Early Spring Birds at Bernardo and the Belen Marsh

Bernardi Wildlife Management Area - Photo by Ray Reid

Bernardi Wildlife Management Area - Photo by Ray Reid

As we got out of our cars at the Bernardo Wildlife Area, we heard and saw White-crowned Sparrows in the bushes next to the viewing platform. A Spotted Towhee was calling. While the morning started out cold, it was clear and only an occasional breeze. The sun was starting to warm the air

Say's Phoebe - Photo by Ray Reid

Say's Phoebe - Photo by Ray Reid

Some of the 20 Thursday Birders wandered a short ways down the road to watch the antics of a Say’s Phoebe and an American Kestrel.

A Killdeer flew in and landed in the field.

A few others explored the trees beyond the irrigation ditch. As we watched I saw three Northern Flickers fly briefly into the trees, and then take off again. A Northern Mockingbird was perched on the top of another tree, and a Black Phoebe was catching insects from its perch on the top of an irrigation pipe.

Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallows flew in pairs over the irrigation ditch.

“I saw a flash of yellow,” Joan reported. Before we could focus on it, it had disappeared.

My attention was drawn to the group that had wandered the path behind the bushes, checking out another bushy area just beyond another irrigation channel. They had seen a Brewer’s Sparrow. By time I arrived, it flitted deeper into the bushes. Sei and Karen headed towards the rear of the hedgerow, and I followed them. All of a sudden the sparrow popped into view and I got a good look at it.

We could hear a scolding sound and tried to locate the calling bird. When we returned to the group, Rebecca told us it was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and showed us where it was flitting.

Our attention was drawn to a flycatcher that was keeping low. It would fly down to the ground and then back up to its perch. Clearly it was an epidonax. Our next job was to try and identify which one it was. We had two scopes focused on it.

“I think it is a Gray Flycatcher,” Rebecca said.

“Sibley’s says that it forages in low bushes and doesn’t move around much,” Karen said, consulting her field guide. “And it has a yellow mandible.”

“This one flips its tail down and has a yellow lower mandible, and it certainly is not very active,” Rebecca commented as she looked at it again through her scope.

We all agreed that it was a Gray Flycatcher.

Black-crowned Night Heron - Photo by Rebecca Purvis

Black-crowned Night Heron - Photo by Rebecca Purvis

As we headed back to the cars, we saw the slow wing flap of a Black-crowned Night Heron as it flew slowly toward us. It circled overhead, and then flew off.

We drove down the road a ways to the next viewing platform. The only bird we could see from the platform was a Western Meadowlark. It was singing its heart out from the top of a tree, and then flew down to the field.

“I saw a Marsh Wren,” Donna said, as we scanned the reeds long the irrigation channel. We could hear its repertoire inside the dried stalks. Then it flew across the channel and landed briefly on a reed where we all could get a good look, before it flew back and disappeared again.

Someone else spotted a Song Sparrow.

Then a flash of yellow caught our attention. This time we all saw it – a Wilson’s Warbler.

“I can see its yamaka,” Mary said.

As we were driving to the south side of the refuge, two Mallards flew up out of the ditch. To our left a Turkey Vulture circled.

A kingbird was perched in some bare branches across from the parking area.

“It has a very gray head,” Shelley said.

We decided it was a Cassin’s.

We wandered down one of the trails leading from the parking area. A Spotted Towhee whined harshly at us as we passed. At the end of the path, we were rewarded with good looks at a Western Kingbird.

Ray wandered down the road to see if he could spot the Great Horned Owl that had been seen in late February, but struck out.

There was a lot of activity in a brush pile. A couple of Bewick’s Wrens chased each other along a branch. “They are either courting or fighting,” Donna remarked.

Another Wilson’s Warbler also flitted in the same pile.

The breast of another Western Kingbird looked like a small light from its perch in a nearby tree.

As we were heading back to the cars, a flock of White-faced Ibis flew overhead in formation.

“Sixty-eight,” Rebecca stated. “I counted them through my scope.

When I went through the count for the morning, we were delighted to discover that we had seen 35 species.

All but one car headed up Highway 116 towards Belen, where we ate lunch at the Sheriff’s Posse Café, near the Belen Marsh. We wore our binoculars inside to demonstrate that birders are an economic asset to a community.

Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt

After lunch, some of us went to check out the Belen Marsh. The water sparkled and reflected the deep blue of the sky. Black-necked Stilts probed the marsh, most in pairs. I counted 21 of them.

There were two groups of peeps. One group was working the edges of a sand bar, and the other group bustled about on the shore not too far from us. A Killdeer mingled in the midst of the peeps at the shore. There were two different sandpiper species in each group. One was smaller and browner and had light-colored legs – undoubtedly Least Sandpipers.

Baird's Sandpiper - Photo by Ray Reid

Baird's Sandpiper - Photo by Ray Reid

The other ones were slightly larger, had dark legs and their wings appeared to be longer than the tail.

“Do you think they are Baird’s?” Rebecca asked Sei as he looked through the scope?

“I think so,” he replied.

Both Barn and Rough-winged Swallows buzzed and swooped over the pond. A pair of Cinnamon Teal swam near the reeds, while a Blue-winged Teal couple hung out near the far shore.

A constant chorus of gurgling emanated from the reeds. Blackbirds, predominantly females, perched like sentinels every few feet on stalk-tops.

“I see a Yellow-head,” Donna exclaimed.

“And, I can hear one,” Rebecca said. “Their call sounds like they are being strangled.”

And then reluctantly, it was time to head back to Albuquerque.

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