Lark Sparrows kept popping up from the grasses along the fence line, perching momentarily on a wire and then dropping back down again as the caravan of 11 Thursday Birders drove along NM 281 on our way into the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge. Interspersed was an occasional meadowlark.
“Look at that kingbird,” Sarah exclaimed. “It has a grasshopper hanging from its bill.” It looked furtively as if trying to make sure that it kept its prize.
We kept stopping and getting out of the car to spot other grassland birds: Lesser Goldfinches, Morning Doves, Kestrels, Chipping Sparrows.
A Northern Harrier circled low over the fields and then headed off, while a Swainson’s Hawk sat vigil on a fence post.
Mary Lou, the trip leader, led us off the main road alongside a farm where two trees were filled with a mixed flock of Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, and Starlings. It was as if each one was trying to squawk loud enough to be heard over the others
For many, the ‘bird of the day’ was the Sage Thrasher that was scrounging in the dirt in a farm-yard. Across the street we watched as four female Blue Grosbeaks alternately perched on a fence wire and ravenously consumed insects in a large bush.
Barn Swallows were perched on a wire over the road and periodically took off when a swarm of insects materialized.
Further along the road we got out to enjoy Vesper Sparrows. When one perched on a small snag, everyone got a good look at its eye ring through the scope. We looked up to see a White Pelican circling.As we entered the road leading to the Visitor’s Center, we got out to see if there were any birds in the trees along a nearby stream. A Black Phoebe was working the edge. I decided to walk along the road and almost stepped on a small Bull Snake.
A variety of waterfowl and wading birds were in the pond next to the Visitor’s Center: Pied-billed Grebes, Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Great Blue Heron and more White Pelicans.
After leaving the Visitor’s Center, we headed towards McAllister Lake. We added Redhead, Canada Geese, Gadwalls and Northern Pintails in a pond on the north side of the road.
We got out and walked into Crane Lake. We spotted a Wilson’s and a Yellow Warbler in the willows alongside the path.
“There’s a Sabine’s Gull,” Rebecca announced. “I can tell from its flight pattern. I will get it in the scope when it lands in the water.” There was more than one and we quickly got the scopes on them.
“I can see the gray chevron pattern on the upper wings as it flies,” Donna squealed. I studied both the one in the lake, as well as one in flight, as it was a life bird for me.
We added Western Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, and Ring-billed Gulls to our list.
A Red-tailed Hawk perched on top of a power pole along the road to McAllister Lake and Lou and Bev spotted an early White-crowned Sparrow.
By time we reached McAllister, a storm moving along the mountains across the valley was heading towards us. In the lake we added Ruddy Duck, American Coot, and Canvasback. We started north from the lake, but it was starting to sprinkle, so most of us turned around and headed back.
It was a wonderful fall day – and over 50 species of birds!