A few pictures from Dunback Meadow, November and December 2006.
This guy was in the morphing owl tree at the end of November.
This guy was hunting by the Clarke School in early December.
A little closer.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Posted to ArlingtonBirds:
I stopped by Hardy Pond for my lunch break today to scout out a bit for the CBC. It’s almost entirely open still (apparently the only
partially frozen spot is the sliver visible from my house). Started
with 2 Great Blue Herons. Lots of mergansers still around (about 10
Common and 20 Hooded). Didn’t notice any other ducks (beyond
mallards), although there have been Ruddies, Ring-necks, and Wigeon
around the last week or so. There were two coots and at least 5
swans fairly close (2 of which were up on land, heading straight for
one of the houses) and lots of gulls on the rocks in the far corner.
I walked away from the scope to check the close corners and
immediately noticed something splashing away at the edge of the boat
ramp. It was fairly dark and Green Heron popped into my head, but I
quickly realized it was a falcon. I grabbed the scope and was able
to confirm it as a Merlin and then watched it splash around. I was
able to watch for a few minutes (no idea how long it had been there
before I noticed it) and got to see it dunk its head and wings and
turn around several times. The most interesting part was that there
were 4-5 mallards right there. They were paying attention, but in a
curious way. One female swam to within a couple feet of the bird. I
wish I had a good camera with me, but I did manage to get my
cameraphone up to the scope. I’ve yet to get an acceptable picture
out of that, but this one may have worked. I’ll see tonight and with
any luck will have something to show.
The Merlin eventually took off directly from the water, made a very
short circle over the water, and then headed off over the baseball
fields. I had to take off, but that was a very good lunch break.
And the cameraphone did work somewhat: