Oodles of Eagles – Maxwell NWR and Las Vegas NWR

Although it was 21 F, it didn’t feel that cold as birders assembled at the Maxwell NWR, one of the sites featured in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico, headquarters for the Central New Mexico Audubon field trip. As people arrived – most having driven from Albuquerque that morning – we began ticking off species. Two Northern Flickers flew into a nearby tree, an American Goldfinch called from the top of a cottonwood, and meadowlarks seemed to be everywhere.
Western Meadowlark
“We’re going to head down the road to Lake 13,” trip leader Jim Mosley explained.

We hadn’t gone far, when we pulled over to scope out a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a power pole down a refuge side road. A little further along, we stopped to watch seven Wild Turkeys bob along at the base of the levee.

Wild Turkeys

An American Kestrel helicoptered from a brush pile twig.

From the Lake 13 parking area, we observed an immature Bald Eagle. I showed one birders the drawings of eagles at different years of development from my Sibley’s app on my phone. We concluded that the eagle was a 2nd year.

Someone spotted a shrike perched on a stick quite a distance from the parking area. Even with a scope, we were not able to discern whether it was a Loggerhead or a Northern.

A quarter of a way around Lake 13, we stopped to look out. There was a lone Ring-billed Gull in first winter plumage. A few Northern Shovelers plied the area nearby.

We parked on the levee on the far side of the lake and started scanning the lake.

Cheryl and I were glad that the 21 male Common Goldeneyes we had seen the prior day were still there. It was difficult to photograph them since they kept bobbing up and down and diving under the water – and had their heads turned the wrong way!

In addition, there were at least 60 Common Mergansers – mostly males.

Other waterfowl included American Wigeon, Bufflehead, Lesser Scaup and Green-winged Teal.

Three adult Bald Eagles stood along the shore at the north end of the lake, and then became playful appearing to chase one another. All-in-all, we were fortunate to observe nine different Bald Eagles during our visit to the refuge.

Bald Eagle – taken at Storrie Lake SP the prior day

We became aware of bird sound behind us. There was a small arroyo with some reeds and bushes. A Marsh Wren called from the reeds, but never showed itself. White-crowned Sparrows flew in and out. And, then, a large flock of sparrows landed on the bushes – American Tree Sparrows. I counted at least ten. Everyone got good looks at their rusty caps, white wing bars and breast spots through one of the scopes.

A few Horned Larks foraged near the south shore of the lake just below us.

Before leaving the refuge, we drove along one of the side refuge roads in hopes of spotting a roosting Great-horned Owl. “We always used to get one in the cottonwoods along the main road,” Jim told us. “However, they have cut those trees down.” We had no luck scouring the side road.

Most of us headed to the Las Vegas NWR, also featured in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico.

Heading south on I-25, most of us spotted the two Golden Eagles sitting regally on neighboring power poles along the side of the interstate. By time we spotted them, it was too late to pull over to get a photograph.

The most prevalent raptor perched along the highway was Ferruginous Hawk.

Immature Ferruginous Hawk – Photo by Colin Adams

Several American Kestrels had hunting territories along the road into the refuge. Some cars also spotted Mountain Bluebirds and Black-billed Magpie.

The driveway into the parking area in front of the refuge headquarters was locked, so we parked along the road and walked in. There were Canada and Cackling Geese, a dark-morph Ross’s Goose, a couple of Hooded Mergansers, among other waterfowl.

Our big prize at Crane Lake were five swans. After scoping them, we could see the yellow spot at the base of the bill, identifying them as Tunda Swans.

Two Tundra Swans and unidentified duck – Photo by Colin Adams

Snow Geese hugged the far shore of the lake.

A Red-tailed Hawk perched on the bare branches of the lone tree on the west side of the lake was replaced by a falcon. At first, it appeared to be a Peregrine because of its overall dark appearance. However, once it flew, its dark armpits were clearly visible – a Prairie Falcon.

We drove on down the road to McAllister Lake, still hoping for a Northern Shrike or Rough-legged Hawk, both of which I had seen there on prior winter trips – with no luck. We were shocked at how low the water level was in McAllister. The only waterfowl was a pair of Mallards along the far shore.

It had been a wonderful day and we were blessed with unseasonably pleasant winter for late January.


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