“We’re going to drive along the road on the east side of San Antonio,” I told the 17 assembled Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders. “Hopefully, we will see the Phainopepla that has been hanging out in a tree next to the road.”
We pulled over on the side of the road and got out to check out what was there.
“Bluebirds over by the fence,” Lefty reported.
Rebecca put her scope on them. “Check them out,” she suggested. “They look like easterns.” Sure enough, they had white bellies and white under the chin.
Someone spotted a Bewick’s Wren and someone else a Black Phoebe. There were multiple flocks of blackbirds – both Red-winged and Brewers, as well as European Starlings.When we had just about given up on the Phainopepla, I spotted a bird flying over the field towards us. As it flapped its wings, I could see the white edges under its wings – a male Phainopepla. It landed in the tree where I had seen it the prior week, and I called the others to come and see it. It had a sweet call note that it uttered as it bounced from branch to branch, as if to let us know it was there.
“Raptor on the power pole down the road,” I announced over the two-way radio as we drove further along. “I’m going to pull forward slowly.”
“Ferruginous Hawk,” declared Jim, who was in the car behind me.
As we inched forward, we could better see its white head and belly.
Since the roads were in good condition, we headed to the western edge of San Antonio where there is more of a desert scrub habitat. There was a Pine Siskin in a flock of Lesser Goldfinches. Gary spotted a Verdin.
The seasonal ponds along NM-1 just inside the refuge had open water, so we stopped to check them out. There were both Cackling and Canada Geese.
“I think there is a White-fronted Goose,” someone announced. We could see the pale pink bill as it swam along the far shore.
At the next seasonal pond, Gary found a Least Sandpiper probing in the mud with two Killdeer.At the Visitor Center, we were lucky to spot a White-throated Sparrow foraging with a White-crowned flock outside of the observation window. There also were several Gambel’s Quail, a Spotted Towhee and, for a while, a Curve-billed Thrasher.
As we perused the ravens fly in to a tree, one was clearly a Chihuahan near the restrooms.
After entering the main part of the refuge, we headed up the center road and stopped just beyond the Eagle Scout Deck. One of many Northern Harriers we would see during our visit coursed low over the ponds. On the far side of the pond, there were two Bald Eagles on the ground – an adult and a juvenile.
Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Mallards, a couple of American Wigeons and Coots swam in the ice-free area.
A Marsh Wren buzzed in the underbrush – and a couple people in the group were lucky enough to spot it when it popped up.
We saw a couple of birders with their scope focused on the Boardwalk pond. They said they had seen a Common Loon and were trying to re-find it. We saw several Common Mergansers, but no loon. The boardwalk was closed since there was a controlled burn in the area, so we couldn’t walk out to try and get a different view.
There was a Great Blue Heron standing on the railing of the boardwalk.
When we rounded the south end of the loop, we could see a large flock of Snow Geese feeding at the far end of the field. Further along, we spotted a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk and a flock of Pine Siskins, with one American Goldfinch.
In one of the seasonal ponds, there was a Ruddy Duck and a Lesser Scaup, along with the regular species of waterfowl.
As we headed on the Farm Loop, we stopped to survey one of the seasonal ponds. There was a pod of medowlarks in the grass between the drain and the pond. They would disappear into the grass, and then pop up flashing their yellow breasts with their black chevrons.
Someone spotted an eagle sitting in a tree. While an immature, it was approaching full maturity as the head was starting to molt into its white feathers. The process was not yet complete. “Sometimes that is called its osprey phase,” Jim, a raptor expert, explained.
Then our attentions were diverted to two Red-tailed Hawks, one of which was a rufous morph.
At the end of the farm loop, Snow Geese and some Sandhill Cranes were feeding way out in the field.
In the next field, a few Sandhills were foraging close to the road. “They are in a family group,” I explained to those in my car. “Look at the middle one as it lowers its head. It still has brown feathers on the back of the head – the sign of a juvenile. They will molt out before they begin migrating north.”
Just before arriving at the Flight Deck, we saw several Bald Eagles flying and diving over the water. By time we arrived at the deck, they had landed briefly on the trees on the north end of the pond. There were several immatures.
When we went over the checklist, we came up with 65 species for the day and were grateful for a beautiful winter day for our trip.