Counting Birds at the Rio Grande Nature Center

“We have a Wood Duck and two Cinnamon Teals, plus a bunch of Canada Geese that we haven’t counted yet.” Dianne and Charlie announced when I arrived at the blind at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park at 8:00 a.m. They had arrived earlier and had started counting. I was the lead for this week’s wetlands count – my first time since my knee replacement surgery two months earlier. It felt good to be out. Dianne and Charlie had promised to assist.

Data is collected by trained volunteers and entered into eBird, Cornell University’s online database of bird sightings. Initially part of a research project, the data collection has continued to provide the State Park with information on how birds are affected by different variables, e.g. weather, farm activities in the adjacent Candelaria Farms (part of Albuquerque’s Open Space system), willow destruction around the ponds from beavers, etc. Data has been accumulated over a number of years.

Using a tabulation sheet, we enter our counts according to where the bird was seen: south cell (pond adjacent to the parking lot blind), north cell (pond just north of the south cell), northwest pond (small pond in the northwest corner of the property whose water level fluctuates according to the level of the river), trees, fields, and flyovers.

Northern Rough-winged Swallows darted and swooped over the pond, occasionally landing on a bare tree on the far bank to rest. “I counted 25 of them,” Charlie stated. The pond water was a greenish color and had large patches of moss growing on it.

After counting the geese and scouting the inlets for Mallards and American Coots, we focused the scope on the Candelaria Farms fields where more Canada Geese were foraging and counted them. The heads of two Ring-necked Pheasants were barely visible over the tall grass as they bobbed through the fields.

A Say’s Phoebe flew in and landed briefly next to the blind before taking off again. A hash mark in the ‘trees’ column.

Say' Phoebe


We watched a Black Phoebe actively catching insects from the far side of the south cell. A Killdeer appeared nearby.

Black Phoebe


A Black-crowned Night Heron appeared in the south corner. It was hunched over as it watched the water intently.

A Snowy Egret flew in and started probing the shallow water fairly close to where we were standing. I got my camera out; it would make a perfect picture. Then, all of a sudden, another snowy flew in. The first one upset that it was horning in on its territory, chased it off – before I could snap a picture.

It was 8:45 and time to move to the north cell.

As we entered the area normally off-limits to the public on our way to the north pond, we spotted a Greater Roadrunner prancing through grass.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

I heard an Ash-throated Flycatcher. It had snatched an insect from the ground and flew into a nearby bush.

“Look at about 9:00 in the bare limbs,” I directed Dianne and Charlie. “See its long, rusty-colored tail and yellowish belly. Listen to its call.”

“It sounds like a police whistle,” Dianne exclaimed.

“I think it sounds like it is calling come here, come here,” I laughed, “but you are right – it does sound like a police whistle.”

It flew over into the trees further north. There was another adult – and two juveniles peeking out between the leaves with anxious looks on their faces.

There were more Canada Geese, Mallards and Wood Ducks to count. We added a Pied-billed Grebe and Ruddy Duck.

It didn’t appear that there was any waterfowl in the north pond; however, as we started to walk away, two Mallards that had been hidden from view flew up and over us.

As we walked along, we counted five different Black-chinned Hummingbirds puzzling in and around the trees.

We stopped to ponder some type of animal/reptile tracks in the sandy path. It formed an elaborate pattern of curlicues, as if it had been created by an artist. The creator remained a mystery, even to the park staff.

There were more Canada Geese to count in the farmland at the north end of the park.

On our way back, we heard – and then saw two Killdeer in the flooded field. There was a Black-headed Grosbeak singing in the trees; however, we never spotted it.

By time we arrived back at the Visitor Center, we had tallied 23 different species.

It was getting hot and my legs were tired, but I was grateful I was able to participate. I was looking forward to rewarding myself by resting in the observation room and watching the activity in the observation pond.

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