The guttural clucking of Sandhill Cranes filled the air as I got out of my car at the Los Poblanos Open Space. They were obscured by the stalks of corn still standing in the field next to the parking lot. Early in the sound of the Sandhills always sends chills up my spine.
A Northern Harrier careened over the field just beyond.
The rays of the sun were beginning to penetrate the air, which was still hovering in the high 30’s. While I was wearing my winter cap for the first time this season, I resisted donning my winter parka.
“When I was here earlier in the week, I saw a White-fronted Goose mixed in with the Canada’s,” trip leader Rebecca told the gathered 18 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders. “Lannois saw it yesterday at 9 a.m., so I want us to hurry onto the field.”As soon as we rounded the corner of the corn stalks, the cranes came into view. A cluster was feeding on the far eastern edge of the Open Space. I estimated there were about 200. And then we saw another smaller group feeding to our left.
“Look, there are two smaller ones,” someone said. “They must be Lesser Sandhills.” They were clearly shorter.
Our attention was then drawn to a barren tree. Every limb seemed to be covered with birds. Through our binoculars we could see they were Western Meadowlarks; their yellow breasts glistened in the morning sun. “They look like little jewels,” Pat commented.
They began to fly down to the nearby field to field.
“There’s a sparrow at the base of those dried weeds next to the path,” Lefty said, as we began to quietly walk back and around the back side of the weeds to get a better view. “It has a streaked breast with a stick pin,” he relayed.
It hopped up and then flew over to the tree vacated by the meadowlarks. While it perched where we could see it, it faced the other direction. We began to call out field marks as we got a better view. “It has a faint eye ring,” I reported.
“It has a light, delicate bill,” someone said.
“It’s tail is short.”
It turned slightly, giving us a better view. Clearly a Savannah Sparrow – and then, as if it knew we had ID’d it, it flew off.
In the next field we scrutinized all of geese checking for the pink bill of a White-fronted, but there were none.
“Is that a Killdeer?” Jane asked as she heard a familiar call. Just then, it took off and I could see the familiar wing pattern.
“Yep,” I confirmed.
A flock of Sandhills at the northern end of the field rose up en-masse and headed south. One of them started circling back. “It looks like its job is to round up the ones who aren’t in the air yet,” someone commented. It kept circling and calling until they were all airborne, and then it headed over to another group.
As we headed west at the north end of the field, we watched a falcon sail over the field. It landed on the top of a tree in the middle of the field. Gary set up his scope to get a better look. We wanted it to be a Merlin; however, it was the same Kestrel we had seen swooping over the field earlier.
A little further on, we spotted two Northern Flickers in a tree, along with a White-winged Dove.
A small tree in the middle of the community garden was laden with White-crowned Sparrows.
We stopped to watch a Greater Roadrunner on the wall of a house adjacent to the Open Space. “It must be checking out the feeders in the yard,” someone laughed.
The Kestrel zipped by again as it patrolled the field and we passed one more flock of Sandhills before we finished our walk.
By time we returned to the parking lot, I was quite warm with my fleece jacket over my sweater – and was glad I had resisted my winter coat!
“How many Sandhills do you think we had today?” Rebecca asked as she was going over the morning’s list.
“Billions,” someone said. We finally agreed that there were about 500. All told, we had 24 species.