Winter New Mexico Jan 06—12, 2010

Posted by Barry Zimmer


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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Once again our Winter New Mexico tour was filled with wonderful highlights. Despite generally cold weather, caused by the massive Arctic front that gripped much of the nation in early January, the birds put on a show. Beginning in El Paso the first afternoon, we enjoyed the amazing spectacle of an estimated 8,000 Yellow-headed Blackbirds coming in to roost in one spot late in the evening. The ground, roofs, and trees were literally covered in black and yellow.

The next day we scoured the river valley and irrigation impoundments southeast of the city and were treated to five species of grebes (including Horned, Eared, Clark's, and Western), side by side comparisons of Ross's and Snow geese, Cinnamon Teal, over 2,000 Common Mergansers in one spot, close views of Hooded and Red-breasted mergansers, perched Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon, an impressive 13 Harris's Hawks, Gambel's Quail, Greater Roadrunner,  Burrowing Owl, roosting Long-eared Owls, Sage and Curve-billed thrashers, and Green-tailed Towhee among others.

On our second full day we headed to the scenically spectacular Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces. A walk through the juniper/oak forest combined with some roadside birding netted such gems as Scaled Quail,  another perched Golden Eagle and  another Prairie Falcon, Merlin, Juniper Titmouse, superb studies of the generally shy Crissal Thrasher, a Townsend's Solitaire as close as ten feet away, and Black-chinned, Black-throated, Sage, Rufous-crowned, and Brewer's sparrows. A Las Cruces resident invited us into her yard where we watched a stunning male Black-throated Blue Warbler (accidental in the state at any season) coming in to a hummingbird feeder!

As we ventured farther north we began encountering lots of bluebirds. All three species were seen well including up to 120 Westerns in one day and over 60 gorgeous, azure-blue Mountains. Scope views of Ferruginous Hawk (we would see four on the trip) were a highlight for many. Riparian areas along the Rio Grande produced Red-naped Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpecker, Bridled Titmouse, Brown Creeper, and Phainopepla. Two very rare Rusty Blackbirds and an equally rare Band-tailed Pigeon were discovered by our group near Hatch. More Sage Thrashers and Mountain Bluebirds were found in the junipers on the west side of Elephant Butte Reservoir, and the lake itself yielded a first year Thayer's Gull and two California Gulls among the more common species.

From there we headed on to world-famous Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. A corn crop failure had resulted in lower numbers than usual of Sandhill Cranes and geese, but we still had thousands of each including many close up studies. Numbers of Bald Eagles were seen as they sifted through the geese flocks looking for the weak and injured.

On our last afternoon we headed up to Sandia Crest (at 10,600 feet elevation) east of Albuquerque. Feeders here had a regular parade of Red-breasted Nuthatches, Steller's Jays, and Mountain Chickadees (as well as tassel-eared squirrels), but the real stars were the rosy-finches. All three species (Black, Brown-capped, and Gray-crowned) came in within one minute of our arrival. We enjoyed prolonged views of their frenzied feeding from about 15 feet away! Some of us walked out onto the deck to photograph them and literally had rosy-finches at our feet. A late afternoon visit to the nature center produced a beautiful male Cassin's Finch, more stunning Wood Ducks than we could count, and a flock of over 200 Cackling Geese.

In all we tallied 22 species of waterfowl, 16 species of raptors, and 16 species of sparrows. We also enjoyed wonderful spectacles of large numbers of birds that call the Rio Grande of New Mexico their winter home.