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A happy group we were, as we stood vigil overlooking the Rio Grande at the end of our week exploring the Land of Enchantment. It was another in a long line of breathtaking landscapes that followed us through the week. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
The Land of Enchantment is an entirely appropriate name for New Mexico, and for a good many reasons. The most obvious reason is the litany of jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring, breathtaking, spectacular, and “insert-any other superlative” landscapes. From the endless native grasslands to the high desert habitat that flourishes in the mountain canyons, to the impressive mountains themselves, standing sentinel, shoes covered in pinyon-juniper slopes, and robed in bands of ponderosa pine ascending to spruce and fir, over the landscape. From the starkly-cut mesas, with partially frozen waterfalls careening down over their edges in some places, to the mighty Rio Grande, the state’s beating heart, which manifests as its most crucial artery, running New Mexico’s distance from north to south. Anywhere you go in New Mexico, you’re liable to say “wow, look at that!” The enchantment doesn’t end there though, what with a richly fascinating (and old) culture, enchanting architecture that fits perfectly into its enchanted landscape, a unique and exciting culinary tradition and, of course, a fine collection of birds.
Our exploration of the state began in its heart: Albuquerque. We kicked off with a nice round of New Mexican food at a long time local mainstay, and then got down to the business of birding. Our first day saw us cover a great variety of habitat, from the desert mesa all the way up to the highest conifer-laden peak, and from such desert icons as Prairie Falcon, Sagebrush Sparrow, and Rock Wren, to the high mountain specialist Rosy-Finches, and taking a detour to the mid-elevations and Pinyon-Juniper habitats, where hordes of Red-breasted Nuthatches and a pair of Mountain Bluebirds showed well. The next day was the beginning of our trek to the south, but the day wouldn’t be one lost to travel- we punctuated our miles with some excellent sightings along the way. The cold desert landscape at Embudito Canyon gave way to the agricultural landscape of the Estancia Valley, complete with a flock of 150 or more Chihuahuan Ravens, a herd of 52 (!!) Pronghorn, and we began to see good numbers of Ferruginous Hawks. As we made our way west and through some excellent native grassland the Ferruginous Hawk parade continued, and we were also treated to looks at Loggerhead Shrike and Prairie Falcon, with our best views of the latter for the tour coming right alongside the road. We ended the day watching hundreds of Sandhill Cranes fly in to roost and settle in for the night on a pond, amid a mix of bugling and squeaking (the immature cranes have a very different call than the well-known typical adult bugle).
Our exploration of the lands south of Bosque del Apache took us down to Elephant Butte Reservoir (at one point the largest man-made irrigation reservoir), and even south of Caballo Lake. Clark’s Grebes side-by-side with their Western Grebe counterparts, a nice comparison of gulls including an adult Mew Gull, a nice experience with the charismatic Bridled Titmouse (it just sneaks over the border from Arizona into New Mexico) and Acorn Woodpeckers, and a jaw-dropping episode with over a thousand Yellow-headed Blackbirds mixed in with large numbers of European Starlings and other icterids were some of the highlights. The blackbirds provided bright yellow ornamentation as if they were decorating Christmas trees and when they would take part in the wheeling flocks of birds foraging in the fields they added the spice of yellow heads and white wing flashes amidst the otherwise black murmurations. We finished off the day with a thrasher hat trick, seeing Crissal, Sage, and Curve-billed Thrasher all within a tiny span of time and space, before spending another cloud-obscured sunset watching the cranes come in at the Bosque.
We finished off our southern birding around the Bosque del Apache NWR. We started with a dawn vigil where we bore witness to an excellent spectacle of Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese exploding into flight, and then visited the visitor’s center’s feeders before taking a spin through the auto loop on the refuge. After a lovely and efficient lunch in Socorro we made our way north towards the state capitol of Santa Fe, en route seeing another Prairie Falcon, enjoying a nice comparison of Cackling and Canada Geese, and having a memorable encounter with a couple of Air Force cargo planes and helicopters participating in mid-air refueling drills over the desert. We ended this varied day with another dive into some excellent classic New Mexican cuisine at a stalwart of Santa Fe’s local food scene.
The final two days were spent birding around the “Atomic City” of Los Alamos, exploring a bit of Santa Fe’s museum-and-arts-rich culture, and then working our way down through Albuquerque. We had a magical morning in Los Alamos surrounded by Townsend’s Solitaires and Red Crossbills, with Juniper Titmice, Cassin’s Finches, Evening Grosbeaks, and Pygmy Nuthatch keeping us company in turn, and finally getting an exclamation point in the form of a boldly-patterned male Williamson’s Sapsucker! Albuquerque produced a fine variety of waterfowl arrayed in their breeding finery at absurdly close range, a flock of Neotropic Cormorants with one of their Double-crested cousins looking very out of place in the midst of its dwarfed congeners, and a continuing local rarity in the form of an American Dipper, which delighted us with the antics that you can only get from a dipper!
