“There won’t be any shorebirds at the bosque,” trip leader Sei announced as the Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders gathered to carpool. “So, we are going to stop first at the Belen Marsh.”
We started out visit to the Belen Marsh by driving along the dirt road behind Taco Bell. One of the Burrowing Owls peered out of its burrow – visible from the nose up. It was in a much closer hole than where it previously stood.
A loud rasping call emanated from the reeds at the north end of the large pond as we walked along Don Felipe Rd. A Virginia’s Rail! We focused our bins and scopes, and pretty soon were rewarded. First one rail and then another peeked out between the stalks. When it retreated, we were able to catch glimpses of its rusty body behind the dying blades.
We concentrated on the shorebirds. Calling Killdeer were everywhere. A couple of Spotted Sandpipers bobbed along a far sandbar, along with two Western Sandpipers. We discussed the characteristics of a yellowlegs to make an ID.
“Its bill looks much longer than its head,” someone stated.
“It is an active feeder,” someone else commented.
“And, it has bony knees,” a third person chimed in.
A Greater Yellowlegs, we decided.
We didn’t want to linger too long, so piled into the cars and drove south. After a pit stop in Socorro, we headed to San Antonio and wound our way through the agricultural area south and east of town.
Two American Kestrels were active catching insects over one of the fields and there were at least 25 American Crows busy eating in the field beyond. About 10 Lark Sparrows were perched in a bare tree next to the road. As we approached, they quickly dove into the weeds below, but not before we were able to get a good view.
On NM-1, we stopped to check out the blackbirds feeding between the cattle in a wet field – at least Yellow-headed Blackbirds that flashed their white wing patches each time they swirled up and circled before settling back down.
“An Aplomado Falcon just flew overhead,” Sylvia and Donna chimed together as the rest of us emerged from the restroom. We kept searching overhead, but it was long gone.
“I saw it earlier from the Flight Deck,” Robert stated as he joined us.
It was pretty quiet around the Visitor Center. When some of us wandered through the cactus garden, we flushed a Gambel’s Quail that quickly ran into the underbrush. Robert showed us a bare snag where a Western Screech Owl roosts.
A tiny collared lizard was scurrying across the dirt. When we stopped to get a look, it climbed up onto someone’s foot, providing a photo op.
“Raymond was able to call it out when I was here with him a couple of weeks ago,” Robert relayed. Lefty made his best imitation of the call, but no owl appeared.
Our first stop was at the Flight Deck. As we drove along the road towards the deck, we noticed a raptor sitting on the top of a bare snag – a White-tailed Kite! Unfortunately, it was too far away for me to get a clear photo.
We got excited when we saw a falcon fly in and land on another snag, but were disappointed to discover it was an American Kestrel and not the Aplomado Falcon.
Blue Grosbeaks were calling from the sunflowers on both sides of the road and flying back and forth.
We stopped to ID some sparrows as we drove along the Marsh Loop – a couple of Horned Larks were foraging in the middle of the road and three Vesper Sparrows popped in and out of the grass at the edge of the road long enough for us to see their eye rings. When they flushed, they flashed their white outer tail feathers.Eight Neotropic Cormorants lounged on a snag in the year-round pond around the boardwalk. At the far end of the pond, someone spotted a couple of terns sitting on a mini-sandbar. We checked them through the scopes – a juvenile and a molting Forester’s Tern.
At the far end of the loop, we watched a couple of Swainson’s Hawks and a Northern Harrier circling over one of the fields.
While Barn Swallows were swooping and diving over all of the fields, at the rookery pond, there also was a Violet-Green and a couple of Cliff Swallows.
Refuge staff had begun to let water flow into the field just beyond the rookery pond, and it already had attracted Mallards, American Wigeons, and at least one Northern Pintail. A Great Blue Heron was perched on a snag and one sat at the base of the dead tree. A Belted Kingfisher shared the shag with the heron, and then flew, flashing its blue-gray wings as it took off. Three American Avocets strutted back and forth in the shallow water. Two Ring-billed Gulls swam lazily.
“I have a Summer Tanager in the scope,” Robert beckoned. It was a bright red dot in the trees on the far side of the pond.
“I think I have a Little Blue Heron,” someone stated. The bird was perched behind a snag. As we moved to get a good look at it, it was move slightly in the other direction. We had 3 scopes focused on it and consulted 3 different field guides trying to get an accurate ID.
“A couple of years ago, I also thought I had a Little Blue,” I commented. “But when I sent the picture to Celestyn, he said it was an immature Cattle Egret.”
It was the chin that convinced everyone that the bird that was playing peek-a-boo with us was indeed an immature Cattle Egret. It matched the picture in the big Sibley’s perfectly.
We made one more swing by the flight deck hoping the Aplomado had decided to return, but unfortunately it hadn’t.
When we went over the checklist for the day, we were delighted that 53 species had been seen.