headed back to Rt. 25 and started back north. I had picked out a few stops along the way and Ethan wanted to stop at the wildlife refuge that we see signs for, so we would hit whichever one came first.

La Joya Refuge

As it turned out, there were two stops at the same exit. We started with the one on the right, the La Joya refuge. Not sure where the waterfowl were supposed to be as it was all desert scrub and a small stream. Lots of flickers and crows with some White-crowned Sparrows and Bushtits along the stream. On the way out a thrasher popped up. I jumped out with the scope but it took off and couldn’t be refound. The quick view was enough to say it was a Sage Trasher, although I wouldn’t count it as a life bird.

Sevilla NWR

The Sevilleta NWR was on the other side. Most of it is closed to the public, but there was a visitor’s center. The center had a flock of House Sparrows and some Western Pygmy-Blues. One of the brochures gave directions to one of the segments that was open to the public (I don’t have any idea where the other is still). However, it was down the road that we didn’t take in the middle of La Joya so we skipped it.

Bernardo Game Lands

Next stop was the Bernardo Game Lands. Before going to the gamelands themselves, we drove down Rt. 60 to check out a few ponds. A small bird on the wires caused us to pull over. Pulling out the scope, we found a flock of Mountain Bluebirds (life #5). A few Cedar Waxwings were mixed in.

Mountain Bluebirds

We also found a few cranes, a harrier, and some ducks, again mostly shovelers. We then went up to the gamelands, where we drove the loop. A few hundred cranes, a couple more bluebirds, and a couple Great Blue Herons were about it. Some of the cranes came right up to the road, so no complaints.

Cranes

Cranes

Belen

Our next stop was supposed to be Willie Chavez Park in the city of Belen. After a quick stop for gas, we found the park (missing the turn). However, being Veteran’s Day, it was very crowded. We didn’t stay and worked our way over to the Madrone Ponds instead. Once I read the directions correctly, we found them quite easily.

It was after 11, so the birding at the ponds was pretty dull. We only found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, some Bushtits, and a kingfisher. A few American Rubyspots were hanging around near the start of the path, apparently a Valencia county record (almost certainly due to lack of coverage). A few other odes were flying including a forktail (I think either Mexican or Desert) and a Variegated Meadowhawk (which posed nicely and I got a great shot of the branches behind it). Back at the car, a raven flew over, not sure which species, although from habitat I’d lean towards Chihuahan.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

Albuquerque

We decided to skip the rest of the stops and headed back to Albuquerque, where we finished up the meat at Ethan’s house. We rested for an hour or so, and then decided to go to the Rio Grande Nature Center.

Rio Grande Nature Center

We got to the nature center somewhere around 3:30. The parking lot closes at 5, so we didn’t have a ton of time. We walked through the visitor center and checked out the pond, which had lots of Wood Ducks, Gadwall, Ring-necked Ducks, and others. We then took a quick walk through the grounds. There were some of the typical birds around (Mountain Chickadee, Mourning Dove, House Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-winged Blackbird).

I decided to watch the feeders for a bit, while Ethan went back to try to get some duck photos. There were a few juncos and a banded Spotted Towhee around along with the things mentioned before. I tried to turn one of the finches into a Cassin’s but finally decided it was just an odd House.

Nature Center Feeders

As it was getting a bit late, we went back to the parking lot to check out the pond on that side. There were a few more ducks including Bufflehead and a Black Phoebe. Scanning the edge of the water for more Wood Ducks, I found a Wilson’s Snipe. We decided to move the car out to the street and then walk the trails before it got dark. On the way to the car, a Double-crested Cormorant flew overhead.

The trails themselves were fairly dead but still had some nice sightings. At the river, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. On the way back, we found a couple Black-capped Chickadees and a Cooper’s Hawk. It was a nice walk regardless.

We finished the day with dinner at Los Cuates. Excellent food (I had the steak and potato burrito, which was basically a shephard’s pie in a tortilla, Ethan had fajitas). They were a bit overzealous refilling the iced tea, but that’s not a complaint.

Day totals: 49+ species (1 life, 8 state), 3 dragonflies (2 new, 1 only to genus), 1 butterfly

Day 2 (Thursday) – Bosque del Apache

Up a little after 6 to be at the Bosque close to 7. We quickly loaded the car, then stopped at the gas station up the street for some breakfast. Ended up with prepackaged donuts, but good enough.

The view from hotel

We got down to the Bosque by 7, but decided to drive up the road a little ways first. That wasn’t all that exciting, but we did get our first flickers and the only Loggerhead Shrike of the trip on the way back. We eventually stopped at one of the ponds along the road, and started working through several species of ducks. Lots of Redheads and a few Canvasbacks made up the big part of the flock, but there were quite a few other species as well.

