Productive Morning at Belen Marsh and Whitfield

Burrowing Owl

The largish wings flapped once, and then the bird glided low across the dirt road in front of me, then two more strong wing beats and it landed and stood at attention next to its burrow. I had flushed a Burrowing Owl as I crept along behind the Taco Bell in Belen.

Sei told us later that there were juveniles next to the nest hole when he had visited the prior week.

As the Thursday Birders gathered in the parking lot, a flock of Cattle Egrets flew overhead – on their way from their marsh roosting spot to the fields for their day’s foraging. A swirl of Killdeer circled overhead – all calling at once.

We headed over to the first pond. Mallards in eclipse plumage swam lazily.

“A rail,” Left announced. It popped out from the reeds, looked up and when it saw the crown of on-lookers, zipped quickly across the small inlet and back into the reeds.

“It’s a Virginia,’ Donna stated. “I could see its eye brow and the barring on its flanks.”

“And just to the left is a snipe,” Robert shared. It too disappeared.

“It’s out again,” Matt said.

“I’ve got it in the scope,” Rebecca stated.

Male Red-winged Blackbirds with faded wing patches flew in and out of the reeds. A White-faced Ibis, five American Avocets and a Black-necked Stilt probed for food in the big pond. A couple of Wilson’s Phalaropes trolled in a circle to stir up crustaceans.

“Oh, look,” there’s a Belted Kingfisher on that bare snag,” someone called.

Least Sandpiper

A group of peeps were working near the edge of the pond. The composition kept changing as some flew off and others arrived. They were Least and Western Sandpipers. I got so absorbed studying the shorebirds that I never checked out the other waterfowl.

A Cooper’s Hawk circled over the marsh, scattering the sandpipers. It settled on a snag on the far end, and then the shorebirds circled back and resumed their foraging.

“It’s time to head over to Whitfield,” trip leader Linda announced. We caravanned across town to the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.

Whitfield’s Project Manager, Ted Hodoba, updated the assembled group on the conservation area’s latest projects. “We have planted a pollinator garden and developed three moist soil units on the south side to provide habitat for wintering cranes.”

A Northern Harrier circled low over the marsh. “Welcome back,” Linda called. It was the first harrier of fall.

A flock of blackbirds circled over the pond and settled in the reeds – a mixed flock of Red-winged and Yellow-headed.

American Coot

We started our trek around the preserve. The only water fowl visible were American Coots. “It has been a coot nursery this summer,” Linda explained.

A Great Blue Heron cruised in and landed near the wetlands.

Meadowlarks and a Western Kingbird landed on the north fence line. In the field beyond, two coyotes looked as though they were having fun as they romped through the waving grasses – only their head and shoulders visible until they leaped.

A male Blue Grosbeak landed in the top of a conifer and moments later, a female dropped into the uppermost branches of an elm.

Wild Sunflowers lined both sides of the trail and Monarch Butterflies flitted among the plants on our left, attracted by the Western Whortled Milkweed.

Two flocks of White-faced Ibis winged across the horizon – 45 in all.

A bird zipped into the large cottonwood next to the trail. It kept moving inside the branches and we couldn’t see it. But finally it flew out and landed in view. Robert got his scope on it. “It’s a kestrel – and it has a mouse in its talons,” he reported.

As we rounded the back of the loop, a sparrow hopped out of the bushes and scrounged at the edge of the trail – unfortunately in a shadow.

“It’s a spizella,” Matt stated. “See how long its tail is.”

“I can see its mustache stripe,” Bill commented. They finally concurred it was a Brewer’s/

While they were studying the sparrow, the others enjoyed watching a Bullock’s Oriole.

Lark Sparrows flew in and out from the elms along the south property line, and a Vesper Sparrow flashed its white outer tail feathers as it landed in the shrubs along an irrigation ditch.

Over lunch at Harla Mae’s, we went over the list. 54 species. It had been a productive day.

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