Central New Mexico Audubon Field Trip to Sevilleta NWR

“If it’s OK with you,” Kathy, from the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge staff, asked Central New Mexico Audubon trip leader Cole Wolf, “I think we should head first to Canoncito de las Cabras before the wind kicks up. We can go to the La Joya Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in the afternoon.”

The 25 birders piled into the refuge van, as well as four-wheel drive vehicles of some of the participants, Kathy leading the way. We were anxious to explore areas of the refuge not normally open to the public.

“I presume she knows where she is going,” I commented to Steve, my able driver. We took what seemed like a very circuitous route before driving through a tunnel-like passage under the freeway and heading on a dirt road up a wash.

“Our car had wonderful looks at a Black-throated Sparrow,” Beth exclaimed as we got out of our vehicles in the canyon. We traveled the rest of the way by foot.

A Juniper Titmouse called from up the hill. It finally popped into view, giving everyone good looks.

The narrow red-sandstone canyon was a geologic wonder, with hoodoos sculpted by wind and water erosion and rock layers formed by tectonic plate movements. It was hard to stay focused on the birds.

As we rounded a bend in the trail, we flushed a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. A Western Scrub Jay called before it flew off. We could hear the whine of a Spotted Towhee.

“A wren,” someone signaled. We could hear its staccato call emanating from the rocks.

“It must be just over the crest,” someone else stated.

Cole scrambled up the rocks to see if he could find it. Just then, it hopped up from a rock crevice just below the crest – a Canyon Wren.

There was a wire across the trail preventing us from going any further, so we turned back, searching many of the ‘pock marks’ that dotted the cliff faces in hopes of spotting a nesting Great Horned Owl. We didn’t see any owls, but did find several stick nests along ledges – probably from ravens.

Photo by Cole Wolf


A Red-tailed Hawk circled high over the mouth of the canyon.

Our next stop was San Lorenzo Canyon, a popular spot for hikers and back-country campers. This area is jointly managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

We stopped to explore a flock of sparrows – mostly White-crowned and one Black-throated.

The only other bird was a Western Scrub Jay.

We enjoyed the spectacular scenery as we ate our lunches; however, the wind was starting to pick up.

After lunch we bounced our way out of the canyon and snaked our way through San Acacia, where some of the cars spotted a Ferruginous Hawk, passed by the San Acacia Diversion Dam, finally ending at Sevilleta’s Unit B. The wind had really picked up as we explored the marshland that replicates the historical and natural meandering of the Rio Grande.

“Swallows,” someone called. We watched three Tree Swallows, buffeted by the wind, swoop over the wetland.

“Savannah Sparrow,” Cole alerted everyone as a sparrow worked the edge of the marsh.

“How can you differentiate a Savannah from a Song Sparrow?” someone asked Cole.

“First, look at the tail,” Cole explained. “The Savannah has a short tail and the Song a long tail. The head of the Savannah looks large in comparison to its size. In New Mexico, there are color differences. The Song has brownish streaking, while the Savannah’s streaks are grayer.”

As he ended his explanation, he alerted the group to two Wilson’s Snipe flying into the marsh. They then disappeared into the reeds.

There didn’t appear to be many waterfowl, but then out of nowhere, a large flock of Northern Pintails rose up and circled before flying off.

As we drove along the drain towards the La Joya WMA, we stopped to watch a flock of American Goldfinches foraging on dried sunflower stalks.

American Goldfinch


Besides the waterfowl, which we could see at some distance, the wind kept the bird activity down at the WMA.

While not a birdy day, it was a delightful day of beautiful scenery a good company.

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