It was a splendid week exploring this landscape that I have come to love so much, and it was made all the better by the company of not just the birds but all of you who accompanied me. Thanks for helping to fill this week with much enchantment indeed, and here’s to our next encounter somewhere on this bird-laden planet of ours!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Another spectacular location was the legendary-to-birders Sandia Crest, where in addition to this commanding view of Albuquerque, the high desert, and the rest of this isolated mountain range, we also saw a pile of Rosy-finches! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)
ROSS'S GOOSE (Anser rossii)
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons)
CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)
WOOD DUCK (Aix sponsa)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)
When the Rosy-finch flocks swirled in like tornadoes full of birds and set upon the feeders, we were treated to an impressive show of frantic gluttony, as they seemingly raced to eat as much food as they could in their short bouts of feeding, without regard to any other concerns. Here, Paul Beerman captured four different taxa of rosy-finches: Black Rosy-Finch, both the typical and Hepburn’s Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, and at least one Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (a USA endemic). Photo by participant Paul Beerman.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos platyrhynchos)
MALLARD X MEXICAN DUCK (HYBRID) (Anas platyrhynchos x Anas diazi)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
RUDDY DUCK (Oxyura jamaicensis)
In the evenings, the main joy around Bosque del Apache is watching (and listening to!) the Sandhill Cranes as they glide into their evening roosts, landing gear down. The roosts are typically in water that is deep enough so that they don’t need to worry about nocturnal predators such as Coyotes sneaking up at them in the night. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Odontophoridae (New World Quail)
GAMBEL'S QUAIL (Callipepla gambelii)
PIED-BILLED GREBE (Podilymbus podiceps)
WESTERN GREBE (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
CLARK'S GREBE (Aechmophorus clarkii)
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE (Streptopelia decaocto) [I]
WHITE-WINGED DOVE (Zenaida asiatica)
MOURNING DOVE (Zenaida macroura)
GREATER ROADRUNNER (Geococcyx californianus)
From swirling Rosy-finches to bugling cranes, and singing thrashers to dipping dippers, our exploration of New Mexico was a blast. Let this video take you back through some of the highlight moments! Video clips by participant Marie Jordan and guide Doug Gochfeld.
Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)
AMERICAN COOT (Fulica americana)
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
KILLDEER (Charadrius vociferus)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
MEW GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus canus brachyrhynchus)
RING-BILLED GULL (Larus delawarensis)
HERRING GULL (Larus argentatus)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
NEOTROPIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
We were already enjoying a fantastic morning excursion around Los Alamos when this gorgeous male Williamson’s Sapsucker broke onto the scene to steal the show from the crossbills, solitaires, grosbeaks, and finches that had previously been the objects of our adulation. Photo by participant Paul Beerman.
AMERICAN WHITE PELICAN (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos)
Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)
GREAT BLUE HERON (Ardea herodias)
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
COOPER'S HAWK (Accipiter cooperii)
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
FERRUGINOUS HAWK (Buteo regalis)
Here the group, standing in some fabulous high desert habitat, watches for movement that never ended up coming from a sneaky Crissal Thrasher that somehow slipped away from us after we thought we were zeroing in on it. Luckily we would have a couple of excellent experiences with Crissal Thrasher over the next couple of days, and we also got to spend a bit more time in this great habitat. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
WILLIAMSON'S SAPSUCKER (Sphyrapicus thyroideus)
ACORN WOODPECKER (Melanerpes formicivorus)
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
LADDER-BACKED WOODPECKER (Dryobates scalaris)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)
NORTHERN FLICKER (RED-SHAFTED) (Colaptes auratus cafer)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
AMERICAN KESTREL (Falco sparverius)
Perhaps the sharpest-looking of the North American ducks is Wood Duck, and we had these dapper males nearly at our feet on our final afternoon! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
MERLIN (PRAIRIE) (Falco columbarius richardsonii)
PRAIRIE FALCON (Falco mexicanus)
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
BLACK PHOEBE (Sayornis nigricans)
SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)
LOGGERHEAD SHRIKE (Lanius ludovicianus)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)
WOODHOUSE'S SCRUB-JAY (WOODHOUSE'S) (Aphelocoma woodhouseii nevadae)
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Steller’s Jays evoke thoughts of the conifer forests of the American West like few other animals, and we got to see them in their idyllic home settings multiple times! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
CHIHUAHUAN RAVEN (Corvus cryptoleucus)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
MOUNTAIN CHICKADEE (Poecile gambeli)
BRIDLED TITMOUSE (Baeolophus wollweberi vandevenderi)
JUNIPER TITMOUSE (Baeolophus ridgwayi)
Titmice and chickadees aren’t often headliner species, but when it comes to Bridled Titmouse, that paradigm is upended. We had a great experience with a small group of these on our day heading to Elephant Butte Reservoir and points south- they only sneak into New Mexico in a couple of creek canyons that wend their way across the state line out of mountains which are situated mostly in Arizona. Photo by participant Paul Beerman.
