Raptor Bonanza in New Mexico’s Estancia Valley

“Watch the power poles and irrigation platforms,” trip leader Bonnie told the group of 26 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders, “that is where the raptors like to perch.” We headed south from Moriarty on NM-41 and started scanning. We hadn’t gone far when we spotted our first Red-tailed Hawk, followed by a Ferruginous Hawk; however, there was too much traffic to stop and get good looks. One of the cars glimpsed a Merlin zoom by its car, but it was out of sight before they had a chance to alert the others.

We started doing serious raptor watching once we headed east on Clements Road – and spotted a Ferruginous Hawk perched on a power pole. We pulled over and everyone got out getting good looks. The hawk had its back to us, but its white throat and undersides were visible. From the same vantage point, we spied another one sitting on the upper edge of an irrigation platform in the field to the south of the road.

Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk


Our next Ferruginous Hawk was a juvenile that was twisting and turning as it flew over the nearby field.

A little further along, we stopped for another raptor – a Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a tree not too far from the road with its back to us. We could hear Horned Larks in the grass, but never could see them. Just as we were about to head further down the road, the Red-tailed Hawk, turned around and faced us, giving us good looks at its dark head and neck and its ‘belly band.’

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk


Bonnie and I stopped to check out a dark bird perched on top of a power pole a ways down the road, a raven perhaps? And then it took off – a Golden Eagle!
Golden Eagle - photo by Bonnie Long

Golden Eagle – photo by Bonnie Long


We passed three different American Kestrels, either perched on wires, or hunting over the fields.
American Kestrel

American Kestrel


Next to a dairy farm, we started to see large flocks of horned larks. We stopped to check them out in case there might be a longspur mixed in. All we saw were larks with their faded yellow throats.
Horned Lark

Horned Lark


A Western Meadowlark was perched on the top of a barbed wire fence.
Western Meadowlark

Western Meadowlark


Bonnie and I spotted a Loggerhead Shrike next to the road, but by time our car approached, it flew off.

After about three to four miles, we turned around and headed back to the main road. This time we got a front view of a Ferruginous Hawk on a power pole next to the road.

There were a couple of Pronghorns chasing each other in the field, then stopped and looked at us. First one, and then the other, ducked under the bottom of the barbed wire fence, pranced across the road, under the fence on the other side and took off across the pasture.

Pronghorn

Pronghorn


And, before we reached NM-41 we saw another Golden Eagle flapping gracefully in the distance, as well as a flock of about 120 Sandhill Cranes flying north. One of the cars that had headed back before us reported seeing two Golden Eagles being harassed by some Ferruginous Hawks!

Along this stretch of road we had seen seven Ferruginous Hawks and two Red-tailed Hawks.

During lunch at the Old Mill restaurant in Estancia, a visiting birder from Vermont told us she had seen a Rough-legged Hawk near McIntosh.

“That is my target bird,” said Sharon who had recently moved to New Mexico from South Carolina. After lunch, two of the cars, including the one that Sharon was in, headed back to Albuquerque and the rest of us drove along several county roads west of Estancia, which have always been good for hawks and falcons – and added several more numbers to the day’s list.

When we got back, we had totaled up 23 Ferruginous Hawks, 6 Red-tailed Hawks, 2 – and perhaps 4, Golden Eagles, and 5 American Kestrels. Bonnie later received a phone call from Sharon reporting that she and Mary Lou had seen two Rough-legged Hawks next to the McIntosh post office. It had indeed been a successful day of raptor-watching in the Estancia Valley!

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