Twitching for the Rufous-backed Robin

“We watched the pond for a couple of hours and didn’t see it,” the trip leader of a group from Kansas City told us in the parking lot of the McDonald’s in Truth or Consequences. “Then we flushed it from the bushes along the road as we walked back to the car.”

Rebecca, Jane and I left Albuquerque at 6:00 a.m. and were headed to Las Animas Creek In Sierra County in hopes of seeing the Rufous-backed Robin that had been visiting since the third week in January.

A covey of Gambel’s Quail scurried across the road as we headed east on NM 152.

A myriad of birds flew between branches of the large sycamore tree and in the nearby yards. We parked the car and began to scope the area. Although it was not yet 9:00 a.m., the air was starting to warm up and we shed our first layer.

“A Ladderback Woodpecker just flew into the sycamore,” Jane announced. Then we noticed the two Acorn Woodpeckers who busied themselves in the smooth upper branches of the sycamore. When they flew, the white patches on their wings flashed.

The ‘whit wheet’ call note of a Curved-bill Thrasher came from behind a building, followed by a melodic ‘gurgle’ sound. We spotted it on a tree branch and watched its bill open and close in staccato fashion as it sang.

Starlings and Red-winged Blackbirds chattered from another tree. A noisy Cactus Wren called from under a mesquite, and then popped up where we could see it. Soon another wren answered the call and flew into an adjacent bush.

A Northern Harrier cruised by. “I hope he doesn’t get to the robin before we do,” I lamented.

We had seen some other birders on the driveway into the Animas Nursery, and so we headed in their direction to see if they had any luck. We got distracted by a woodpecker that flew across the road.

“There’s a sapsucker,” Rebecca exclaimed. We wondered whether it could be the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that had been seen here. I saw its yellowish belly as it flew overhead; however, since I had never seen this species before, I needed a better look before I could put it on my life list. We followed it as it flew into a tree across the street. Unfortunately, it quickly scurried to the back of the tree – and then we lost track of it.

As we approached the creek, a Great Blue Heron flew off. The water in Animas Creek was two to three inches deep and flowing swiftly. “Well,” I said, “this will be a good chance to see whether the Gortex lining of my hiking shoes really makes them waterproof.”

Rebecca hopped across first, and then I followed – and ended up with dry feet. Jane, who was wearing mesh sneakers decided to wait. She would wade through the stream if we found the robin and called for her.

As we headed up the road, the other birders came back towards the driveway and beckoned to us. “It just flew into that tree at the end of the drive,” one of them relayed.
We beckoned for Jane.

By time we left, we had several good looks with both the binoculars and Rebecca’s scope.

Heading back to the highway we saw a raptor fly into some bushes. When it landed we could see that it was a Cooper’s Hawk. A Crissal Thrasher worked its way through a mesquite bush on the other side of the road, finally perching on top.

We headed for Elephant Butte. At the Hot Springs Landing we could see Western and Clark’s Grebes swimming in the middle of the lake and heard them calling to each other. Spring was definitely in the air.

We walked on a path beyond the parking area at the Rock Canyon Marina. Gulls rested on a tire bulk-head. Most were Ring-billed Gulls.
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“At the end is a Bonaparte’s Gull,” Jane exclaimed. It was noticeably smaller, had a black bill and the distinctive gray ‘smudge’ behind the eye. As we looked, we noticed three more.

Neotropical Cormorants lounged at the end with the gulls.

“I see one with pink legs,” I stated. It was larger than the other gulls. While, we wanted it to be a Thayer’s Gull, we decided it was a Herring.

Our last stop of the day was Paseo del Rio Park in a riparian canyon along the river as it flows from Elephant Butte towards Caballo Lake. American Wigeons and Gadwalls floated in the river. A Yellow-rumped Warbler flitted in one of the trees. A flock of American Robins flew into the same tree, with a Mockingbird on its tail. Then we noticed a Pyrrhuloxia glide quitely into a mesquite. Its gray feathers blended in with the mesquite branches. It saw very still; however, when it twitched, its red patches flashed.

Not only did we see our rare bird; we saw over 40 other birds in a day that hinted of spring.

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3 thoughts on “Twitching for the Rufous-backed Robin

  1. Judy — Thank you for sending this along. Maybe Cole’s trip won’t be “the lost field trip,” after all! He and I were just talking on the phone, and I forwarded your e-mail to him, so I know we’ve both been reading it at the same time. A lovely report! I wish you could join us, but in fact you have — in spirit! Cheers, Beth

  2. Nice birding trip. I live in an area where American and Rufous-backed robins overlap. Their songs are a delight, and the subtle, fine difference between their songs is an everyday pleasure for connoisseurs. It is very rare to hear them in duet, but it occurs.

    Cheers.

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