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)
Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)
BUSHTIT (INTERIOR) (Psaltriparus minimus plumbeus)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)
WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (INTERIOR WEST) (Sitta carolinensis nelsoni)
PYGMY NUTHATCH (Sitta pygmaea)
Cliff and Lise were all smiles as we soaked in our final views of the distinctive pinyon-juniper habitat that dominated the landscape around the broad Rio Grande at White Rock. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
ROCK WREN (Salpinctes obsoletus)
MARSH WREN (Cistothorus palustris)
BEWICK'S WREN (Thryomanes bewickii)
AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Mimidae (Mockingbirds and Thrashers)
CURVE-BILLED THRASHER (Toxostoma curvirostre)
CRISSAL THRASHER (Toxostoma crissale)
SAGE THRASHER (Oreoscoptes montanus)
There are few birds in North America that can claim to be anything close to Mountain Bluebird blue. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
WESTERN BLUEBIRD (Sialia mexicana)
MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD (Sialia currucoides)
TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE (Myadestes townsendi)
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
CEDAR WAXWING (Bombycilla cedrorum)
PHAINOPEPLA (Phainopepla nitens)
Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)
HOUSE SPARROW (Passer domesticus) [I]
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
EVENING GROSBEAK (Coccothraustes vespertinus)
GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (HEPBURN'S) (Leucosticte tephrocotis littoralis)
GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (GRAY-CROWNED) (Leucosticte tephrocotis tephrocotis)
BLACK ROSY-FINCH (Leucosticte atrata)
BROWN-CAPPED ROSY-FINCH (Leucosticte australis)
HOUSE FINCH (Haemorhous mexicanus)
We encountered the meep-meep bird three times over the course of two days of birding around BdA and points south of Elephant Butte, and each individual allowed for a nice experience, which isn’t always the case with these suspicious and fleet-of-foot ground cuckoos. This male Greater Roadrunner was photographed ably by participant Paul Beerman.
CASSIN'S FINCH (Haemorhous cassinii)
RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
LESSER GOLDFINCH (Spinus psaltria)
AMERICAN GOLDFINCH (Spinus tristis)
Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (OREGON) (Junco hyemalis montanus)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (PINK-SIDED) (Junco hyemalis mearnsi)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (GRAY-HEADED) (Junco hyemalis caniceps)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)
“Beware of chollas” we say, as we pick our way through the deserts of the southwest. Meanwhile, the chollas look like exactly the kind of thing you need more of, if you’re a Ladder-backed Woodpecker (or two) poking around for a morning meal. Photo by participant Paul Beerman.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW (Zonotrichia albicollis)
SAGEBRUSH SPARROW (Artemisiospiza nevadensis)
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)
CANYON TOWHEE (Melozone fusca)
RUFOUS-CROWNED SPARROW (Aimophila ruficeps)
SPOTTED TOWHEE (Pipilo maculatus)
Another view of enchantment, this time looking down from Los Alamos across the valley at the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo Mountains north of Santa Fe! Photo by participant Marie Jordan.
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRD (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus)
WESTERN MEADOWLARK (Sturnella neglecta)
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD (Molothrus ater)
BREWER'S BLACKBIRD (Euphagus cyanocephalus)
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) X YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (INTERGRADE) (Setophaga coronata coronata x Setophaga coronata auduboni)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (AUDUBON'S) (Setophaga coronata auduboni)
Cardinalidae (Cardinals and Allies)
PYRRHULOXIA (Cardinalis sinuatus)
On our final morning at Bosque del Apache we arrived at the refuge ponds in the hopes of an impressive spectacle of white geese. Upon our arrival there were virtually no white geese mixed into the hundreds of very close cranes, but a little while into our stay, we heard a distant din of honking, and looked into the distance to see several thousand white geese approaching our position. As they got closer their appearance changed from distant flickering dots to battalions of Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese (seen here) descending upon the pond in a rush of wings and a clamor of honks. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
EASTERN COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus floridanus)
DESERT COTTONTAIL (Sylvilagus audubonii)
BLACK-TAILED JACKRABBIT (Lepus californicus)
CLIFF CHIPMUNK (Tamias dorsalis)
ROCK SQUIRREL (Spermophilus variegatus)
ABERT'S SQUIRREL (Sciurus aberti)
RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
COYOTE (Canis latrans)
NORTHERN RACCOON (Procyon lotor)
MULE DEER (Odocoileus hemionus)
Sunset over hundreds of cranes at Bosque del Apache, with coyotes calling in the distance. What a great way to spend an evening! Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
PRONGHORN (Antilocapra americana)
Totals for the tour: 125 bird taxa and 11 mammal taxa