Our first taste of migrating Yellow-headed Blackbirds happened at Exit 300 off of I-40 as my friend Donna and I headed to the eastern plains for a weekend of birding. We had pulled off the road in a parking area next to a service station to eat our lunch. As we munched our snacks, we began to notice the activity of the blackbirds moving around actively in a large tree. The bright yellow heads of the males popped in and out of the branches. There were nine of them.
A flock of swallows darted over the parking area and the adjacent field – and then rested periodically on a utility wire nearby. While most were Barns, there were a few Cliff Swallows mixed in.We encountered our first Scissor-tailed Flycatcher as we headed towards Conchas Lake State Park.
Once in the park, we checked out the northern boat launch area, but didn’t see any birds. When we stopped at a pull-out on the dry side of the dam, we heard the melodic call of a Canyon Wren before heading to the north camping area.
We could see a group of gulls and terns perched on some rocks in the middle of the lake and got as near as possible to them, but without a scope, were not able to make a definitive ID. Some friends who had been there before us – with a scope – reported that there were Forster’s, Black and Caspian Terns, along with some Ring-billed Gulls. We enjoyed watching two Osprey fishing over the lake.
“One of them caught a fish,” Donna exclaimed.
We had seen a report of a Dickcissel at the adjacent golf course and explored the area. While we didn’t find the Dickcissel, we saw a number of Clay-colored Sparrows. When they popped up on the top of the scrub, we could see their distinctive face pattern, as well as their bright orange legs.“Drive slowly towards that tree,” I suggested. “It is full of blackbirds and we don’t want to spook them.” It was filled with Yellow-headed Blackbirds, their yellow heads gleaming in the late afternoon sun. There must have been at least 150 – and more were foraging on the grass below and beyond!
A trio of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers flashed their long tails as they flew from one tree to the other and their coral-colored bellies seemed to glow.
And then we were off to Logan for the night. I was struck by the green shrubs against the red soil – not what I expect on the eastern plains. Every few miles a Red-tailed Hawk stood sentinel on the top of a power pole.
As we were picking out a camping spot at Ute Lake State Park, some birding friends drove up behind us. “We just saw a Northern Parula in the small cottonwoods next to the lake,” they reported. He drove over there, but the sun was just setting and the birds had settled down for the night. We enjoyed the sunset along the lake before heading back to our camping site. The perfect ending to a productive day – and more to come the next day.