Late Winter and Early Spring Birds at Bosque del Apache

Shorebirds prodded furiously in the mud at the north end of the seasonal wetlands just inside the Bosque del Apache NWR boundary. The refuge is one of the featured sites in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico. Several of the Thursday Birders set up their scopes to get better looks.

The gangly legs of Great Yellowlegs set them apart from the smaller shorebirds and their bright yellow legs were easy to spot as they seemed to stride through the shallow water. I counted at least nine of them.

To their left were a cluster of Long-billed Dowitchers, their long bills almost submerged in the mud, their feeding motions resembling an oil well pump.
Mixed in with the Killdeer were several peeps. We easily picked out a Least Sandpiper and trip leader, Rebecca, was certain she was seeing a Baird’s Sandpiper, rather than a Western Sandpiper. “Its wingtips extend beyond the tail,” she stated.

A lone Savannah Sparrow foraged on the berm right in front of us.

Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teal dabbled in the deeper parts of the pond.
The sound of loud honking made us temporarily abandon our study of shorebirds as a flock of over 100 Snow Geese flew in and landed at the southern end of the pond – evidently enjoying the spring-like weather before they headed north.

When we arrived at the Visitor Center, I headed for the porch over-looking the feeders, since the Visitor Center was closed for construction. White-crowned Sparrows shuffled and pecked in the dirt and two Gambel’s Quail paid a visit.

Gambel's Quail

Gambel’s Quail

I was hoping to see the Harris’ Sparrow that was hung around for most of the winter. All of a sudden it popped up in the top of a bush briefly before flying into the underbrush. Unfortunately, most of the other birds had headed for the cactus garden area and missed it.

While we were there, a flock of American White Pelicans sailed effortlessly overhead and we had the opportunity to see a female Pyrrhuloxia.

As we headed into the main part of the refuge, Joan spotted the first of several Great Blue Herons standing watch alongside a drain. From the Eagle Scout Deck we gazed out over a sea of more Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, a few American Wigeons, scads of American Coots, and a few lingering Canada Geese. Two Marsh Wrens dueted in the tall reeds adjacent to the deck.

“Bald Eagle,” someone pointed. We had not expected any eagles to be remaining. It is always a thrill to watch the majestic wing-beats of a mature Bald Eagle, its white tail catching the sun as it banked.

There was a gathering of Redheads – 44 by my count – just off the Marsh Deck, along with a large group of Lesser Scaup and some Ruddy Ducks.

While sitting on the boardwalk benches eating our lunches, a flock of Ring-billed Gulls flew overhead.

Along the north end of the Marsh Loop was another group of light geese – both Snow and Ross’s.

Snow Geese, including dark morphs

Snow Geese, including dark morphs

As Lefty was checking their bills for the Ross’s Geese, he noticed a Wilson’s Snipe almost camouflaged in the grasses on the far side of the seasonal pond.

Heading up the last leg of the Marsh Loop, we spotted several Cinnamon Teal amongst the other waterfowl.

There were five Neotropic Cormorants in the old rookery area.

Along the two-way road, we pulled up alongside Sylvia and Mary Lou who had identified a Dunlin with its drooping bill and belly that was already molting into dark feathers.

Near the Flight Deck we admired a Great Blue Heron resplendent in its feathery breeding plumage.
Several Western Meadowlarks seemed out-of-place on the berm next to the pond.

Western Meaowlark

Western Meaowlark

As we assembled on the Flight Deck to go over the list for the day, Rebecca located an American Pipit bouncing on the edge of a spit and Maureen located a Song Sparrow – our final bird of the day.

Under a dazzling late winter sky, we had the opportunity to enjoy the end-of-winter birds, as well as early spring arrivals, accumulating an impressive list of 73 species.


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