“Shrike on the right,” trip leader, Sylvia fee, reported from the lead car through the two-way radio. We were the 6th car of Thursday Birders in the nine-car caravan rolling slowly along the Farm to Market Road in Luis Lopez just outside of Socorro.
Jeane, Vicki and I focused our binoculars in the shrike as our car approached the bird, still perched on the edge of a bush.
“I think it is a Northern Shrike,” Rebecca alerted us. She was in the last car.
“That would be a life bird for me,” I told Vicki and Jeane. Pretty soon we came to a place where we could turn around and I swung the car back along the road. Others soon followed. The shrike had flown off, but soon landed nearby. We took turns peering at it through Rebecca’s scope – this time with a view of the right side of its face. Sadly, we all concluded that it was a Loggerhead Shrike.
“Well,” Donna said, “The left side of its face looked like a Northern; however, the right side definitely looks like a Loggerhead.”
We proceeded down the road.
A bird was hovering over the field – an American Kestrel.
We stopped at the home of a fellow birder and searched the barn next door where a Barn Owl often roosts, but no owl. Flocks of House Finches and White-crowned Sparrows flew in and out from his feeders. We studied the White-crowned in hopes of finding a White-throated mixed in, but with no luck.
“I hear a Phainopepla,” Rebecca said. Pretty soon we spotted it in a large evergreen; and as it flew, we could see the white wing patches.
Everyone focused their binoculars on the sky to watch a Ferruginous Hawk circling overhead. “Notice the white ‘windows’ in its arm pits,” Sei explained.
Several Red-tailed Hawks were seen perched and flying between the cottonwood trees along the river and a few heard, and then spotted a Ladder-back Woodpecker.
Further down the road we watched the first of many Greater Roadrunners we would see during the day. We stopped to examine a large flock of birds flying and landing in a field – Mountain Bluebirds and American Pipits. Not far away another Ferruginous Hawk sat patiently on the ground – waiting for a larger meal than a bluebird.
‘Birds in the small tree on the left,” reported the lead car.
“They are not White-crowns,” another car responded. We all stopped to examine them. Through the scope we could see the details on the breast of the five birds – Savannah Sparrows!
On the road into the refuge, we stopped to check out the waterfowl on a seasonal pond. They were mostly Northern Pintails. A couple of Killdeer scooted along the near shoreline, while another Ferruginous Hawk sat on the far shore. Further along, five Sandhill cranes ambled along a dirt road that paralleled the highway.
A multitude of ravens and crows cavorted in the trees and area surrounding the Visitor’s Center. Since the temperature had reached about 50 degrees and the wind had dropped, we enjoyed our picnic lunches under the pavilion. As I was heading back to my car, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitted in a nearby bush. Several of the group walked behind the residences where they saw a Pyrruhloxia.Shortly after turning onto the Marsh Loop, we stopped to look at a Prairie Falcon sitting on a mound of grass in a nearby pond. It glanced at us warily, one foot on its lunch. At the next stop, those in the last car told us that its prey was a Green-winged Teal. “He dropped it as it flew off,” one of them relayed. “I could see the speculum as its wings fanned out.”
We heard a Marsh Wren deep in the willows. Charlotte called it in with her iPOD and it flitted closer, giving us the opportunity to see its white eyebrow.
Several saw a Ring-necked Pheasant scurry across the road.
A Common Merganser was visible in the boardwalk pond through a break in the reeds. There wasn’t much else in that pond, so we didn’t tarry long.
“There is something walking along the irrigation ditch,” Vicki reported.
“Snipe are often seen along these ditch banks,” I responded. Pretty soon its head popped up again amongst the weeds. Not a snipe, but a Western Meadowlark.
As we sound our way along the Marsh Loop and past the numerous ponds, we saw all of the normally wintering waterfowl: Canada Geese, Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Canvasback, Buffleheads, Lesser Scaup, Ring-necked Ducks, Green-winged Teal and lots of Northern Pintails.
Lesser Goldfinches busied themselves in the stands of dried sunflowers along the road.
A Great-blue Heron waited patiently along an irrigation ditch, and a Cooper’s Hawk kept vigil in one of the barren Cottonwood trees. When we got to the rookery, a Black-crowned Night Heron was perched high in the cattails.
Along the Farm Loop we spotted both Black and Say’s Phoebes. Cranes and Snow Geese were beginning to gather in the fields and ponds behind the Chupadera Deck. Since it was getting late, most cars did not stop. The one that did was rewarded with an immature Bald Eagle, our only eagle sighting of the day.
The Sandhill Cranes were feeding far out in the fields; however, a flock of Snow Geese rested closer to the road.
At the Norton Blind, we went over our list for the day and counted up 61 species.
“We only had one species of woodpecker,” Rebecca stated. Just then, a Northern Flicker flew overhead. “62,” Rebecca said, revising the total.Jeane, Vicki and I lingered at the Flight Deck. American Pipits began gathering among the dirt clods at the end of the pond. A Wilson’s Snipe worked the near edges, weaving its way between the roots and grasses. Even though the cranes were not flying in there this winter, we enjoyed the late afternoon sun reflecting on the barren willow branches. The nearly full moon rose early and was reflected in the water.
Our final stop was along highway 1. Masses of Snow Geese were assembled in one of the ponds west of the highway and Sandhill Cranes continued to feed along the far edge. We opened the windows to listen to their chorus. As dusk approached, the geese rose up en masse, darkening the sky as their wings shrouded the setting sun. And then they flew honking to their night resting spot. The perfect ending to a glorious day.