Scouting for Longspurs and more – Socorro County

The flock of birds swooped in, landed at the far edge of the dirt water tank, briefly took a drink, and then was off again.

A group of Thursday Birders had traveled east from San Antonio on Highway 380 for almost 16 miles, and then followed a series of dirt roads that led north across range land. As we drove, we encountered a few small flocks of Horned Larks. A Northern Harrier cruised low over the field.

We walked up the side of the water tank and then back down inside and set up our portable chairs on the far side, with our backs to the brisk wind. Several individuals brought scopes.

Chestnut-collared Longspur (top) and Horned Lark in flight

Chestnut-collared Longspur (top) and Horned Lark in flight- photo by Rebecca Purvis

As each flock flew in, we started scanning the birds to pick out the one or two Chestnut-collared Longspurs. While the Horned Larks lingered longer, the longspurs were more skittish. The slightest movement on our part, and they were off.

“There’s one with black on its belly,” Donna exclaimed. “It is at 1:00.”

Of course, by time we focused at that location, it was gone.

Chestnut-collared Longspur - photo by Rebecca Purvis

Chestnut-collared Longspur - photo by Rebecca Purvis

“I have one in the scope,” Rebecca announced. But on one could get to the scope in time.

Over the next half hour, we all got good looks at the longspurs, some of them more advanced in their molting to breeding plumage. We packed up our stuff to head to the Bernardo Wildlife Management Area in northern Socorro County.

As we pulled off the Interstate at Bernardo, a Red-tail Hawk was perched in the top of a tree alongside the frontage road.

Red-tailed Hawk - photo by Rebecca Purvis

Red-tailed Hawk - photo by Rebecca Purvis

We parked next to the observation deck to explore that part of the refuge. Some climbed up on the viewing platform. Rebecca captured a wonderful photo of a Red-tail Hawk in flight.

A Prairie Falcon zipped by.

In the bushes and grass just to the north, we found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Chipping Sparrows, juncos, and White-crowned Sparrows.

As we started to cross over the walkway to the next viewing platform, we flushed a bird, which we were pretty sure was a Wilson’s Snipe. Rebecca heard a Marsh Wren; however, we were not able to flush it.

From the deck we could see Sandhill Cranes foraging at the far end of the field.

“Bald Eagle,” Donna called as we walked back down the ramp. There were two – an immature and a mature, its head and tail catching the afternoon light.

Our last stop was the new picnic area, with trails and blinds. One of the cars had seen a flycatcher in the adjacent field. We walked across the dried corn stalks and well-eaten cobs until we got close enough to see that it was a Say’s Phoebe.

As we walked down the trail to one of the blinds, Ray heard a Ring-necked Pheasant. The pond beyond the blind was almost dry. At the far end, a few Mallards and Canada Geese foraged along the edge.

On another trail we saw a Spotted Towhee. A flock of Mountain Bluebirds flew in and landed in the branches near the parking lot.

A Greater Roadrunner wandered down the road. We walked over to the cottonwood trees to see if we could see the Great-horned Owl that had been seen roosting there. We didn’t see the owl, but Rebecca’s Saturday group that followed the same route, did see it.

Including our two ‘heard’ birds, we had 28 species before we headed back to Albuquerque.

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