“Before we get to the refuge, I want to stop at a house in San Antonio that has been hosting a rare bird,” I told my friend Jan. This day was her birthday treat, but I hoped to spot the bird that had been reported on the Rare Bird Alert for the past two weeks.
We pulled up in front of the house and noticed activity in the juniper tree right next to the road, so I lowered the window on Jan’s side of the car just as it popped out to the end of a branch.
“It’s a Yellow-throated Warbler,” I told Jan. It is supposed to be down in Mexico right now. There should be two of them. Let’s see if we can spot the other one.”
It kept working the end of the branch. “its throat is so yellow,” Jan exclaimed. I pulled out my iPod and scrolled to the warbler on my Sibley’s Field Guide app so she could see it better.
After unsuccessfully trying to take a photograph of the bird, we headed down the road towards the Bosque del Apache and stopped at the first pull-out next to a seasonal pond full of ducks.
“What are the ones with the white necks?” Jan asked.
“You mean the ones with the brown sides?” I inquired.
“Yes,” she answered.
“They are Northern Shovelers. The ones with the white stripe are Northern Pintails. Notice their long tails when they upend to forage below the surface of the water.”
At the Visitor Center, we took a walk through the cactus garden where we were lucky to spot a female Pyrrhuloxia and lots of Gambel’s Quail rustling and calling from under the bushes and popping in to nibble at the seed block.
As we walked back across the open area, I noticed a bird on the side of a large cottonwood. It was a Northern Flicker, which soon flew out, flashing the red under its wings.
There was another bird. When I looked at it closely, I could tell it was a Merlin.
“This is exactly where we saw it when I was here with the Thursday Birders earlier in December,” I said. “The Merlin is a kind of falcon; one kind of raptor,” I explained.
We got out at the first deck on the Marsh Loop. “Here that sound?” I asked. “It is a Marsh Wren. It is a bird that you rarely see, since it calls from deep in reeds or thickets.”
“Barb Hussey pointed one out to me years ago,” Jan said.
We were disappointed that there wasn’t an eagle perched on the snag opposite the deck, but enjoyed looking at the ducks through my spotting scope. There were two couples looking out over the water that didn’t even have binoculars, so I let them look at the ducks through the scope.
There were absolutely no waterfowl or other birds in the pond next to the boardwalk, so we didn’t linger.
On the south end of the loop we stopped again to peruse the waterfowl. I spotted a Bufflehead and pointed it out to Jan. “They keep diving, but look for the one that appears to be wearing a white helmet.” She finally was able to see it.
We took the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful day when we got to the new John Taylor Trail. It ended at a new vantage point that overlooks the fields, where sometimes an Aplomado Falcon can be seen patrolling; however, not that day. We were content watching a flock of Snow Geese fly in to feed from another part of the refuge.
One of the ponds on another part of the loop had a preponderance of American Coots bobbing along.
While the scene from the Eagle Scout Deck was scenic, the only birds that were close were two Song Sparrows calling from the nearby willows.
As we rounded the bend onto the Farm Loop, we could see cars pulled over further along, resembling a bison sighting at Yellowstone. We stopped and got out to see what everyone was looking at. As we approached the group, we heard the word eagle – and sure enough, there were four Bald Eagles sitting majestically in a large cottonwood tree on the other side of a field. Two were juveniles and one was an adult. We watched as one flew off, its large wing-beats moving gracefully.
“You can see their faces so distinctly,” Jan said after looking at them through the scope.
We stopped further along to look at the Sandhill Cranes foraging in a field. One of them came fairly close and I had Jan look at it through the scope.
“I had never seen their red heads before,” she commented.
I offered a couple of women we had visited with at the eagle stop to also look at the cranes through the scope.
There were not many cranes and no geese foraging at the north end of the loop. We stopped briefly at the Flight Deck as a few cranes were flying in; however, I wanted to hurry over to the pull-out along the highway, which is my favorite location for the fly-in.
There were hundreds of Snow Geese foraging right next to the viewing area, and the cranes were beginning to fly in for the night.
The water began to reflect the golden hues of the sky.
“Let me take a picture of you in front of the geese,” I told Jan. Behind her the geese were beginning their fly-out – masses of them rising up at once and heading further into the refuge for the night.
Geese continued to fly out at intervals, as if someone had given a signal.
As dusk approached, we sat in the car and at our sandwiches, savoring the final moments of the crane fly-in, before we headed back to Albuquerque. It was the perfect ending to a delightful day.