Central New Mexico Birdathon

We were all milling around in Karen and Gary’s kitchen, snacking and watching the bird activity at their myriad feeders. It was not yet 10 a.m., the start of the birdathon, a fundraising event for Central New Mexico Audubon. There were 19 of us participating on the Thursday Birder team. The team’s goal was to beat last year’s 24-hour record of 155 species. A species can only be counted if it is identified by two people.

As the big hand clicked onto the twelve and we looked out of the window, there were no birds at the feeders. Then a Mountain Chickadee flew in, and we had our first species. Several headed outside to scour the property, while the rest of us kept watch on the feeders that attracted a string of diverse species, such as Cedar Waxwing, Hairy Woodpecker, Stellar’s Jay, Black-headed Grosbeak, Pine Siskin and Broad-tailed Hummingbird.

“We will donate an additional $5 for each bird we add to our New Mexico Big Year list,” Lou and Bev announced. “We could really use a Band-tailed Pigeon.” Before we left, they had their bird, and Audubon was $5 richer.

Sei Tokuda had master-mined the itinerary to capture the maximum number of birds. He allowed us 20 minutes at each stop. By time we left the Boettchers, we had a nice start of almost 30 species.

Our next stop was in the mountain meadow on the road near their house, where we picked up several more species, including a Cordillean Flycatcher, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Cassin’s Kingbird and Western Bluebird. By time we reached the highway, we added Brewer’s Blackbird and American Robin.

It was starting to sprinkle. The further south we drove through the Manzano Mountains, the harder it rained. When we pulled into the marshy creek in Torreon that buzzed with bird activity the prior week, the birds had sought cover. The same was true at the Manzano Pond, where all we saw was an Olive-sided Flycatcher and White-winged Dove.

At Quarai National Monument, we donned our rain gear, but before we left the monument, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. We headed straight for the church ruins to look for the Great-horned Owl, but didn’t see him in the niche where he sat the prior week. While some of us headed for the arroyo, Gary searched until he saw the owl sitting nearby on the branch of a cottonwood. Other new species included Western Wood-Pewee, Spotted Towhee and Plumbeous Vireo.

While some got coffee when we stopped in Socorro, others walked to the open space between the freeway off and on-ramps where Burrowing Owls regularly nest in prairie dog burrows. There was a prairie dog, but no owl.

On the Farm-to-Market road, we stopped to pick up a Phainopepla, Green Heron and Western Tanager, and then headed to Jerry Oldenettel’s yard. A Barn Owl was sitting in the rafters of the neighbor’s car port. It flew to a nearby tree when we walked closer, and then watched warily from the crook of some branches. A Bullock’s Oriole flew in before we headed to the back yard. Barn Swallows had built their mud cup nests against the rear of the house. They swooped in and out over the pond plucking insects, then taking them back to the nest.
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At the Visitor’s Center at the Bosque del Apache, a Gambel’s Quail stood vigil on a post, while calling to another quail on the far side of the residences.
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We stopped to admire the blooming cacti. As the damp air warmed up, the mosquitoes started swarming.
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Our first stop on the tour loop was to scan the group of White-faced Ibis; however, we didn’t see the Glossy that was mingling with them a month ago, so we proceeded to the Eagle Scout Deck to watch the Black Terns in breeding plumage flying and diving over the water in the seasonal wetland. A few Forster’s Terns and Bonaparte’s Gulls joined with them. We started ticking off waterfowl – 13 different species.

At the Boardwalk both Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants were sunning themselves on a snag – and Pied-billed, Clark’s and Western Grebe swam and dove lazily. Marsh Wren, Yellow-breasted Chat and Common Yellowthroat called from the bushes.

We added Spotted Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs, Kildeer, Summer Tanager and Vermillion Flycatcher as we made our way around the Marsh Loop. We batted furiously at mosquitoes as we stopped to look at a bare bush in the rookery pond filled with several species of swallows. Snowy and Great Egrets perched in another bare tree.

As we started onto the seasonal route, the air was filled with Lesser and Common Nighthawks, their white wing bars flashing in the dimming light of early evening. Black-necked Stilt and American Avocet stood in the muddy marsh. We encountered several Ring-necked Pheasants and hens.

The light was fading as we stood on the flight deck watching groups of Wilson’s Phalaropes spinning to rustle up supper. Long-billed Dowitchers clumped together as they settled in for the night.

“We will reconvene at 6 a.m. at Macy Center on the New Mexico Tech campus,” Sei announced before the group headed back to the motel.

Rebecca, Gale and Cheri were not done for the day .They grabbed a sandwich and headed out to the Magdalenas for owls. They heard both Falmmulated and Western Screech Owl in Water Canyon.

Friday started out soggy after two hours of rain during the night, and Macy Center and Turtle Bay were unproductive.

The next stop was Box Canyon in the Magdalenas where the group picked up a Canyon Wren, White-throated Swift, plus Rufous-crowned and Black-throated Sparrows. Then on to Water Canyon where many more species were added, including Grace’s Warbler, Hepatic Tanager, Gray Flycatcher, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Acorn Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush, Horned Lark, Warbling Vireo, Loggerhead Shrike and two beautiful singing Scott’s Orioles.

The day ended at 9:59 with 139 species. While less than the prior year’s total, it was still impressive, given the rain and lack of migrating species.

Over brunch, Sei and Cheri began making plans for next year’s birdathon!

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