Winter New Mexico Jan 05—11, 2006
Posted by Barry Zimmer
Our 2006 Winter New Mexico tour was arguably our most successful ever! We had unbelievable weather the first four days, with temperatures nearing 70 degrees every day, and nighttime lows in the lower 40s to upper 30s. We saw virtually every specialty bird we searched for and, in addition, compiled an amazing list of rarities.
The El Paso area yielded a roosting flock of 4,000 Yellow-headed Blackbirds our first evening, great scope views of Crissal Thrasher (of which we tallied nine overall), stunning Ferruginous and Harris’s hawks, a vagrant Least Grebe, four very close and cooperative Burrowing Owls, and several great views of Green-tailed Towhee.
The Las Cruces area was equally productive. Most memorable was our morning at scenic Aguirre Springs Recreation Area and nearby grasslands. A short walk there produced Canyon and Rock wrens almost at arm’s length (among our six wren species), a lengthy study of a Sage Thrasher atop a juniper, a majestic Golden Eagle overhead, flock after flock of Western Bluebirds, an incredibly cooperative Juniper Titmouse, Hutton’s Vireo (rare), Red-naped Sapsucker, and a plethora of sparrows (we had 21 species overall) with Black-chinned, Brewer’s, Rufous-crowned, and Sage among the more noteworthy.
Moving upriver we encountered more treats. In the Percha Dam/ Caballo Lake area we had a rare Long-billed Curlew in an alfalfa field, a stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher, a flock of Eastern Bluebirds among the numerous Westerns, an amazing 45 Sage Thrashers in one area (something I have never seen before) along with 25 or so stunning Mountain Bluebirds (completing our bluebird sweep), good views of Bridled Titmouse, and six Ferruginous Hawks in one day. The most notable highlight was finding a Red-necked Grebe (one of only a handful of state records) at Elephant Butte Reservoir.
Water Canyon west of Socorro yielded a good supply of montane species, as well as an unexpected flock of 75 or so Chestnut-collared Longspurs coming in to drink at a stock tank. The centerpiece of this tour is always the visit to world-famous Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. As always, the refuge did not disappoint. Incredible spectacles of 34,000 Snow Geese (with a few thousand Ross’s in the mix for great comparison) and 13,000 Sandhill Cranes certainly top the list. The sight and sound of these gatherings at dawn and dusk is an experience not soon forgotten. In addition to this, the refuge provided us with wonderful views of many waterfowl species (22 overall) and raptor species (16 overall).
A flock of rosy-finches visiting feeders at the top of Sandia Crest in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque was an added bonus this year. We headed up there our last afternoon and had views of Black, Brown-capped, and Gray-crowned (including one Hepburn’s race) rosy-finches from about ten feet! Also at the feeders were numerous Mountain Chickadees, Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches, and Steller’s Jays. We have seen the rosy-finches on each of our last two tours, and plan on including a search for these birds on future tours to the area.
We concluded our tour at the Rio Grande Nature Center in west Albuquerque where we had an impressive 58 Wood Ducks in view at once, in addition to a small flock of Cackling Geese for close study. In all we totaled 164 species, enjoyed superb weather (but for one day of wind), and had fantastic rarities and great luck with numerous southwestern specialty birds. All in all, our tour was a great success!