Birding Box and Water Canyons – New Mexico

The falling trill of the Canyon Wren echos against the narrow canyon walls and greets the Thursday Birders as we begin to explore the area west of Socorro known as The Box. We search the red, rocky cliffs, but never locate him.

Watching White-throated Swifts in Box Canyon

Watching White-throated Swifts in Box Canyon

Our attention is diverted by the chittering of White-throated Swifts. Two swifts fly out of a cave on the west side of the canyon. Pretty soon others joined them until five swifts are circling against the cliffs.

“There is a Say’s Phoebe sitting on the ledge below the cave,” someone comments. “Oh, I think it has an insect in its mouth.” Pretty soon the phoebe turns and flies up under the ledge of the cliff. It is going to feed chicks in its nest.

“I hear a Rufous-crowned Sparrow,” trip leader Rebecca announces. It lands on a rock outcropping. Rebecca gets it in her scope, but before others have a chance to get a good look, it is off. We ‘chase’ it with our binoculars as it lands briefly at various spots.

As we head back to the cars, some of the group spot a Black-throated Sparrow. Near the parking area, a Gambel’s Quail stands on top of a low rock. “His body language says ‘I am the observer’,” Gale comments.

We drive another five miles down the road to the turnoff to Water Canyon. On the drive thru the desert grasslands on the way to the canyon we see Western Meadowlarks, Lark Sparrows and a possible Cassin’s Sparrow.

We pull over as the road begins to enter the canyon and there are a number of private residences nestled on their side of the road. Mule deer are grazing on the cliff tops.

“A lifer for me,” Ray exclaims. He has seen a Hepatic Tanager. Bushtits work the junipers, some Barn Swallows are perched on a utility wire, and Scrub Jays fly between bushes. Rebecca hears a Juniper Titmouse. We study a sparrow-like bird with a rusty crown, but lacking some of the identifying characteristics of a Chipping Sparrow. We finally decide we can’t make an accurate ID.

Further up the road we stop to watch an Acorn Woodpecker working the side of a sycamore trunk. Ken hears an Ash-throated Flycatcher. The air is beginning to cool with the rise in altitude.

We head up the dirt road beyond the campground and stop at 7,000 ft. where we hear the call of a Cordilleran Flycatcher. “They like the habitat alongside streams,” Rebecca shared. We search unsuccessfully for Red-faced Warblers. Water Canyon is their most northern known nesting area.

By time we reach 9,500 ft. the air is delightfully cool. We hear Hermit thrushes singing. A flock of birds circles over the top of a conifer on the far side of the canyon. “They sound like Red Crossbills,” Linda states.

Our car stops to watch a Townsend’s Solitaire.

We eat our lunches at a clearing just below the Langmuir Observatory, featured in the movie Contact. Yellow-rumped Warblers sing in the trees, Western Blue Birds are observed, Juncos fly between the evergreens, Robins glide silently in, and we hear the tin whistle call of a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Our car continues up to the observatory gate and we get out. We can see Socorro and the desert floor in the distance.

View from Magdalena Ridge

View from Magdalena Ridge

It is eerily quiet, except for the chirpy call of a Green-tailed Towhee. A Broad-tailed Hummingbird is perched on a twig nearby, unperturbed by our presence. We watch as he does a display flight, sky-larking into the air.

On the way down, we slow down to watch a female Western Tanager. Further down, we pull over and find chickadees and Grace’s and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

Back at the old campground area, we watch a Chipping Sparrow re-building its nest.

Over the course of a delightful and varied day of birding we saw over 50 species

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