Binoculars and scopes were focused on the edge of the small pond at the Belen Marsh, as 17 Central New Mexico Audubon birders tried to catch a glimpse of an elusive Sora as it bobbed and weaved its way between the reeds at the far edge of the pond. The marsh is one of the sites featured in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico.
“It’s just to the right of the tumbleweed,” trip leader Matt called. And, then it disappeared, for a while before it reappeared on the other side of the dried bramble. And, so it went. Finally, everyone got a chance to see it.
The morning air was musty with the smells of wet grass from the previous night’s monsoonal downpour, which had quickly soaked into the parched earth, leaving only a few puddles.A mallard and some teal in eclipse plumage seemed to blend in with the murky water. “Let’s see if we can see the teal’s eyes,” Matt said. “If they are red, it is a Cinnamon Teal; otherwise they are Blue-winged Teal.” One turned its head, revealing its red eye, while Matt pointed out the other subtle differences between the two teal after they molt their flight feathers.
A Common Yellowthroat flitted in and out of the tall reeds and a couple of Killdeer probed the far shore.A sandpiper flew in – a Solitary, and one of my favorites – it seems to stand more erect than many of the others, and appears elegant and self-assured, as if it knows that its eye-ring gives it class. We saw a total of three of them during the morning.
We moved down the road to see what was in the large pond. A pair of Black-necked Stilts appeared to be squabbling over something near where we stood. Finally, with much ado, they flew off in different directions.
A few Wilson’s Phalaropes trolled to stir up crustaceans.A large bird was standing in the middle of the pond next to a Black-necked Stilt – a Marbled Godwit! “That is a very good bird for here,” Matt told the group. After checking eBird data, I discovered it has only been documented a few times during fall migration at this location. As we were watching it, it flew up and appeared to be heading off, then circled around and landed back in the pond.
The morning clouds had cleared away and we were looking into the sun which made things difficult, especially since most of the smaller shorebirds, along with a couple of American Avocets, were probing on the far side of the pond: Western, Least and Baird’s, along with a Long-billed Dowitcher and a Stilt Sandpiper. “Notice that one of them has its butt sticking higher,” Matt pointed out. “It is the Stilt. Its rear end is higher because of its longer legs.”
A group of peeps flew in near us – they were all Western Sandpipers.
As we turned to leave a flock of 25 – 30 White-faced Ibis approached overhead. Instead of landing in the pond, they kept on going.
The rest of the group headed over to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area. I had been on my feet long enough for one day, so didn’t join them. Before heading back to Albuquerque, I drove behind the fast food restaurant to catch a glimpse of the Burrowing Owl. Three had been out when the group first arrived, but only one was there by midday.
The highlight of the visit to Whitfield was the sighting by about half of the group of an immature female Vermilion Flycatcher.
The visit to both locations was enhanced by the opportunity to view species not normally seen there.