Winter New Mexico Jan 07—13, 2015

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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At one moment there is total silence without a bird in sight. Then a distant twittering from above and suddenly the swirling flock descends towards the feeders. In a frenetic pace, the stunning pink-blushed birds feed as if they must consume every seed on the tray in a minute or less. Ginger-colored Brown-cappeds, gray-helmeted Hepburn’s, and charcoal-colored Blacks all feeding side by side just twenty feet in front of us. Then, as quickly as they appeared, they burst into flight, ascending into the skies in the direction from which they came. Once again all is silent. But now everyone is smiling. Our quest to see the rosy-finches on Sandia Crest is complete. In a grand finale to our Winter New Mexico tour, we tallied all four types from point-blank range.

Black Rosy-Finch, Sandia Crest, New Mexico

Black Rosy-Finch, Sandia Crest, New Mexico— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Of course, the Winter New Mexico trip is about so much more than just the rosy-finch spectacle. From El Paso to Albuquerque we scoured the Rio Grande Valley, locating over 150 species of birds. In the El Paso area we enjoyed such rarities as Cackling Goose, Greater Scaup side by side with Lesser just 10 feet away, a pair of White-tailed Kites, a county first Blue-throated Hummingbird, Lewis’s Woodpecker, a truly stunning male Vermilion Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird (the hardest of the three species to see in this area), and an overwintering pair of Hooded Orioles. More regular fare included a displaying male Hooded Merganser, Harris’s Hawk (10 in view at once!), Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Crissal and Curve-billed thrashers, and a thousand or more Yellow-headed Blackbirds among others.
 
Farther north in the vicinity of Las Cruces, we tallied a wealth of sparrows, including Rufous-crowned, Brewer’s, Lark Bunting, Black-throated (almost at our feet), Sagebrush, White-crowned (abundant), White-throated (rare), and Green-tailed, Canyon, and Spotted towhees. Roosting Great Horned Owls, three more Lewis’s Woodpeckers at one spot, Townsend’s Solitaire, and another Crissal Thrasher were among other area highlights.

Blue-throated Hummingbird, west El Paso

Blue-throated Hummingbird, west El Paso— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Continuing upriver, the Percha/Caballo region produced three more Ferruginous Hawks, a flock of over 2,000 Common Mergansers, a gorgeous Red-naped Sapsucker, a phoebe hat trick (with Eastern being the rarity), and numerous Western Bluebirds and Phainopeplas. Nearby Elephant Butte yielded 68 Mountain Bluebirds and 12 Sage Thrashers despite foggy conditions.
 
West of Socorro in Water Canyon, we found a Prairie Falcon and had quick looks at a Juniper Titmouse. Then it was on to famous Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. We had an afternoon and part of a morning to enjoy the riches of this wonderful place. A beautiful dawn flight of white geese (both Snow and Ross’s with an estimated 41,000 said to be wintering on the refuge), a very rare Tundra Swan, 13 Bald Eagles at one spot fighting over a goose carcass, a prairie Merlin, Sandhill Cranes everywhere, a tour first Northern Shrike, and Mountain Chickadees were among the more noteworthy.
 
Despite colder than usual conditions, we had one of our highest lists ever with 155 species seen. Lewis’s Woodpecker, Black Rosy-Finch, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch were voted the favorite birds of the tour by the group, but there were so many excellent choices. A superb trip all-around, and I haven’t even mentioned the Botta’s Pocket Gopher…