Late Summer Shorebirds at Belen Marsh

The morning was cool and overcast as the 18 Thursday Birders headed towards Belen. It started to sprinkle as we passed Los Lunas and we were afraid our morning might be ruined. Miraculously, as we glided onto Don Felipe Rd., the drops began to dissipate. Since we wouldn’t be looking into the sun, it would be a great day to look for shorebirds in the wetland.

“Look,” Dennis gestured, “that tree is full of Yellow-headed Blackbirds.” As the last of the drizzle ended, they took flight en masse.

Thursday Birders - Photo by Ray Reid

Thursday Birders - Photo by Ray Reid

All of the action was at the large pond where six spotting scopes already were set up along the edge of the road and on a barren hummock. A White-faced Ibis took flight shortly after the first of the group arrived. Barn Swallows darted and swooped over the water and nearby fields.

Wilson's Phalaropes - Photo by Ray Reid

Wilson's Phalaropes - Photo by Ray Reid

Pairs of Wilson’s Phalaropes swam in circles, stirring up crustaceans. In their fall plumage with a slight streak behind their eyes, they looked positively jovial as they twirled.

Small groups of ‘peeps,’ Least and Western Sandpipers, worked the edges at various locations around the pond. At the far edge, Wilson’s Snipe blended in with the grass as they foraged along the shore. One group, huddled around a scope, saw a Semi-palmated Plover.

Both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs appeared to be prancing as they stalked independently in the center of the water.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

“Judy, come over here,” Rebecca called. “Gail said that your target today was a Solitary Sandpiper and I have one in my scope.” I waded through the grass to the berm where she was standing so I could get a fix on its location, and then returned to my own scope to study its features. It’s identifying ‘white spectacle’ was clearly visible when it turned towards us as it continued to probe for a mid-morning snack. A life bird! Before we left the area, we would see three of them, all feeding alone, as its name suggests.

Several species of waterfowl lounged in small groups, all masquerading in eclipse plumage. By studying their size, bill shape, speculums and tail feathers, we identified Wood Ducks, Gadwalls, American Wigeons, Mallards, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal and Ruddy Ducks.

I led some of the group across the south end of the pond to the other side to see if any passerines were in the willows. Lou and Bev spotted some Chipping and Vesper Sparrows.

As we went over our list, we were treated to a flock of Snowy Egrets as they flew over.

We made our way to the Isleta marshes. The Cinnamon Teal and Red Heads that had made their homes there during the summer had already left. A couple of Coots huddled in the reeds of the south pond. The north wetlands were quiet. Mary spotted a long Black Phoebe perched inconspicuously on a small snag.

And then it was time to head home, please we had seen 33 species.


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