When my friend Jan and I rounded the bend on the road leading from Interstate 25 to Fort Union in NE New Mexico, the road was dotted with birds sitting on the pavement. They didn’t seem concerned about the fact that I was approaching them at 45 mph. There was no one else on the road, so I slowed to a stop to take a look. Through my binoculars I could see the facial pattern and white edges on the tail feathers, but didn’t have a clear identification. Their drab gray-brown suggested females or juveniles. I stepped outside the car and took a photo.
As I drove on, they flew up as a flock and landed en masse a short distance away in the fields, the white undersides of their wings catching the light. All along the highway, I stirred up other flocks. They swirled up, then scattered, as if they were leaves blowing in the wind.
After touring Fort Union, we noticed the grass outside of the Visitor’s Center covered with birds, almost indistinguishable as their backs blended in with the short brown grass.
“They look like the same birds,” Jan commented. “Their tails are long like the ones we saw on the highway.”
Again, they did not seem to be concerned about my approach. I was able to slowly drive the car close enough to try and get a good ID. These were less drab – undoubtedly males. As I looked through the binoculars, I could see the buttery throats – some still bright and some almost faded.
I was sure they were longspurs and grabbed my field guide to nail the ID as Horned Larks.