Exploring Southeast New Mexico While Raising Funds for Audubon

Barn Swallows swooped in and out of their nests under the entrance to the Visitor Center at Bitter Lake NWR,


Barn Swallow in nest cup

a Curve-billed Thrasher made forays in and out of its tightly-woven nest in a cactus,


Nesting Curve-billed Thrasher – photo by Joe Schelling

and a Scaled Quail called from a nearby wall while the 20 Thursday Birders waited for the 10:00 start of the Birdathon so we could count them.

“I found a Lesser Nighthawk roosting in a tree just outside the residences,” Lou announced while we were assembling.

While Team Two set off for the north and east tour roads, Team One followed Lou to view the snoozing Lesser Nighthawk.


Lesser Nighthawk

and then started down the west tour road, stopping when we heard Cassin’s Sparrows calling and sky-larking from the scrub.

Bonnie and I had seen a trio of Eared Grebes in the pond along the north side of the tour route the day before when we scouted, which fortunately hadn’t left during the night and were counted by Team Two.


Eared Grebes

At the blind, Team One picked up White-faced Ibis, along with multiple duck species.

When Team One made a stop to scope the ponds from the west tour route road, a Peregrine Falcon flew over us.

Along the south end of the tour route, there were many Black-necked Stilts foraging in the shallow water,


Black-necked Stilt

along with Northern Shovelers, 3 species of teal, a lingering Northern Pintail, and a Ruddy Duck.

Both teams converged at the oxbow where there were Snowy Plovers, Wilson’s Phalaropes,


Wilson’s Phalaropes – photo by Michele Weisz

and a hoped-for Tri-colored Heron turned out to be a Green Heron.

After a quick lunch we headed south to Brantley Lake. There was a strong breeze and there were white-caps on the lake, which didn’t deter Rebecca from locating a Western Grebe bobbing and diving across the lake.

There were multiple shorebirds in a nearby cove and we sat up the scopes to ID them, including Snowy and Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, as well as Spotted, Pectoral and Western Sandpipers.

We got in the cars to drive to the location where Bonnie and I had seen gulls and terns the day before. Bernie stopped his car, got out and focused his binoculars – Sanderlings.


Sanderling – Photo by Bernie Morris

While there had only been two Forster’s Terns the day before, there were many more during the count – I tallied 21.  One of them walked forward slightly, revealing another tern.

“What is the black one?” Joe asked.

We all took a look – a Black Tern in breeding plumage, certainly one of the highlights of the trip.


Forster’s and Black Tern

There were more Snowy Plovers.


Snowy Plover – Photo by Joe Schelling

While we were loading up to head to Carlsbad, several in the group got good looks at a diving Least Tern.


Least Tern – Photo by Joe Schelling

After picking up picnic food for dinner and checking into our motel, we headed to Rattlesnake Springs to bird until dusk.

Turkey Vultures that roost in nearby trees began to assemble. I counted eleven.

A MacGillivray’s Warbler and Hermit Thrush foraged in the thicket behind the picnic area. Vermillion Flycatchers seemed to be everywhere.


Vermilion Flycatcher

A Summer Tanager announced itself.


Summer Tanager

Highlights included a roosting Great Horned Owl.


Great Horned Owl

As we were going over the checklist to see how we were doing, a flock of Cedar Waxwings flew into the tree over the picnic table. Everyone leaped to their feet.


Looking at Cedar Waxwings

A few Wild Turkeys began to arrive.  “Don’t worry about taking pictures of them now,” Bonnie assured the photographers, “there will be plenty more in the morning – we saw a large group, including dancing males early this morning.”


Wild Turkeys

“Meet in the motel parking lot at 5:30 am to caravan into Slaughter Canyon. We may have to stop frequently to avoid running over baby rabbits that are on the road,” I told to the group. “And when hiking in the area, be aware of snakes. Bonnie had to use her tripod to urge a Desert Rattlesnake off the road last night when we drove that area.”


Bonnie easing Desert Rattlesnake off road

We arrived at Slaughter Canyon just before 6 am and 17 of us hiked into the canyon.

We could see what appeared to be swifts soaring just below the tip of the cliffs. As we began hiking, we stopped to get a better look. “Desert Bighorn Sheep,” Bonnie exclaimed.We later learned they were Barbary Sheep.


Barbary Sheep

On the opposite side of the canyon a Red-tailed Hawk that had been perched, began to soar and was joined by a Turkey Vulture.

Soon we began to hear, and then see Scott’s Oriole, Rufous-crowned Sparrow – and, of course, Northern Mockingbird. A female Phainopepla popped up and then flew across the trail. We thought we were hearing a Gray Vireo, but were disappointed to realize it was only one of the many Ash-throated Flycatchers.

While the crunching of 17 pair of boots on the rocky trail, prevented us from being able to hear a Gray Vireo calling,


we were delighted to get good views of a Varied Bunting as the sun began spreading onto the canyon walls.

Lefty - VABU

Varied Bunting – Photo by Lefty Arnold

As we returned, there was a Black-throated Sparrow singing by the parking lot and a Canyon Towhee was perched on one of our vehicles.

Back at Rattlesnake Springs, the Wild Turkeys were dispersed into the underbrush. We spread out in pairs to cover all of the habitats. Some of the delights seen by many in the final hours were Orchard Oriole,


Orchard Oriole – Photo by Joe Schelling

Bell’s Vireo,


Bell’s Vireo – photo by Joe Schelling

Indigo and Painted Buntings,


Painted Bunting

Bronzed Cowbird, Lucy’s Warbler, and Gray Hawk.


Gray Hawk – photo by Joe Schelling

Michele and Reuben were fortunate to be able to see an incubating Vermilion Flycatcher.


Nesting Vermilion Flycatcher – photo by Michele Weisz

Yellow-breasted Chats were calling everywhere. I was surprised to find them clearly establishing territories in scrub habitat.


Yellow-breasted Chat

I am grateful for the expert guidance from Eddy County birding guru, Bob Nieman who provided information on the best location to bird at Brantley Lake and suggested Slaughter Canyon, a new location for me.

When we tallied our species at 10 am,


Birdathon Team – Photo by Perrianne Houghton

we were delighted our total was 122 – and more importantly, everyone had a great time birding together.


2 thoughts on “Exploring Southeast New Mexico While Raising Funds for Audubon

  1. Great post recapping the fabulous birdathon this year. Thanks again to you and Bonnie for organizing a splendid trip!
    I especially like the photo you got of Bonnie fending off the rattlesnake!

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