“I got word that a Phainopepla is hanging out behind the Super 8,” trip leader Sei announced as we gathered in Socorro before heading to Bosque del Apache. All of the Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders wanted to stop there first.Sure enough, as we cruised slowly behind the motel, I could see its profile as it sat parched on a bare branch at the edge of the parking lot. It remained there as the caravan of cars rolled past.
We headed next for the back roads of San Antonio. As we drove down a narrow dirt road between two farms, we spotted an American Kestrel and a little further on, a Red-tailed Hawk stood on the top of a power pole. As we neared the hawk, it flew to the next pole, which must have been the purview of a kestrel. Before long, the kestrel started dive-bombing the hawk. Another kestrel joined the fray. It was quite a show, until the hawk moved further down the road.
We crossed NM-1 to the west side of San Antonio where we encountered a tree full of at least 20 meadowlarks. In desert scrub habitat we heard, and then saw a male Pyrrhuloxia. It was a life bird for someone in my car. Nearby we heard a Bewick’s Wren, and a little further on a Ladder-backed Woodpecker flew in.
Savannah Sparrows flushed from the bushes along NM-1 and foraged in the nearby fields.
We pulled out at a turn-out alongside one of the seasonal wetlands. A raptor flapped overhead.
“It looks like an eagle,” I said. All binoculars swung from the pond to the air.
“It’s a Golden Eagle,” Donna said. “And, it has a snake in its mouth.”
Two more eagles sailed into view; they were immature balds.
When we arrived at the Visitor Center, fellow Thursday Birder, Marge who was volunteering at the refuge, had her scope set up and focused on a Merlin. Everyone got a good look before it flew off. Another Pyrrhuloxia, a female, was hanging out in the cactus garden.
“I hear a Verdin,” Rebecca signaled. I had heard the clicking sound and was trying to see what was calling. It flew out and into some other bushes. Several of us followed it and were able to glimpse a look at it before it took off again.
We headed south of the Visitor Center on NM-1 a short ways where a Prairie Falcon nests and roosts. There was white-wash on the edge of the cliff face, but no falcon visible.
“There are two Ross’s Geese in the middle of the Snow Geese,” Matt stated as we peered down into one of the seasonal ponds. “It’s between the two Canada’s in the middle; I have them in my scope.”
They were visibly smaller than the other geese, and had stubby bills.
Three American Pipits probed in the mud at the edge of the wetlands, along with some Killdeer.
Another Bald Eagle was sitting on a snag at the Marsh Overlook – an immature. Rebecca flipped open her big Sibley’s and determined that it was a 2nd year. “They don’t start to molt into white heads until the 3rd year. It takes 5 years to reach full adulthood,” she told us.
Besides Snow and Canada Geese, the most prevalent waterfowl were Northern Pintails. In the boardwalk pond were Common and Hooded Mergansers, Canvasback, Ring-necked Ducks and a few Green-winged Teal and Bufflehead. And, of course American Coots and Mallards.
As we drove along the Marsh Loop, it had warmed enough that we were able to keep the windows open to listen for birds calling in the underbrush. “This is wonderful,” commented Barb, who is visiting from the east. “We could never do this in Virginia in December.”A Great Blue Heron stood on one leg as it perched on a bare snag in the boardwalk pond and didn’t seem bothered by our group of 17 birders.
The winter tour route heads along the edge of the main part of the refuge. Some of stopped at the John Taylor Memorial Trail and walked a ways in hopes of seeing an Aplomado Falcon, but were not rewarded.We gathered at the Eagle Scout deck to go over the list for the day – 65 species. Several had to head back to Albuquerque, but our car made a quick trip along the Farm Loop, where geese and cranes were foraging in the mowed corn fields. After getting their fill, they rose into the air and flew further into the refuge where they would spend the night.