New Mexico’s monsoon season had arrived with vigor this year. Morning rain was pushing through central New Mexico as the caravan of Thursday Birders made their way from Albuquerque to the Bosque del Apache. By time we arrived, the sky had partially cleared, leaving the air heavy with humidity – and swarming with mosquitoes.
I had come prepared, but don’t normally encounter them in the Visitor Center parking lot, where they penetrated my back through my shirt before I knew what had happened. I quickly donned my long-sleeved shirt and slathered my repellent stick on my face the back of my hands.
After checking the sightings book, we headed into the refuge. “We are going to check the old rookery at the end of the middle two-way road first,” trip leader Rebecca told us. “That is where Christopher reported an immature Tri-colored Heron last weekend.”
Common Yellowthroats called from each side of the two-way road. An occasional raspy chatter alerted us to Yellow-breasted Chat – and Joe was able to capture a photo.
At the Eagle Scout deck all scopes were focused on two falcons perched on the bare snag in the middle of the marshy grass. Some were hoping that they might be Aplomado Falcon; however, after watching them in flight, we determined that they were too large and the coloring wasn’t right and ID’d them as Peregrine Falcons.
Heads kept popping up in the grass – Canada Geese, Mallards, White-faced Ibis and a single Ring-necked Pheasant.
At the rookery, we enjoyed watching an adult and two juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons, but no Tri-colored Heron.
We stopped to take a look at a Vermillion Flycatcher. “I am so happy,” someone stated excitedly. “This is the first time I have seen one.”
Our next stop was the Boardwalk lagoon where the Rufous-necked Wood-Rail had made its appearance over two weeks in July. Most on the trip had not been able to make it to the refuge to see this visiting celebrity (I had been in Peru) and were hoping that somehow it might make a cameo appearance for us.
The water level was quite high – no mudflats that a Rail or Least Bittern might favor. The only wader was a Great Egret on the far side of the lagoon.
We reluctantly gave up and headed back to our cars – and hadn’t gone far when the rain began to pelt the windshield, growing increasingly steady. The birds undoubtedly were huddled in the trees and bushes. We drove slowly by the old rookery again looking hopefully for the Tri-colored Heron.
As we headed onto the seasonal tour route, we heard more yellowthroats and chats, as well as the distinctive call of a Sora and a Virginia Rail – all deep within the undergrowth.
“Yellow-headed Blackbird,” Rebecca called over the two-way radio. It was in a flock of Red-winged Blackbirds. Lou, in the car in front of us, pointed out of the window. A beautiful male Yellow-headed Blackbird was perched in the reeds.
We stopped near the Chupadera Deck where the Carolina Wren has been reported. A pair seems to have taken up residency at the refuge, but we didn’t hear it.
As we returned to the Farm Loop road, all of the cars were stopped. We got out in order to listen to the beautiful song of the Carolina Wren. Unfortunately, it was moving deeper into the bosque and away from us.
The car ahead of us stopped along the north end of the farm loop. I could hear a Blue Grosbeak chipping in the tree across the road, but they were looking at another tree. They pulled past, got out and pointed up in the tree.
“A Phainopepla,” I said. It was a life bird for several.
A little further on, Sondra, Bonnie and I stopped to look at a lone bird perched in a tree.
“It’s a Blue Grosbeak,” Sondra proclaimed. It was backlit and I couldn’t make out the field markings. “You can tell from its posture,” she explained.
“I always learn new bird behavior clues when I am with you,” I told her.
We returned to the Visitor Center to eat our lunch. Binoculars were focused on two birds overhead. Joe managed to capture a picture and when he zoomed in on it,
we could see the field marks of a Red-tailed Hawk being chased by a Cooper’s Hawk.
Even though the weather had been bad and it seemed like a slow day of birding, we managed to see 57 species. Visiting the Bosque del Apache at any of the year is a wonderful experience.