From Barn Owls to Northern Waterthrush – South Santa Fe County

As we got out of our cars at a ranch near Stanley, the air was filled with the bickering sounds of Western Kingbirds that were jostling for territories. Before we left that location, we had counted almost 30 kingbirds!

Western Kingbird


Barn Swallows darted every which way.

There are some birding destinations that I look forward to each year – and this is one of them. Each spring the Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders make a trip to the farm and range lands of south Santa Fe County and always stop at this private ranch that is an oasis in the middle of an agricultural area.

“The owl has been roosting in one of the trees in the front,” the homeowner told us. The opportunity to see their resident Barn Owl is always one of the highlights of the trip.

When I didn’t see the owl in the area she suggested, I made my way around the back of the house. Before long, it flew from behind the storage shed towards the tree near where I was standing. It was being chased by a Western Kingbird. The kingbird didn’t let it stay in the tree for long before it started harassing again – and off it flew.

As the first owl took off, another one flew in to take its place. Two owls! This one stayed long enough for me to get its picture.

Barn Owl


A Western Meadowlark called from nearby.

As I walked back to join the others, I noted a Yellow Warbler in the shrubs along the street. Then a Bullock’s Oriole flew by towards the driveway.

While I was off chasing the owl, some of the others had seen an Olive-sided Flycatcher and a Western Tanager.

“I heard and then saw a Killdeer in the corral area,” Lefty told us.

Before heading on, we watched a Northern Mockingbird fly off its perch along a distant fence-line to scrounge for something in the dirt – and then fly back up again.

Our next stop was along Valley Irrigation Road to search for the stock pond where an Eared Grebe had been reported the prior day. Shortly after turning onto Dinkle Rd., we spotted a Lark Bunting. The lead car was able to see it feeding in a field. Our car was able to see its distinctive wing pattern as it flew across the road to the other side.

Lark Bunting – photo by Joe Schelling


Further along the way we spotted Cassin’s Kingbird, Great-tailed Grackle and Brewer’s Blackbird, along with a couple of Swainson’s Hawks and a late Northern Harrier.

Unfortunately, we were looking into the sun reflecting off the water of the stock pond, which made picking out a grebe difficult among the Gadwalls, Mallards and Ruddy Ducks. I searched in vain through my scope without success. Gary was able to locate it and several were able to see it. Gary also counted 6 Solitary Sandpipers on the far side of the pond.

We dipped on Burrowing Owls at a spot where we usually had been able to see them.

Our final stop of the day was in the Galisteo Basin Preserve. The whistling song of a Mountain Chickadee cascaded from the trees in a residential area as we walked from where we had parked to the preserve.

“It is really slow here today,” Cheryl told us. Cheryl birds with Sangre de Cristo Audubon and had met us at the preserve.

Bridge to Galisteo Preserve


The breeze rustling through the cottonwood leaves was the only sound we heard as we walked along the trail, until the calls of two White-breasted Nuthatches greeted us. An occasional Black-chinned Hummingbird buzzed in the trees and an occasional Spotted Towhee sang from the understory.

“Northern Waterthrush,” someone called. It had been foraging along the stream edge when the group flushed it. Fortunately, it flew into a tree just ahead of me, giving me the opportunity to see its eyebrow and streaked breast before it flew off again.

Things were picking up.

A Plumbeous Vireo called as it moved from tree to tree along the boundary of the preserve. Some in the group had never seen one and trip leader, Rebecca, kept on it until those who wanted to look at it had an opportunity.

We almost missed a Western Bluebird sitting quietly on a branch in the woods.

Some narrow logs had been laid across the stream to assist people to navigate across the running water. The most sure-footed crossed first, and then Barb and Rebecca hoisted up the ends of one of the logs and held it to form a ‘railing’ to assist the rest of us to cross.

After eating our lunch in the community park, we went over the checklist for the day – 57 species.

It had been a varied and delightful morning of birding.

2 thoughts on “From Barn Owls to Northern Waterthrush – South Santa Fe County

  1. I enjoyed hearing about the Barn Owl and then the picture was wonderful. I always like rereading about the trip on your blog because it makes me so happy that I was on it!

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