I heard the big raindrops hitting the skylight in my kitchen while I was fixing breakfast prior to joining the Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders at the Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center, one of the sites featured in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico. While the sky was still dark and threatening when I backed out of the driveway, I was hopeful that it would improve.
Twenty-one birders, also hopeful, gathered in the parking lot of the Open Space, where it had stopped raining. The air was filled with the wonderful damp-earth smells we had not experienced for 64 days. A male Cooper’s Hawk sat at mid-level in a tall tree south of the Visitor Center and an American Kestrel was perched on the top of a bare snag in the bosque to the east.
Trip leader, Gale, led us to the agricultural fields behind the Visitor Center where she had seen a variety of birds in the flooded fields a few days earlier. Only a few wet patches remained. Three pairs of Canada Geese were probing at different locations in the field.
While everyone was assembling back in the front, Turkey Vultures flapped one-by-one from the bosque, and then began to kettle overhead before scattering.
As we headed south along the trail, a female Cooper’s Hawk gathered nesting material and then flew up into one of the trees in the yard of a private residence.
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitted in the bushes nearby.
“That was a Painted Redstart!” Gale exclaimed as a bird flew across the trail and into the trees. It is a bird normally only seen in the Gila Mountains of New Mexico and would be a life bird for several in the group.
“There it is in one of the ponderosa’s,” Lefty signaled before it flew into a dense stand of plum trees. Within a few minutes, it popped into view – and then disappeared again. It continued to play hide and seek for a few minutes before flying across the irrigation channel and landing on a bare branch where everyone could see its field marks clearly. Joe was able to capture a photo.
Matt borrowed someone’s phone to log into his e-mail and notify Matt Bauman, compiler of the New Mexico Ornithological Society’s (NMOS) Rare Bird Alert. It has only been documented in Bernalillo County a few times, the last in 1983, according to the NMOS database.
Everyone was so exhilarated; it was hard to move on to the bosque.
An Osprey circled overhead.
We next walked along the riverside drain where a Great Horned Owl has been nesting and were delighted to see two chicks.
Also spotted in the bosque nearby were Eastern Bluebirds and a Bewick’s Wren.
I had to leave the group at this point for an appointment, while the group continued on into the bosque in a light mist – and an opportunity to watch a Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk. The group ended the day with 38 species – and memories of being first to see a rare species in Bernalillo County.