Ducks

We then entered the refuge proper (I was surprised that there was noone manning the gate at the busiest season, not that it mattered with my duck stamp) and went down to the Flight Deck. There were plenty of cranes, dabbling ducks (mostly Northern Shoveler), and quite a few coots. Once we walked out to the observation deck, we got a good look at an adult Bald Eagle sitting above everything.

Flight Deck View 1

Flight Deck View 2

After the Flight Deck, we turned around and started for the Marsh Loop, first stopped as several Western Meadowlarks flushed off to the side.

We stopped at each of the ponds along the beginning of the loop, picking up more ducks and a few other birds including a Merlin, a Bonaparte’s Gull and a Say’s Phoebe (the first one I’ve actually seen well.)

At the Lagoon, we got out and walked. Across the boardwalk, we saw many coots and Pied-billed Grebe. There were also lots of Aechmorphus grebes, although I wasn’t completely convinced that they were Western. About halfway down the boardwalk, a male Yellow-headed Blackbird flew over, my first lifer of the trip. I would have liked a longer and better view, but it was pretty unmistakable.

Coot

We took a brief walk up the hill beyond the lagoon and ended up chasing some small birds around for a while. One was a Bewick’s Wren (only one of the trip), but the rest didn’t want to cooperate. There were also a few lizards around.

Before we got back in the car, we walked along the front of the lagoon a bit, getting better looks at the ducks (ring-necks and redhead mostly) and grebes. A Clark’s came up very close, which was enough to confirm that at least some of the others were Western, life bird #2. We also had a very cooperative Black Phoebe and a couple Orange Sulphurs.

Black Phoebe

I stopped at the portapotty, but upon seeing the rather large wasp walking around the seat, I decided I could wait.

We continued around and saw lots more of the same. Lots of dabbling ducks, mostly shoveler and pintail. At the trails, we started to walk and people returning warned us about the mosquitoes. We kept going anyway.

That may have been a mistake as they were quite bad (I should have snapped a couple shots of Ethan’s back entirely covered). The birding was slow here (it was probably 10:30) with a few flyby cranes and lots of juncos (mostly Gray-headed with some Oregon). The butterflying was quite good and there were a few Variegated Meadowhawks flying around (although they didn’t cooperate very much for the camera). I ended up with 8 species of butterflies here: Cabbage White, Clouded Sulphur, Orange Sulphur, Ceraunus Blue, Western Pygmy-Blue, Common Buckeye, Monarch, and Common/White Checkered-Skipper.

Variegated Meadowhawk

Ceraunus Blues (male dorsal, male ventral, female ventral)

We then joined the Farm Loop, where we promptly saw 3 coyotes (no pictures unfortuantely). At the various lookouts, we got more than enough views of cranes. One had a small group of Mule Deer and some photographers that told us where the best spots for the evening flight would be.

Mule Deer

Around the bend we found those fields. There were already several hundred cranes feeding. And, as we pulled over, a Prairie Falcon was circling overhead. After getting a brief look to confirm, I grabbed the camera and hopped out. It apparently had flown off in the meantime and given that everyone else pulled was staring at the cranes through a camera, I didn’t even bother asking where it went.

Cranes

We enjoyed the cranes for a while, along with Southern Dogface that was fluttering around the car, and then finished the loop. Back at the flight deck were incredible numbers of Snow Geese. I picked out a few smaller-looking birds but couldn’t say for sure any were Ross’s. On the other side, where the meadowlarks were earlier, a Cattle Egret was working.

Southern Dogface

Southern Dogface

Geese

Cattle Egret

After finishing the loop, we hit the visitor’s center and gift shop. At the feeders was a Spotted Towhee and not much else. We decided to eat lunch at the picnic tables. While carrying the cooler over, a sapsucker flew into the trees right at the doorway. Unfortunately, it disappeared by the time I put the food down and ran back.

We ate and I then wandered around the parking lot while Ethan read the paper. There wasn’t too much around, mostly White-crowned Sparrows, but I did find a single Verdin, as well as some type of Lady (butterfly) and a Common Green Darner.

Walking back to the car, I added a Sleepy Orange and got a nice shot of a grasshopper.

Sleepy Orange

Grasshopper

We worked our way around the Farm Loop again, getting ready for the evening flight. First, however, we stopped at the flight deck again, so I could get my Menotomy shirt pic.

Menotomy and Geese

We made a couple stops on the way to the fields, picking up another eagle and a definite Painted Lady, but nothing too exciting. A perched Buteo had us going for a few minutes, but unable to find any reason for it not to be a Red-tail, we kept going. At the fields, we just sat back and waited. Lots of cranes with blackbirds, crows, pipits, and mourning doves mixed in. I tried to find some Brewer’s Blackbirds in the flock but couldn’t find any I was confident about.

