Birding Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area

The first thing we noticed were the three Long-billed Dowitchers feeding in the small pond nearest to the I-25 Bypass Road.

Long-billed Dowitchers

Long-billed Dowitchers

They were probing the edge of the pond with their characteristic ‘sewing machine’ motion. Their back feathers showed the chestnut patterning and scallops of their emerging breeding plumage. Even though they appeared to be looking down, I could see their black eyes keeping watch.

Twenty-two Thursday Birders slowly worked their way down Don Felipe Street along the Belen Marsh.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbirds were perched on the still-dry cattails, announcing their territories with their nasal trill. A Yellow-headed Blackbird perched in the middle of the throng, but later took off with its mate. At the far end of the reeds, a few Great-tailed Grackles fanned their tail feathers in territorial display.

In the water behind the reeds, two Ruddy Ducks and an American Coot swam quietly. I was delighted to see the coot, since they appeared to have vacated the marsh last spring and summer.

American Avocets

American Avocets

Along the edges and on the sand bars of the larger pond area, Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets appeared to be staking out nesting areas and weren’t traveling in pairs like they had been just a few days earlier when this photo was taken. Pairs of Cinnamon Teal swam along the back.

“Ring-necked Pheasant,” Donna exclaimed. Its rusty feathers caught the morning sun and stood out amongst the dry grasses on the slope beyond the pond.

A flock of peeps flew in and started working the edge of the sand bar. And, then another group flew in closer, giving us better looks. There were Baird’s, Least, and Western Sandpipers.

Trip leader, Linda Heinze, signaled that it was time to leave so we could head over to the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.

whitfield-signA Western Meadowlark sang in a nearby bush while we were greeted by Charlie Sanchez, Chair of Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, the sponsoring agency, who provided an overview of the conservation area. “We are lucky to have acquired water rights when the property was donated to us,” he said. Behind Sanchez, a Black-chinned Hummingbird buzzed in and out of a shrub below the berm where we were standing.

Ted Hodoba, the new Project Manager, told us about the first phase of the Visitor Center, which will open in early summer. “The development of Whitfield is essentially a restoration project,” he explained. “Volunteers have planted over 3,000 trees – cottonwoods, screwbean mesquites, Gooding’s willows, and New Mexico olives.”

“A Willet flew into the wetlands,” Rebecca exclaimed after Hodoba’s presentation, and we set off along the trail to get a better look.

whitfield-wetlandsA variety of water birds were plying the flooded fields. A lone Snow Goose foraged by itself. A group of Wilson’s Phalaropes spun at the far end, and Northern Shovelers, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal and Gadwalls paddled in and out amongst the grasses.

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew

Another large shorebird flew in and landed – a Long-billed Curlew! As it flew in, we could see the light cinnamon-colored feathers on the underside of its wings. It probed the mud with its long, down-curved bill.

A raptor circled overhead. The wide bands on its tail and soaring behavior identified it as a Cooper’s Hawk.

Molly Madden, President of the Friends of Whitfield, joined us on the walk. “I live just down the road,” she told me. “I was recruited when I retired from teaching to help develop educational programs.”

Just beyond the wetlands we came to a grassy area. “This is being restored as a salt grass marsh,” Hodoba explained. “It is very rare in New Mexico.”

We stopped to check out the branches of a gnarled cottonwood, where a Great-horned Owl nested last spring. Just beyond an Eastern Bluebird flew in and landed on the top of one of the seedlings.

“It looks scraggly,” Sei commented.

“The different colored flags signal the existence of different species,” Hodoba responded when someone asked their significance. “They let the tree planters know not to disturb them.” Poles were inserted when the seedlings were planted to assist with hand watering while the trees take root.

We circled back around, stopping to watch the Wilson’s Phalaropes skirt behind the legs of a Black-necked Stilt.

As we enjoyed our lunch at Casa de Abo, we went over the species list and were delighted that we had seen 44 species.


One thought on “Birding Belen Marsh and Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area

  1. Hello Judy,

    just to let you know that I’m following your jottings regularly. Would love to bird New Mexico sometime. I’ve been thru the state once. Loved it. But didn’t really have time to bird much. Although I have birded in Arizona a couple of times. Looking New Mexico as a potential retirement area. Keep up the good work.


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