Birding New Mexico’s East Mountain Plains

“Night Jar,” someone announced over the two-way radio. The caravan of 17 Thursday Birders pulled over to the side of Highway 41 near Stanley. A Common Nighthawk was resting on top of a fence post. I had never seen one at close range – close enough to see the golden flecks in its feathers.

Within the next few miles we saw two different Swainson’s Hawks perched on top of power poles. Over a ranch, two kingbirds were harassing a crow.

“Bird on the road,” announced Rebecca, the trip leader who was in the lead car. “It is a Ring-necked Pheasant.” We slowed as it sauntered across the highway.

Our next surprise was a Burrowing Owl perched on top of the fence along the highway.

As we turned west on Simmons Road, I noticed birds walking amongst the grasses. “Stop, so I can get an ID.” They were Horned Larks, the first of many we would see during the morning.

After about a mile, we pulled over to begin our search for Mountain Plovers and Long-billed Curlews. As we were getting out the scopes, a vehicle came driving towards us and slowed down. After they had turned around and headed back down the road, Rebecca shared that they were doing target practice and “thought that Fish and Game had a bead on them”

We moved down the road slightly. Back came the target shooters. “You are potentially in our line of fire,” they announced. “If you would just move further down the road, we will all be happy.”

Three Lark Sparrows were sitting on the fence wire. We were able to see the face pattern and dark spot on the chest. When they flew to another location, the white on their outer wings was visible.

“Raptor on the ground,” Hal announced after we had driven a ways down the road.

“It’s a Burrowing Owl,” relayed Dave after he had his scope on it. “It is just standing up tall.” There were two of them.

As we headed back to Highway 41, we saw a Mockingbird perched on top of a Cholla, running through its various songs. A Red-tailed Hawk flew by and landed on the ground.

A Pronghorn Antelope, crawled under a fence and headed off across the field. We were glad he was a distance from the target shooters.

Back on Highway 41, we next turned east on White Lakes Road. Horned Larks seemed to be everywhere.

“Scaled Quail are running out from under a Cholla,” Rebecca announced over the radio. Only the front two cars got a glimpse of them.

We stopped to watch Mountain Bluebirds along the road. The road began to climb slightly and the terrain became greener and dotted with juniper bushes. After about nine miles, we pulled over.

“Curlew,” Rebecca announced. We watched two Long-billed Curlews foraging in the grass.

“There are more on the other side of the road,” Ken said. “Ten, eleven, I count twelve of them.” They were picking their way between a group of cows that seemed very excited to see us.

Long-billed Curlews browsing among the cattle

Long-billed Curlews browsing among the cattle

“They nest on the ground,” Rebecca told us, “often laying their eggs next to an object, which might even be a cow pie.”

“Plovers,” Hal exclaimed. Slightly to the west of the curlews, two Mountain Plovers were moving through the grass with the customary plover walk – take two steps and stop and peck in the ground, take two more steps. The chest feathers were very pale and the dark head marks were clearly visible on each of them. A life bird for me!

On the way back on White Lakes Road, our car stopped to admire a Swainson’s Hawk sitting on the ground just inside the fence line. As we slowed down, it flew off. A little further, a pair of medium-sized birds flew across the road. As they flew, we could see the white wing patch on the black bird – a probable Lark Bunting.

Before returning to Moriarty we stopped at a ranch where Rebecca had contacted the owner. Several Western Wood Peewees were flitting around. A Blue Grosbeak was calling in the shrubs and then flew into view. Barn Swallows appeared to be nesting there.

“Owl,” Dick announced. A Barn Owl, which was being harassed by two kingbirds, flew through the yard and landed well-hidden in the trees. Evidently not enough hidden for the kingbirds who continued to harass it two more times while we were visiting.

When we went over the checklist, we tallied 34 different species for the morning.

One thought on “Birding New Mexico’s East Mountain Plains

  1. What a nice write-up of our birds-of-the-plains trip. I had hoped to see the curlews but thought the plovers had moved on to other nesting sites when I didn’t see them at the White Lakes playa for the past two years. I’m still trilled about the sighting.

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