Winter Birding at Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area

The area was busy with school groups as our group of Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders arrived at Whitfield Conservation Area. “We are part of Audubon New Mexico’s Birds of a Feather Explore Together program,” Linda, our trip leader and Whitfield board member, told us. “School groups come here to learn about our habitats and the wildlife found here.” We could see students intently looking at an area along one of the wetlands.

“Look, there’s a Red-tailed Hawk sitting in that bare tree about half-way back in the conservation area,” someone said.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

“We should see several types of raptors today,” Linda stated. The Red-tailed Hawk was the first of three for the morning.

As we headed down to the perimeter trail, we heard – and then spotted – both White-crowned and Song Sparrows.

A flock of about 40 Horned Larks flew up, circled and then re-landed in a field to our left. Linda led us a short ways off the trail next to the field. “This is where we have set up a ‘track’ plot,” she explained. “The dirt has been cleared of weeds and smoothed. A scent disc is placed on the cleared area to attract wildlife. The environmental education groups can see what has walked across it.” Tracks have included coyote, Sandhill Crane and small birds.

A Northern Harrier swooped low over the field, scattering the larks again, before coming to land in a bare tree on the far side of the field. Another harrier was perched nearby and the red-under-wings of a Northern Flicker flashed in the morning sun as it landed in the same tree as the harrier.

Northern Harrier - photo by Joe Schelling

Northern Harrier – photo by Joe Schelling

One of several flocks of Sandhill Cranes flew over the bosque trees on their way to forage in nearby fields.

“This tree has an attraction to bluebirds,” Linda told us and pointed to a tree just ahead of us on the trail. As if on cue, a small flock flew in.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

“Eastern Bluebirds,” I stated. “”They have white bellies.”

“And, their throats are rusty,” commented Rebecca.

“If I were still in South Carolina,” Sharon exclaimed a little further down the trail, “I would say that there is a Northern Cardinal in the shrubs next to the field. What sounds like that here?”

“Perhaps it was a Pyrrhuloxia,” I replied. “They have been seen here.” We didn’t hear it again and couldn’t find it.

When the trail rounded the corner at the back of the conservation area, we checked out a small area of standing water.

“A Song Sparrow just disappeared into the underbrush,” Lefty said.

I heard the call of a Spotted Towhee and several of the group saw a White-breasted Nuthatch.

Sandhill Cranes were picking their way through the fields north of the conservation area.

Sandhill Cranes feeding

Sandhill Cranes feeding

We seemed to be playing tag with small flocks of White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows and House Finches all along the trail in this area. A flock of about 12 Western Meadowlarks flew across the trail flashing their tail feathers. One landed briefly in a tree.

As we looked back towards the bosque, a Bald Eagle circled above the trees. The perfect ending to a wonderful morning of birding.


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