As the caravan of Thursday Birders turned down Highway 1 in San Antonio to head towards the refuge, we drove slowly looking for birds along the road. We spotted a couple of American Kestrels, one which was hovering in place over a field. Several Eurasian Collared Doves perched on power lines. White-crowned Sparrows flitted in the bushes.
“Chippies,” said Sylvia from trip leader Mary Lou’s van. Sure enough several sparrows had bright rufous and white-striped top notches.
A Gambel’s Quail stood watch from a nearby fence post.
As we inched further down the road, a flock of blackbirds swirled, dove, and then settled down on a flooded field. When we got closer, they rose up in mass and circled before re-landing. The red shoulder patches of the male Red-winged Blackbirds flashed brightly as they flew. A few birds remained eating – Brewer’s Blackbirds.
We stopped at the receding pond just inside the refuge boundary. While the wind had dropped somewhat, there was still a stiff breeze. A flock of Long-billed Dowitchers were feeding on the far side, alongside Northern Shovelers and Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal. A small group of Wilson’s Phalaropes swam in circles as they stirred up a meal.
All of a sudden a large flock of shorebirds flew up en masse, flashing their white wing stripes. When they landed, we were surprised to discover they were Killdeer.
There were more White-crowned Sparrows foraging on the edge of the Visitor’s Center overflow parking area. A Crissal Thrasher flew across the driveway and scurried under a bush.
“Did you see the Painted Redstart?” Sei asked when we arrived at the Visitor’s Center. Their car had arrived before us and they had seen the colorful bird in the hedge row along the RV park.
While we stood visiting in the parking lot, a Swainson’s Hawk circled overhead, the first of several we would see.
Our first stop on the tour loop was at the Flight Deck. A row of Black-necked Stilts huddled in the water amongst a variety of waterfowl, similar to those we had seen in the pond on the way in.White-faced Ibis, interspersed with Snow Egrets, were busy probing their sickle bills in the mud at the water’s edge. The morning sun caught the iridescent green feathers on their wings. Also present were American Avocets, most in breeding plumage.
Several meadowlarks landed in the dry grass along the road – and then seemed to disappear.Our next stop was the first viewing deck along the Marsh Loop. A couple of Buffleheads swam with the other waterfowl. As we stood there, a flock of migrating White Pelicans came into view. As they circled, their breasts glistened in the morning sun.
A Pied-billed Grebe paddled amongst the grasses in a receding pond next to the road.
Through the ‘window’ in the bushes, we could see a flock of 10 or more Ruddy Ducks swimming near the edge of the Boardwalk Pond.There were several Painted Turtles and two Neotropical Cormorants sunning themselves in the Boardwalk Pond. I walked out on the boardwalk to see if I could hear any activity in the reeds. There was a call that sounded like a muffled tape recorder on fast forward. I pished, but couldn’t get it out in the open, so it remained a mystery bird.
A Say’s Phoebe flew out and then landed back on the end of a twig.Our next stop was the rookery. As we got out of the cars, four Black-crowned Night Herons flushed from the bushes near the road – and then perched where we could get a good look at them.
“You can see its red eye,” Annie commented as she gazed at the breeding male through the scope.
Five Snowy Egrets perched on the far side of the rookery. Off to one side was another white egret.
“I don’t see any golden slippers,” Pat announced. “It’s a Great Egret.” We would see eight more by the end of the day.
We ate our lunch on the Scout Deck. Two Great-blue Herons were perched on the snag in the main pond where there is often a Bald Eagle during the winter. We added Lesser Scaup to our list for the day. A Black Phoebe was busy just beyond the deck, and a Black-chinned Hummingbird buzzed in and out.
A few Northern Rough-winged and Violet-green Swallows made sorties over the water.
After lunch we made our way along the seasonal road and stopped at a location where a Lucy’s Warbler had been seen on the weekend. Pat played its song on her iPod, but all we heard was a Bewick’s Wren calling over and over.
Several more swirls of migrating White Pelicans circled overhead as they headed north.
We drove with our windows open. I heard the song Pat had been playing on her iPod. She heard it too, and we all stopped. She played the song again. It answered, but didn’t come near. Then a gust of wind came up, drowning out any bird song. However, an Orange-crowned Warbler started feeding in the catkins of a nearby cottonwood.
As we rounded the north end of the Farm Loop, several Mule Deer meandered across the field, and then broke into a run.I stopped my car one last time to watch the ibises, avocets and stilts. And then it was time to head back to Albuquerque.
Despite the wind, it was a delightful day with 81 species.