Estancia Valley’s Winter Birds

“Oh, no!” I gasped as our car headed down into the Estancia Valley from Zuzax. “Look at that fog bank ahead; we’ll never see the hawks.” Our car was one of nine filled with Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders. “The good news is that the temperature is well below freezing, so the roads shouldn’t be too muddy.”

By time we reached Moriarty, it was overcast, but not foggy. We headed south on NM-41 and then turned west onto McNabb Rd. where we saw a Red-tailed Hawk, the first of six American Kestrels for the day, and a flock of about 50 Horned Larks.

Heading sough again on NM-41 we were surprised by flock after flock of Sandhill Cranes flying in ‘V’ formations heading over the Estancia Valley, occasionally circling around as if checking out a potential location for the days feeding.

Clements Rd. was a real treat. Every quarter mile or so we would see a Ferruginous Hawk perched on either a power pole, the branch of a bare tree, or on an irrigation sprinkler in a nearby field. We were able to get quite close to some of them, giving us a chance to the see them at all angles. When they were facing us, their white breasts and bellies gleamed in the late morning light.

Ferruginous Hawk - Photo by Bonnie Long

From the rear, the highlights on the rufous shoulder feathers clearly demonstrated the origins of its name.

Ferruginous Hawk

Just beyond a cattle yard was a flock of Horned Larks. I tried focusing in on as many as I could to determine whether there might be a longspur mixed in with them. Everyone I saw was a Horned Lark. Rebecca had her scope out and seemed to be zeroing in on something interesting.

“What do you see?” I inquired.

“There is at least one longspur,” she replied. I walked over to take a look and was able to see a ‘sparrow-like’ bird. After checking a couple of field guides, we decided it best fit the description of a Chestnut-collared Longspur.

One of the cars spotted two Sage Sparrows; however, by time our car drove past the location, they were not visible. Fortunately, Joe was able to take a photo to share with the rest of us.

Sage Sparrow - photo by Joe Schelling

There also were several Western Meadowlarks in the area.

Western Meadowlark - Photo by Bonnie Long

After lunch at the Old Mill, we headed south on NM-41 again and were lucky to see two Loggerhead Shrikes perched near the road. We saw a total of five during the day.

Loggerhead Shrike - Photo by Bonnie Long

“We are going to head west on NM-542,” trip leader Bonnie told us. “When I scouted last week, I saw two dark morph Ferruginous Hawks in this area.”

A cloud cover was forming and the moisture laid hoar frost on the bare branches, giving them a lacy appearance.

We hadn’t gone far when we spotted one of the dark morphs perched on a pole next to a house. What a contrast with the white-bellied ones we had seen earlier in the day!

dark morph Ferruginous Hawk - Photo by Bonnie Long

After a few minutes, it took off and flew with graceful wing beats to another spot behind the house.

dark morph Ferruginous Hawk in flight - Photo by Joe Schelling

On one of the county roads as we zig-zagged our way through the farmland to avoid the muddy roads, we spotted another flock of Horned Larks. They seemed to dance on the snow.

Horned Lark - Photo by Bonnie Long

What a wonderful day of birding – Horned Larks, Western Meadowlarks, Loggerhead Shrikes – and especially, Ferruginous Hawks.


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