“Donna saw a Phainopepla buzz a Kestrel,” trip leader, Rebecca told us as three cars of Thursday Birders pulled up behind her just south of San Antonio, NM. “However, the Phainopepla just flew off.”
And then it was back and we saw it silhouetted in the top of a nearby tree before we headed south towards the Bosque del Apache.
In the stretch before we reached the refuge, we saw Western Meadowlarks, Northern Mockingbirds, a pair of Blue Grosbeaks, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Western Kingbirds.We pulled off to watch eight mule deer feasting on the green foliage in the area that is flooded during the winter for waterfowl. “He’s in the velvet,” Pat described the buck, whose antlers were covered in soft fuzz.
While we were watching, a Gambel’s Quail bobbed across the adjacent dirt road.
As we pulled into the Visitor Center parking lot, another pair of Blue Grosbeaks was scavenging on the gravel. “I don’t think I have ever seen this many Blue Grosbeaks here before,” Sei stated.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds buzzed around the feeders hanging on the west side of the Visitor’s Center and a Bullock’s Oriole called from the large tree just outside the entrance.
“Let’s not tarry here,” Rebecca said. “It’s going to get hot and we want to go around the marsh loop before lunch.” At that time, there were high clouds blocking the sun and a slight breeze; however, we agreed that we should head out.
“We’ll go to the left after we enter the refuge area,” she continued, “and past the flight deck area to the place where the Moorhen and two babies have been seen.”
It was strange to gaze out over the area leading up to and out from the flight deck and see only native marsh plants growing. The refuge staff rotates which areas remain filled during the summer for waterfowl, and which ones are drained to promote moist soil management. Only a few puddles remained.
We could hear Yellow-breasted Chats calling from the willows on the other wide of the irrigation ditch. Say’s Phoebes caught bugs from their low perches. Western Meadowlarks sang. Barn Swallows swooped and dove as they snatched insects. A Lark Sparrow sat on a bare snag. A Northern Harrier, either a female or a juvenile, coursed low over the most management area.
We pulled up by a marshy area at the end of the two-way road and got out to search the reeds for the Moorhen – with no luck. We were disappointed since this is the first time in a number of years that a Moorhen has nested at the refuge.
As we headed along the seven-mile marsh loop, we saw the slow gentle wing-beats of a Great-blue heron glide over the road.
We drove with our windows open, listening to the hoarse call of several Yellow-breasted Chats. “I see one in the top of a tree,” Donna called over the two-way radio, and we all pulled over to the side and scanned the trees with our binoculars. I could see its golden breast gleaming from some top branches, and then it flew before everyone got a good look.We stopped at the first ‘window’ in the reeds across from the Boardwalk pond. A group of White Pelicans lounged at the north end of the pond with a couple of Neotropical Corporants. I began to count them…16, 17, 18, 19!
Rebecca set up her scope. “Look, she said,” they have lost the breeding bump on the end of their bills, and they have a black patch on the top of their heads.”
We saw four more of them from the boardwalk.
Sylvia’s car caught up with us. “We saw a cougar cross the road in front of us,” they told us breathlessly.An Ash-throated Flycatcher caught our attention on the top of the willows adjacent to the boardwalk. A Black Phoebe had set up watch down in the irrigation ditch.
The pond on either side of the boardwalk seemed calm. More Neotropical Cormorants perched alongside sunning turtles on several exposed snags. A couple of Western Grebes cruised along. A few Canada Geese lounged at the far side of the pond and the blue beaks of a couple of Ruddy Ducks stood out, even at a distance.
As we started to walk back to our cars, we stopped to see if we could spot the Common Yellow-throat. Its wichity, wichity, wichity song sounded so close. And, then it popped up into view momentarily.Just past the boardwalk, we stopped at another moist management area to watch a flock of Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets.
Heading back on the other side of the marsh loop, a smattering of waterfowl swam lazily in the water, including several groups of Mallards, eight Mallard ducklings, a Pied-billed Grebe, and a few Blue-winged Teal. Rebecca heard a Virginia Rail calling.A pair of Summer Tanagers was fly-catching from the tops of some cottonwoods, and just beyond a juvenile Vermillion Flycatcher caught our attention.
About 50 Cliff Swallows swarmed around the bridge over the irrigation channel near the rest room spot. Marge saw a Northern Flicker.
A Blue Grosbeak was the most interesting bird in the rookery.
In a pond just beyond the rookery were three Redheads, more Blue-winged Teal, six Ruddy Ducks and four Cinnamon Teal.
We made one more loop back to the marshy area beyond the flight deck in case the Moorhen was out. While we didn’t see it, we were rewarded with a Hepatic Tanager perched nearby.
When we arrived back at the Visitor’s Center, those who arrived first had just seen a Verdin in a tree branch hanging over Laurel’s car.
By time we finished eating lunch, the weather had turned hot. It was time to head back to Albuquerque, delighted that we had seen 71 species during our visit to the refuge.