Swainson’s Hawks and Cattle Egrets Dominated the Morning at Valle de Oro NWR

“As soon as we walk over the new bridge to access the bosque, we are going to stop for a moment” trip leader Lefty told the Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders assembled at the west end of Salida Sandia. “I want to show you the nest that a Western Wood-Pewee was building when I scouted the area on Tuesday.”

It was so well camouflaged that it was difficult to locate, despite Lefty’s attempt at providing specific clues.

Western Wood-Pewee Nest

Western Wood-Pewee Nest


The nest didn’t appear to be occupied, and later we spotted one of the wood-pewees, presumably a female, gathering nesting material. “On Tuesday I saw them pulling fibers from the broken end of a cottonwood branch for the nest,” Lefty explained. It looked like cottonwood ‘down’ was used to fill in between the fibers.

Nearby we watched a pair of Summer Tanagers interacting.

“I hear a Warbling Vireo,” Rebecca announced.

“It can’t be,” I replied. “They nest up in the mountains, although this has been an unusual year with a number of montane species staying in the bosque.”

We located the vireo and observed it carrying nesting material.

Other birds in the bosque included Bewick’s Wren, Western Bluebird, Ash-throated Flycatcher and Black-chinned Hummingbird. A Great Blue Heron was observed flying from a nearby field up into the top of one of the cottonwoods, a Black-crowned Night-Heron flapped by and two Snowy Egrets flew over the bosque towards the river.

“Let’s go and explore the refuge property,” Lefty stated.

We started caravanning along the irrigation channel’s service road. Over 30 egrets, mostly Cattle Egrets, dotted the flooded fields.

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret


A Swainson’s Hawk perched on the top of a fence post. We inched closer. It didn’t seem bothered by our presence.
Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk


Western Meadowlarks sang from deep within the alfalfa. Western Kingbirds and Say’s Phoebes hunted for insects from the fence lines.
Western Kingbird

Western Kingbird


A number of Killdeer were along the east-west road. The juveniles wandered in the middle of the road as parents called loudly to them.
juvenile Killdeer

juvenile Killdeer


We put the scope on a raptor perched way out on a berm – a juvenile Swainson’s Hawk.
juvenile Swainson's Hawk

juvenile Swainson’s Hawk


Someone noticed four more raptors sitting in a row on fence posts along the irrigation channel. We walked closer to get a better look – more Swainson’s Hawks.

In the bosque, an American Kestrel perched in a bare snag. Periodically it flew out to catch an insect, only to be harassed by a pair of territorial Western Kingbirds.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel


“I hear an Eastern Bluebird,” Rebecca signaled.

Lefty located it on a cottonwood branch.

We gathered in the shade to go over the checklist, we tallied 33 species. For several in the group, this was their first visit to the new refuge. It had been a productive morning.

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