East Central New Mexico/ Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2011
With fall migration in full swing, a two day trip to the eastern part of the state showed the great diversity of New Mexico birding. Our first stop at the Santa Rosa sewage ponds beside the Pecos River revealed a lone shorebird but quite a rare one-juv. Red Phalarope. While most of its kind were migrating out at sea, this individual chose to head due south through the central part of the continent. As there are no records for this species in the Gulf of Mexico, we hope it finds its way to the Pacific Ocean. Continuing to Ft. Sumner, another town along the Pecos, we stopped at the first newly mowed hayfield we found and soon heard 3 Upland Sandpipers flying toward us. Largely a fall migrant in NM, these birds were headed to somewhere in the pampas of Uruguay or Argentina-no passport necessary! While still in Ft. Sumner, we headed to a marsh to look for a previously reported immature Tricolored Heron. Sure enough, the bird, with its' slender neck and rapier bill, was actively hunting in shallow water. This bird had wandered north from its' birthplace somewhere along the Texas coast. We ventured further out onto the plains to a renowned migrant trap near Melrose, NM. The cottonwood/poplar grove was alive with migrants, notably Wilson's and Yellow Warblers. Mixed in were some eastern strays including Black-throated Green Warbler, Blue-headed Vireo, a stunning adult male Black-throated Blue Warbler, and a flashy Prothonotary Warbler, fanning its tail continually as it foraged. Next we headed south to scorching (104 degrees) Roswell and Bitter Lake NWR. Shorebirds put up with some extreme conditons during migration but places to rest and feed can often be few and far between. Among the regulars such as Baird's and Western Sandpipers we spied a plover which turned out to be an American Golden molting from breeding to winter plumage, a rare treat in NM. As we left the refuge, we encountered a flock of Long-billed Curlews and were surprised to see 3 Whimbrels feeding alongside them. Great side by side contrast of these two cousins. As daylight was waning, we headed west, and higher up, into cooler Lincoln County. Camping at over 6,000' was a refreshing change from the heat along the Pecos. The next day found us in a totally different world. A Common Poorwill greeted us predawn, with its plaintive call and several bands of yipping coyotes provided a great vocal backdrop to a spectacular sunrise. As we headed down to the lush Rio Hondo, we stopped in a foothill canyon with lots of activity including Lazuli Buntings, Green-tailed Towhee, and a pair of Orchard Orioles. Completing our descent we were now in deciduous riparian habitat. Along the river, we quickly encountered Summer Ranager, Common Blackhawk, and a surprising Zone-tailed Hawk at the extreme northeast edge of its range. Further down the creek, an immature Bronzed Cowbird was hanging with its Brown-headed cousins. A Cassin's Vireo added a nice western migrant touch. We then headed up to the top of Monjeau Lookout, a cool respite at 9,600' from two days of lowland heat. Regular montane breeders such as Grace's and Virginia's Warblers and Western Tanager were still in attendance accompanied in most flocks by Townsend's Warblers heading south to the highlands of Mexico from the Pacific northwest. Another Zone-tailed Hawk, soaring above 9,000', was a nice exclamation point for our trip.