Eventually, the geese started coming in.

Flying Geese

Geese and Cranes

Scanning through with the scope, I found the stubby, warty bill of a Ross’s (life bird #4 on the day) but didn’t find the bird to go with it. I did eventually find another, but it took some effort.

The noise was spectacular, we were calling people and just holding up the phones. I’m not going to attempt to describe the experience in words, just will say that it’s something that everyone should do at least once in their life.

Finally, a little after 5 (probably close to 2 hours at the fields), the bugs started getting to be too much so we headed off for the night. Quite a day.

Back at the hotel, we just went to the El Camino. I got the chicken-fried steak, which was quite good. Still waiting for the soup that came with the meal though.

Ethan wanted to send a postcard to a friend, so we went to the gas station to get one. Not only did they not stock any, but the clerk and his friend didn’t seem to know what they were. We went across the street, where not only did they have some, but they gave us detailed directions to the post office and probably would have given us a stamp if they had one.

Daily totals: 59 species (including 4 life and 30 for New Mexico, along with Goldfinch sp, and Sapsucker sp). Also 11 butterflies (5 new) and 2 dragonflies (1 new)

New Mexico Day 1 (Wednesday, 11/6) – Getting to Socorro

Today I flew out of Hartford with my uncle Ethan. Up at 5:15, grabbed breakfast in the hotel lobby, caught the shuttle at 6. Absolutely pouring out, but we were picked up and dropped off under cover, so no getting wet for us. Picked up the first birds of the trip, European Starlings, in the light towers.

Easy flight to Minneapolis, although we circled several times after being told we’ll be landing shortly. This was the only flight of the trip that wasn’t close to full. A little over an hour at the airport between flights, although I couldn’t find any pigeons or anything walking around the terminal.

Another easy flight to Albuquerque and we were in a little after 1PM. Something goofy with the baggage claim though, as it took almost 45 minutes to get our bags. I don’t expect that anywhere but Logan. The small hole in mine was now a big hole, but nothing appeared to have fallen out. Quick taxi ride and we were at Ethan’s house.

Our plan was to grab lunch, hit a supermarket, and then head down to Socorro. We were on the way, stopping at Rudy’s for lunch and buying extra meat for tomorrow as well. Not too bad, although I don’t care for barbecue too much.

The first major problem was that the brakes in Ethan’s jeep sounded horrible. While at Rudy’s, he called one of the car rental places and they said they’ll call right back to let us know if they have something available. We stopped at the supermarket, grabbed rolls, soda, vegetables, and stuff, and still hadn’t heard. Ethan drove down Lomas and pulled into the first car rental place we found, an Enterprise. A few minutes later, we had a fairly crappy but new and running Chevy Cobalt. We did find some amusement in the place, however. The business cards at Enterprise were quite funny. One for the Accounts Manager, Branch Manager, Assistant Manager, Manager-in-Training, and Intern. Not much of a middle ground there.

I drove the car back to Ethan’s, where we quickly shuffled some of the luggage around, and then headed for Socorro. Got the first decent bird of the trip flying down Ethan’s street, a Cooper’s Hawk (we had lots of House Sparrows, American Crows, Rock Pigeons, and Starlings first).

Getting to the highway, we added Great-tailed and Common Grackles. There was a bit of traffic, and we were amused by the Highway Safety car that we kept passing, with the driver on the phone for the entire hour she was in sight. Ethan got the car up to 90 without realizing it, so we made fairly good time.

Even though it was getting dark, we decided to see if we could make it to the Bosque (we did get a glimpse of a few cranes on the way down). We drove straight down and didn’t quite get there. It was a bit too dark to see anything, but when we stopped to turn around, we rolled down the windows and could hear large numbers of birds.

We went back to Socorro and checked into our hotel (the San Miguel Inn). Not a bad room, it had a minifridge and a microwave. The fridge was nice, since we were able to put our food and water in and didn’t need to keep running out for ice.

Not wanting to get back in the car, we walked down the main street to find a place to eat. We considered the El Camino Family Restaurant across the street, but ended up at what we thought was the Roadrunner Steakhouse. It turned out to have a different name (I have no idea what it was), but we sat down anyway. First we had to answer a question neither of us had heard in years: Smoking or nonsmoking?

The food was pretty good (I had steak fajitas and Ethan had a ribeye), but the service was interesting. They were going for fancy, but weren’t quite capable of that. Every single thing they brought out was on a cart (which kept bumping into me) and the waitress was a bit off (staring at me as she took Ethan’s order). A little pricey, but nothing wrong with it either.

We got back to the hotel and crashed pretty quickly.

Totals for the day: 12 species, 2 State birds