As I stooped to pick up a piece of trash along Don Felipe Road next to the Belen Marsh, I was serenaded by a chorus of Great-tailed Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds.
A Western Meadowlark sang from a utility wire almost above my head.
It made the task of picking up after other people’s thoughtlessness less painful.
I was participating in the semi-annual clean-up with others from the Belen Marsh Task Force and members of Central New Mexico Audubon Society. The task force adopted Don Felipe Road as part of Belen’s Adopt a Road effort.
Our interest is trying to keep trash from being a hazard to nesting and migrating birds that depend on the wetlands area. Several years ago when we first started our clean-ups, we were able to remove trash all around the marsh area; however, the Valencia County Fair Board that manages the property, wants us to limit our efforts to the area next to the street.
I glance up to watch the antics of the Black-necked Stilts and notice one of them standing on a large piece of plastic that has made its way into the pond – and wish I could walk over and remove it. Birds have inadvertently ingested plastic, thinking it was food.
I am most troubled by the preponderance of cigarette butts that litter the roadside every few feet. Despite the high water table in the area, the grasses surrounding the ponds are tinder-dry. It would only take one still-smoldering cigarette to ignite the entire area – putting at risk the nests of Killdeer on the edges of the marsh, as well as the nests of the blackbirds and grackles in the still dry marsh-reeds.
In an hour and a half, the twelve volunteers amassed about 30 bags of trash.
Our work done, some of us stayed on to do some real birding.
Off the end of a spit was a pair of American Avocets and more Black-necked Stilts.
A trio of Long-billed Dowitchers probed the mud at the edge of the large pond.
We watched as a group of Wilson’s Phalaropes churned up the aquatic crustaceans by swimming in circles.
In a flooded field across the street, two pair of Cinnamon Teals swam lazily.
Before leaving, we drove carefully behind the Taco Bell to catch a glimpse of the Burrowing Owl standing guard by his burrow. Using the car as a blind, I was able to get a good photo of him.
The clean-up day always bring mixed emotions: frustration at having to pick up after the carelessness of others, worry that this ‘accidental’ wetland won’t be preserved, and the joy at being able to experience the sights and sounds of the spring birds all around me.