Winter New Mexico Jan 03—09, 2013

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 2013 Winter New Mexico tour combined spectacular bird concentrations, many highly sought southwestern specialty birds, and a nice sprinkling of rarities, all packed into five-and-a-half-days of action-packed birding. Despite unusually cold and snowy conditions at the beginning of the trip, we were able to locate virtually all of the target birds.

Starting in El Paso, we enjoyed a nice show at local feeders including a Costa's Hummingbird (a tour first and an accidental species in the state), two Rufous Hummingbirds, a very rare overwintering Hooded Oriole, and other more typical species such as Inca Dove, Curve-billed Thrasher, Cactus Wren, and Spotted Towhee. Ascarate Lake yielded great studies of Common and Hooded mergansers, Greater and Lesser scaup side by side, and Neotropic and Double-crested cormorants practically in our laps. On the west side of town, we marveled at a huge Yellow-headed Blackbird roost site with an estimated 8,000 birds in view at once. Scope views of perched Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon that afternoon were topped only by the vagrant Lewis's Woodpecker that we tracked down near Vinton.

Farther north near Las Cruces we had a great variety of sparrows including the highly sought Sage and Black-chinned, as well as Rufous-crowned, Cassin's (rare in winter), Grasshopper (casual here), Black-throated, Brewer's, Vesper, and White-crowned (by the hundreds) among others. Perhaps the most cooperative Crissal Thrasher I have ever seen, an equally cooperative Verdin, an adorable Burrowing Owl, and Green-tailed and Canyon towhees rounded out the afternoon.

Farther upriver we birded the agricultural fields and riparian habitats north of Hatch which produced stunning Ferruginous Hawks, another Prairie Falcon, Acorn Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, the locally rare Bridled Titmouse, all three phoebe species in one spot, brilliant Western Bluebirds, and numerous Phainopeplas among others. Elephant Butte harbored an adult Thayer's Gull (very rare here), Clark's and Western grebes, and a remarkable 27 Sage Thrashers in one morning!

Heading northward again toward Socorro, we detoured west to Water Canyon. The juniper/pine/oak canyon here yielded a great variety of new species including Red-naped Sapsucker, Mountain Chickadee, Steller's and Western Scrub jays, Juniper Titmouse (from ten feet away), and several Townsend's Solitaires. Along the entry road we also enjoyed fantastic scope studies of Chestnut-collared Longspur and found an unexpected and rare Rough-legged Hawk. 

Finally it was time to head to world-famous Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. We spent an afternoon and part of a morning here marveling at the 32,000 white geese (both Snow and Ross's) and 8,000 Sandhill Cranes that were wintering on the refuge. We witnessed two incredible dawn takeoffs of the geese and had a magical evening watching cranes come in to roost at a ponding area thirty yards in front of us—with a backdrop of a spectacular orange sunset! Bald Eagles, Greater Roadrunners, a variety of waterfowl, coyotes, and more rounded out our visit.

On the last afternoon we dashed up to Sandia Crest and added all three rosy-finches to our already impressive list. In all we tallied 140 species of birds, enjoyed huge spectacles of geese, cranes, and blackbirds, and found virtually every southwestern target bird we searched for.