Winter New Mexico Jan 03—09, 2008

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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Our 2008 Winter New Mexico tour was very successful in finding an array of highly sought southwestern target birds, but I think it will be the incredible avian spectacles that we witnessed that will be most remembered. During our first afternoon we marveled at a flock of roughly 2,500 Yellow-headed Blackbirds coming in to roost at a marsh in west El Paso. Telephone lines over the marsh were so thick with the blackbirds that we were sure they would snap under the weight. At Caballo Reservoir about a hundred miles to the north we watched a huge flock of Common Mergansers (totaling perhaps 4,000 birds) intermingling with hundreds of Clark's and Western grebes in a huge feeding frenzy. At world-famous Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, we stood spellbound as roughly 40,000 "white geese" (both Snow and Ross's) erupted into flight directly over our heads in a deafening cacophony, and later watched Sandhill Cranes by the thousands feeding and dancing in a corn stubble field less than 50 yards away.

Our final spectacle involved the swirling flocks of rosy-finches atop Sandia Crest near Albuquerque. Nearly a hundred individuals representing all three species (plus the Hepburn's race of Gray-crowned) swirled about the Crest House feeders, allowing us to study these wonderful birds from 15 feet away! In a world of declining bird populations and diminishing habitat, it is so wonderful to know that there are still places where huge numbers of birds can be seen and enjoyed.

As previously mentioned though, these spectacles were not our only highlights. A pair of incredibly responsive Crissal Thrashers at the aforementioned blackbird roost put on an amazing show. The next morning, southeast of El Paso, we had excellent luck with raptors including scope views of Harris's Hawk, Prairie Falcon, and Golden Eagle. Eleven Burrowing Owls, a Greater Roadrunner from about 15 feet, stunning Hooded Mergansers, and a very rare White-winged Scoter capped off the morning. Later, in my yard, we enjoyed Rufous and Anna's hummingbirds, Inca Doves, and Lesser Goldfinches among others.

The next day found us in the scenic Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces. A leisurely hike along a mountain trail here yielded Townsend's Solitaire, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, Steller's and Western Scrub jays, Canyon and Rock wrens, and Black-chinned (prolonged scope views) and Rufous-crowned sparrows. Nearby desert areas produced the localized Sage Sparrow in the afternoon, and a local reservoir surprised us with a Cackling Goose.

Moving northward along the Rio Grande we encountered a striking Ferruginous Hawk sitting in a bare field, a stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher hawking insects over the river, and a mixed species flock at Percha State Park that had Hammond's Flycatcher, Bridled Titmouse, Western Bluebird, Phainopepla, and Cedar Waxwing among others. Nearby, two Golden-crowned Kinglets (locally rare) and a Brown Creeper foraged along the riverbanks. The sycamore-lined drainage of Animas Creek harbored a rare Red-headed Woodpecker. Around Elephant Butte Reservoir we added a Sage Thrasher and a small flock of Mountain Bluebirds.

Words can barely describe the experience one enjoys at Bosque del Apache. The continual parade of cranes and geese throughout the day is simply amazing. In addition, a great array of other waterfowl, raptors, and landbirds can be found along the refuge tour loop. Our highlights here included many Ring-necked Pheasants, a very unexpected bobcat, a female Merlin, several Bald Eagles, close studies of Canvasback and Bufflehead, and a Mountain Chickadee.

All in all, our six-day trip yielded nearly 150 species of birds, including 19 species of waterfowl and 13 species of raptors. What better way to start off the new year of birding!