Gray Catbird – Bird of the Day at Los Lunas River Park

The high-pitched calls of excited Black-necked Stilts resonated from the marshy area on NM-314 south of Isleta. Up and down, back and forth they flew, calling the entire time. Their marsh companions, Red – winged Blackbirds, rivaled their activity. 18 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders gathered along the side of the road to watch the spectacle – as commuters whizzed along the highway behind us. The birds seemed oblivious.

Those with sharp ears heard the call of a Common Yellowthroat emanating from the dense shrubs across the road.

Marge spotted a Swainson’s Hawk surveying the area from the top of a power pole on the hill behind the marsh.

“Oh look, there’s a Greater Roadrunner perched on a tree branch at the base of the hill,” Ken exclaimed. Two Great-tailed Grackles joined it on higher snags before they shot off across the reedy grass.

A few Violet-green Swallows darted over the area.

We moved further south to see what was on the pond, and found a clearing in the reeds to peer through.

Ruddy DuckThe iridescent blue bills of several male Ruddy Ducks stood out like beacons on the murky water, along with a pair of Cinnamon Teal with their four young ducklings. A lone Pied-billed Grebe kept popping under the water, while an American Coot plied the edges of the pond. We were surprised to see a lone Redhead. It should have moved north by June.

The Swallows over the water primarily were Northern Rough-winged, with a few Barns and at least one Bank.

Just before we moved on, a Green Heron delighted us by landing on a low branch of a bare tree across the pond.

The song of a Black-headed Grosbeak greeted us as we alighted from our vehicles at River Park in Los Lunas. After swathing ourselves with insect repellent and applying powder to our shoes and tucking our pant legs into our socks against the possibility of chiggers, we headed into the bosque.

Summer Tanager

“Oh look, a Summer Tanager,” someone said while pointing to a nearby tree. The bright red bird paused briefly so we all could get good looks.

Further along we saw it, or another male, bouncing in the top of a tree next to the trail. Then the female showed up. We watched as the male flew across the trail, pausing briefly on a small branch and then flying low where it landed in the open.

At the river, trip leader, Donna, pointed out the Cliff Swallow nests under the bridge. I counted 13 of them swooping and diving over the water.

Gray Catbird

As we traveled north along the packed gravel loop trail, we kept hearing a bird calling – and finally spotted it – a Gray Catbird. Most of us were familiar with its mewing call, which we heard further south on the trail, but since they do not traditionally nest in central New Mexico, we did not recognize its long and involved song.

Spotted Towhees were calling from the shrubs throughout the bosque and diminutive Cabbage White butterflies fluttered between the tops of low-growing plants.

The group began to disperse into smaller clusters – with each group spotting different birds. One group was lucky to see a Black-crowned Night Heron fly down river and a Black Phoebe singing from a branch hanging over the water.

Another group enjoyed a Blue Grosbeak, and a third glimpsed a Spotted Sandpiper working the edges of a sandbar.

When we had re-assembled, we headed up to the levee in hopes of seeing a Mississippi Kite flying over the oat fields beyond. Donna had seen one there the prior day – and it is where we had found one last year.

“It appeared at 10:10,” Donna told us. We decided to wait and see if it showed up.

As we waited, we enjoyed a male Bullocks Oriole in search of insects in a dense elm tree. The female later joined it.

Three Brown-headed Cowbirds flew noisily out of another tree.

“Look up above us,” Lefty pointed. “A kestrel is hovering – with a mouse in its mouth.”

By 10:15, we had seen a Swainson’s Hawk circling, but no kite. We went for an early lunch and then returned once more – again, no kite.

Our last stop of the day was a rookery in Bosque Farms. As we gathered near the rookery, two cars were missing, but soon drove up. “Sorry we are late,” they said. “We stopped to watch the kite circling over the field just beyond River Park.”

As we approached the rookery, we became aware of movement in the trees and the sound of wocks, croaks, and tropical-sounding calls greeted us, as what appeared to be close to a hundred birds jockeying for position in a dense stand of elm trees. Every tree appeared to have several nests. From the road, we could see Cattle and Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons.

It was the perfect ending to the day. I was going to stay on to count the birds and nests for a survey of colonial birds sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife. Read on…

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