Birding Rattlesnake Springs During Hundred Year Rain

The late afternoon rain had ended by time my friend Bonnie and I pulled up to our cabin at Washington Ranch, next to Rattlesnake Springs. A Northern Cardinal darted back and forth and Vermillion Flycatchers were taking advantage of the break in the weather to gather insects.
It started raining again as we were getting ready for bed, but was only drizzling in the morning. When we peered out of the cabin windows, we could see some of the Wild Turkeys that forage on the grounds.

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys

We took a walk before breakfast, but not many birds were stirring.

“Well, we could drive over to Rattlesnake Springs and bird from the car,” Bonnie suggested as the rain pelted the cabin.

It was better than sitting in the cabin all day and reading.

The wet Turkey Vultures were grounded. They must be migrating as we counted 32 of them.

Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vultures

In the scrub along the road, we spotted a Dickcissel in non-breeding plumage – a life bird for Bonnie. And nearby a Great Crested Flycatcher was perched on a shrub.

More Wild Turkeys pecked for insects in the picnic area near the restrooms.

Most of the birds stayed hunkered down in the increasingly heavy rain. As we returned to Washington Ranch, we saw a gray raptor perched on a snag – and initially thought it was the Gray Hawk that had been reported recently. Later when I sent my photo to the NM Rare Bird, Matt Baumann replied that it was a Mississippi Kite, but “not a bad bird for Rattlesnake Springs.”

Mississippi Kite

Mississippi Kite

Back at the cabin, I received the first of the National Weather Service alerts on my phone warning of flash flood danger. We pondered how to spend the rest of the day and decided that we could visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park, since it would be indoors. And, I had never been there, since my trips to the area had always been to see birds.

We spotted six Cave Swallows braving the rain as they flew near the entrance to the caverns. We were delighted that the bats were still around and planned to return at 6:30 for the bat fly-out. At the ticket counter, we indicated that we planned to walk down through the main cave entrance and return via the elevator.

“We are advising everyone to use the elevator to reach the Big Room,” the staff person told us. “Because of the potential of flash flooding, we may have to evacuate everyone and we want you to see as much as possible.”

Big Room formations

Big Room formations

We had almost completed the 1.5 mile path around the perimeter of the Big Room, when a ranger approached us and asked us to make our way to the elevator quickly as they were having to evacuate everyone.

Small waterfalls were plunging over the rock faces as we drove down the entrance road. By time we reached the bottom of the canyon, water was already oozing over the road and there were barricades preventing cars from driving up the road. We stopped in White’s City to eat a hot lunch before returning to Washington Ranch.

That evening we received a phone call from Bonnie’s husband letting us know that nearby Malaga had received almost 3 inches of rain. We wouldn’t know until we returned that the area received a total of 8 inches of rain!

By 6 pm, the rain had slowed to a mist, so we took a walk around Washington Ranch. Lots of Western Wood-Pewees were flycatching near the pond. In the arroyo near the dining hall we spotted a female Painted Bunting and a probably male flew down into the shrubs at the bottom.

A pair of male Summer Tanagers flushed from the trees.

At the edge of the wild pond, we watched a Great Blue Heron hoping for a fish in the fading light.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

While it was still drizzling in the morning, we drove over to Rattlesnake Springs to get in some birding before having to check out and head back to Albuquerque. It was slow at first, but as the drizzling let up, the birds started showing themselves. Our best birding was along the road past the springs where we had several migrating House Wrens, Summer Tanagers,
Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

a Bell’s Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Wilson’s Warblers, Black-throated Sparrows, a Verdin, and of course, more Vermilion Flycatchers.

We decided to return via Malaga where I had seen a Harris’s Hawk a few years back. Just beyond Black River Village, the road was closed. While most cars were turning around, we detoured on some county roads.

“There’s a turtle in the road,” Bonnie said and pulled over. It must have washed onto the road during the torrential rains. When she picked it up, water ran out.

Western Box Turtle

Western Box Turtle

It had been an interesting two days birding during what was probably a ‘hundred year rain.’


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