Late Summer Birding – Isleta and Los Lunas

“Just as I arrived, an adult and juvenile Black-necked Stilt flew into the northern pond.,” trip leader Donna told the 19 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders as we assembled shortly after 7 a.m. along side the road next to the Isleta Marsh.

Behind us cars zipped by on their way between Los Lunas and Isleta Pueblo; however, in front of us the birds seemed unperturbed. The day was overcast and cool, creating an aura of calm.

A few Blue-winged Teal, American Coots and Mallards swam lazily in the pond where the stilts foraged. A Black Phoebe made quick forays from a bush next to the pond. In the adjacent meadow a Western Kingbird was busy snagging early morning insects from its perch atop a fence post. A Western Wood Peewee preferred a more secluded perch on fence wire nestled alongside a row of shrubs.

We moved to the larger, southern pond a ways down the road and located a couple of spots where the cattails hadn’t grown tall enough to block the view.

“Marsh Wren calling,” Rebecca said.

“All I am ever able to do is hear them,” someone replied. “I don’t think I have ever actually seen one.”

And then, from my vantage point, one popped up for a short time with its tail cocked straight up, as if to check us out, before dropping down out of view to resume flitting furtively. Normally, it is only seen in Central New Mexico during the winter.

“I saw an Eared Grebe here when I was scouting earlier in the week,” Donna shared. Before long, one swam along next to the cattails. Still in breeding plumage, its red eye gleamed in front of its buffy-gold ‘ears.’

“Notice how it never dives,” someone noted, as it would swim slowly out to the middle of the water, and then return to the side.

About ten Ruddy Ducks in eclipse plumage hovered in the center of the pond. A Pied-billed Grebe was with them.

Someone noticed a raptor perched on a fence post on the ridge line. We looked carefully at it through a scope and determined it was a Red-tailed hawk.

It was time to move on to our next stop.

As we got out of our cars in the parking area of the Los Lunas River Park, we started scanning the sky. Every year one or two pair of Mississippi Kites nest here.

“I saw one earlier in the week,” Donna assured us, “but it was later in the morning. Perhaps there are not enough thermals at 8:45 on a cloudy day.”

We did see a Great Egret flying overhead.

We took the packed gravel trail to the edge of the Rio Grande, which was fairly quiet. A male Blue Grosbeak was singing from a high branch of a tree along the side trail to the north.

Los-Lunas-Riverside-ParkWe headed south along the other trail, and stopped to identify a dead tree that had about six different species perched in it. Sitting on different bare branches, they were silhouetted against the gray sky. Through the scope, we identified a Northern Flicker, a Black-headed Grosbeak, and juvenile Robin before they scattered.

The tree appeared to be a favorite surveillance spot. Over the time we watched, other species flew in – Mourning Doves, Western Kingbird, more grosbeaks.

While some of us headed back, a part of the group wandered over to the river again, where they spotted a Snowy Egret, a Killdeer, and a Common Nighthawk. Vanessa identified an Orange-crowned Warbler in the Russian Olives along the bank.

At the edge of the parking lot, the rest of us watched a juvenile Summer Tanager begging to be fed, and then both parents flying in to feed it. The parents took off further into the cottonwoods, their youngun’ trailing behind them. .

“I think we should walk up on the levee,” Donna advised. “It was where I saw the kite.”

As we scouted the area, a Bewick’s Wren called from the bushes along the irrigation ditch.

“The kite just flew into the cottonwood next to the house,” Donna exclaimed. By time we turned to put our bins on it, we saw it shoot out, being chased by two excited Western Kingbirds. Sorry, kite, no kingbird babies for breakfast.

As we went over the check list, we were delighted to have seen a combined total of 41 species for the morning.

Over sweet rolls or huevos rancheros at Henriettas, we sang happy birthday to Sei who was celebrating his 79th birthday.

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