At first it looked like a bundle of fuzz at the front edge of the niche in the old church at Quarai National Monument. Then it raised its head to reveal a Great Horned Owl fledgling. Behind it the mother owl glared in protective warning.
The first stop for the Thursday Birders was the pond at the small town of Manzano, 15 miles northwest of Mountainair. A Black-headed Grosbeak sang to us from the top of a tree in the parking area as we alighted from the cars.
Western Wood Peewees, Western Kingbirds and Western and Mountain Bluebirds alternately perched on nearby utility wires.
It was a beautiful morning. The sun sparkled on the pond water, occasional swallows swooped and dove, and the kideer, kideer, kideer of a Cassin’s Kingbird competed with the rustling leaves of the trees. The nasal gurgling of Red-winged Blackbirds resounded from the reeds.
We stopped to admire a suspended oriole nest, entwined with fishing line – the hook still attached.
“A shorebird just flew in,” Karen said. “And there’s another one.”
“I’ve got it in the scope,” Rebecca replied. We all got good looks of the Spotted Sandpiper. It was the first time I had seen one in breeding plumage. The round black spots on its breast stood out against the white feathers. It’s normally thick dull bill was a brilliant orange with a black tip.
As we worked our way around the far side of the pond, a Warbling Vireo, caught our attention as it busily plucked insects from a bush.
We wanted to linger, but wanted to have time to tour Quarai before the midday lull.
As we walked towards the mission church, some of the group stopped to chat with one of the Afghan men learning archaeological preservation techniques through a program sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the George Wright Society.
We crossed the wooden bridge and followed the trail bordering the arroyo. Interspersed with the constant call of the Spotted Towhee was the chattering of a Yellow-breasted Chat. It finally flew to a bush allowing several to get a good look before it moved on.
On the return trip, several cars stopped at the marshy creek in Torreon. We looked in vain for nesting Bullocks Orioles; however, a new bird for the day was a Yellow Warbler, its brilliant gold feathers contrasting with the light green leaves of the Desert Willow.
By the end of the day, we had identified close to 50 species. Another great day of birding.