“This is the area where we found a Phainopepla on our scouting trip,” trip leader Rebecca told the group after we pulled over next to an orchard on our way to the Bosque del Apache NWR, a featured site in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico.
A Bullock’s Oriole flew out of some shrubs next to the road and joined the rest of his family – a female and two juveniles. A covey of Gambel’s Quail scurried between the trees on the far side of the orchard.
“There’s the Phainopepla,” someone called. It was perched on the top of a bare branch, giving everyone good looks.
We had barely entered the refuge when the lead car stopped in the middle of the road. The rest of us pulled over and got out to see what was happening. Cathy and Joe were rescuing a Texas Horned Lizard that had been in the middle of the road and it sat calmly in Joe’s hand. He passed it to Cathy who carried it safely to the shoulder – just before another vehicle pulled up and wanted to get by.
As we approached the Visitor Center a Say’s Phoebe looked as though it was heading to a nest under the eaves; she paused and returned to a perch nearby, insect dangling from her bill. She waited until we had entered the building, before approaching the nest, which was barely visible on top of a protruding beam – and directly under the nest of a Barn Swallow.
A Cliff Swallow also had built a nest under the eaves. “The Barn Swallow nest is open on the top,” I explained to those who were with me, “and the Cliff Swallow nest is the one with the tunnel opening.”
After purchasing my Duck Stamp to support wetlands conservation, I ambled over to the viewing windows where the others were gathered. In addition to a large number of Black-chinned Hummingbirds (I counted 14 at one time), a pair of Bullock’s Orioles were feeding their begging chick
and grabbing bits of grape jelly for themselves.
As soon as we turned onto the Marsh (South) Loop, we began to hear the songs of Common Yellowthroats deep within the willows, and before long the chatter and whistles of Yellow-breasted Chats joined them.
I stopped so Linda and I could admire a Blue Grosbeak in a bush next to the road.
When we walked out on the Boardwalk, there was an American Avocet in the lagoon, as well as a group of Ruddy Ducks, some Gadwalls and a pair of Neotropic Cormorants.
“I hear a Ladder-backed Woodpecker,” Rebecca told us after we had turned onto the center road. We searched, but couldn’t spot it in the foliage.
We stopped again further along the road and got out to see what might be around.
“I saw a Vermilion Flycatcher,” Lefty announced. Just then a Green Heron flushed from the side of a pond with a flutter of wings – and the flycatcher was not seen again. A second Green Heron was perched precariously on a branch and several got good looks. The breeze had dropped and I realized I was getting eaten by tiny mosquitos, and then hurried back to the car to apply repellent.
The rookery had an assortment of waders, including six Great Blue Heron – 2 adults and 4 juveniles. A Great Egret stood watch in their midst.
A Black-crowned Night-Heron hovered along the edge, almost obscured by over-hanging foliage. Three Neotropic Cormorants sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a low snag.
“I hear a Bell’s Vireo,” Rebecca announced through the two-way radios. We all pulled over. We could hear their chattering question and answer songs deep within the willows. There appeared to be at least two of them. Lefty was the only one who got a glimpse of one.
A little further on we stopped and finally all had the opportunity to watch a Vermilion Flycatcher.
As we were getting out of the cars back at the Visitor Center, a Verdin flew out of a desert willow and up into a large cottonwood. I could hear it calling and searched in vain, but could not get a glimpse of it.
We went over the checklist while eating our lunches – 55 species. While most people think of the refuge as a place for wintering Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese – it also teems with breeding birds during the summer.