Raptors of Torrance County

“Red-tailed Hawk,” Bob alerted us from trip leader Bonnie Long’s car. Seven cars of Thursday Birders followed the lead vehicle along the frontage road between Edgewood and Moriarty. It was the first of seven Red-tailed Hawks we would see during our day-long trek.

It was a beautiful sunny day with no wind – a far cry from last year’s trip where only five or six people showed up on a mid-20’s, windy January day.

Mountain and Western Bluebirds lined the power lines in a couple of locations.

In Moriarty we headed south on NM 41 and shortly after the village of McIntosh, we swung our cars onto a dirt road that led between ranches.

“Cranes at 2:00.” Bob alerted us. Thirteen Sandhill cranes foraged in the fields.

Further along a male Northern Harrier left his perch to peruse the fields.

A Curve-billed Thrasher perched uncharacteristically on a low branch of a piñon pine.

We stopped to admire a Kestrel. It kept turning its head and looking over its shoulder, and then flew off in the direction of its gaze.

Western Meadowlark - Photo by Ray Reid

Western Meadowlark - Photo by Ray Reid

The sun reflected off the golden breast of a meadowlark sitting on the top of a fence post. We would see many other meadowlarks during the day – at one point, a row of them balanced on a picked fence wire.

“A Scaled Quail walked across the driveway opposite our car,” Sarah reported from the lead car. It had vanished into the underbrush by time the rest of us passed by.

A row of Starlings perched on a wire over a cattle yard. We scanned to check for blackbirds that might have joined them; however, they were all Starlings.

Gazing at Ferruginous Hawk

Gazing at Ferruginous Hawk

After turning down another dirt road, we spotted some raptors perched out in the fields on the humps of two different irrigation sprinkler systems. We stopped the cars and got out the scopes. Our conclusion that they were Ferruginous Hawks was confirmed when one of them took off and we could see its white tail.

When we drove on, a Greater Roadrunner flew into a tree and then dropped down, its long tail sticking straight up.

We stopped to check out another raptor. Its back was to us. We wanted it to a Golden Eagle, but when it turned its head, we could see its whitish throat – another Ferruginous Hawk.

Horned Larks worked the fields. We only spotted them when they popped up on a dirt clod or flew to a new location. Suddenly the flock rose up and swirled to a new location, flashing their white-edged tails.

Heading down another dirt road, we finally found our eagle. We parked our cars a ways down the road so we wouldn’t spook it and got out the scopes and were able to observe it for five or ten minutes – and then it rose up and flew across the field with its graceful wing beats.

Golden Eagle - Photo by Bonnie Long

Golden Eagle - Photo by Bonnie Long

By time we got to the end of the road, turned around, and headed back, the eagle had returned to its perch. We slowed our cars and crept towards it. It didn’t move. We stopped almost under the power pole while Bonnie and Ray snapped pictures – Bonnie from the car window and Ray by peeping out of the sun roof of his van.

“In this light you can see the golden on his head,” Ken remarked.

We stopped to check out a shrike – a Loggerhead.

After lunch at the Old Mill in Estancia, we continued south towards Willard. A flock of 35 Pronghorn Antelope grazed on the field on our right.

As we headed up NM 542, we stopped to check out a raptor perched in a bare tree next to a farm house. “It’s a Merlin,” Roger told us. “You can see the stripes on its tail.” After awhile it flew, scattering Horned Larks in the field below.

Ferruginous Hawk - Photo by Bonnie Long

Ferruginous Hawk - Photo by Bonnie Long

Heading north again, there were more Ferruginous Hawks. In the mid afternoon sun, they looked stately and their breasts glistened white. “In this light you can really see how feathered its legs are,” Ken commented.

“How many ferruges have we seen?” someone asked.

“Fifteen,” Rebecca replied, checking her list.

We gathered at the turn-off to Tajique to go over the list for the day. In addition to the plethora of Ferruginous Hawks and seven Red-tailed Hawks, our list included four American Kestrels and four Northern Harriers, among the 26 species for the day.


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