Fall Migration Birding Along I-25 Hot Spots

The rain started pelting the car as we approached Las Vegas (NM) while Barb and I drove north along I-25, and our spirits fell. However, by time we reached Wagon Mound, the weather had cleared, and when we pulled into Springer Lake WMA, one of the sites in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico, the sun was shining and there was a mild breeze.

At first the lake looked empty, but as we scanned the lake we noticed a Great Egret stalking prey among the pond grass,

Great Egret

Great Egret

and nearby was a small flock of American Avocets, likely on their way south.

American Avocets

American Avocets

Through the scope, we could see a raft of 32 Ruddy Ducks and could pick out two Western Grebes on the northwest side of the lake.

A Western Meadowlark song wafted up from the grassland south of the lake and a pair of pronghorns gazed curiously at us.

We headed over to the north shore where a farmer’s cattle were having a drink in the northeast corner of the lake. In their midst and on the nearby fence line was a mixed flock of Brewer’s Blackbirds, Common Grackles and a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

We stopped to scan for shorebirds, and finding none, traveled north through farmlands to NM-58 where we made our way back to I-25, where we spotted several American Kestrels, a Swainson’s Hawk and scores of migrating Savannah Sparrows along the way.

Our next stop was Maxwell NWR, also featured in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico, and we stopped under the trees next to the Visitor Center (closed) to eat our lunch. We heard a high-pitched kyeer call nearby and got out of the car to investigate. An adult Swainson’s Hawk was perched on a power pole.

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

It called repeatedly, flew off a short distance and then returned to its perch. We then spotted another adult nearby exhibiting similar behavior. We would later spot the juvenile that the parents were urging to fly – a bit late in the season, it seemed.

Lake 13, which often serves as a resting/staging area for waterfowl was hosting about 250 American Coots and almost the same number of Canada Geese.

As we perused one of the woodlots, we came upon a doe and her fawn, almost obscured by the high grass.

mule deer and fawn

mule deer and fawn

There were twice as many coots resting on the far side of Stubblefield Lake (and not visible in the photo).

Stubblefield Lake

Stubblefield Lake

Through the scope we were able to pick out Eared, Pied-billed and Aechmorphus Grebes and a single American White Pelican. A Northern Harrier was patrolling the marshy grass below the levee.

On our way home two days later, we stopped at Storrie Lake where a flock of Ring-billed Gulls rested on the shore,

Ring-billed Guls

Ring-billed Guls

and through the scope we identified Clark’s Grebe and a Wilson’s Phalarope on the far side of the lake. The weather was deteriorating, so we didn’t tarry long.

“We need to drive slowly,” I told Barb as we drove west along NM-281 towards the Las Vegas NWR. “so we can look for migrating sparrows along the fence line.”

Lark Sparrows were the most prevalent sparrow we were able to identify before they flew off as we approached.

The Visitor Center was closed. In the hedgerow near the entrance, we sotted Clay-colored Sparrows and a Say’s Phoebe.

As we made our way around the refuge, there were migrating Western Kingbirds and a plethora of sparrows, including Vesper

Vesper Sparrow

Vesper Sparrow

and more Lark Sparrows, as well as Mourning Doves, American Kestrels and Swainson’s Hawks.

We stopped to look at a small bird perched on a fence near McAllister Lake and were surprised to find a Rock Wren!

Rock Wren

Rock Wren

It had been a delightful weekend tour of birding hot spots along the I-25 corridor.


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