San Miguel County, August 18, 2015
We headed east to the eastern slope of the southern Rockies in San Miguel County. As migration is already well underway, I was curious as to what would be moving. At a private ranch north of Las Vegas, we found a nice group of migrants in a grove of Gooding's Willow along Sapello Creek. The warbler show included regulars such as Wilson's, Yellow, Virginia's, and MacGillivray's, as well as far less often encountered species such as Nashville and Townsend's Warblers, two American Redstarts, and a Northern Waterthrush-the last species actually bursting into song for us! Along the same drainage we found a pair of Solitary Sandpipers, a species that I don't seem to run into very much. In a nearby decadent cottonwood grove, we noticed a pair of Lewis' Woodpeckers-a declining species in northern NM and one that I hadn't seen on the ranch for 10 years.
At the large lake on the ranch there were hundreds of waterfowl, including Clark's and Western Grebes as well as some Eared Grebes still in breeding plumage. This particular lake almost dried up just a year ago.
Heading further out on the plains we took a side road through some prairie habitat. Clouds of Lark Buntings were joined by myriads of Chipping and Lark Sparrows plus a few early Clay-colored. An early Sage Thrasher was an unexpected treat. We were checking all the playas (depressions in the grasslands that can fill with water). We finally found one, Laguna Huerfana, that was loaded with shorebirds. Some of the Avocets may have been local breeders but the remainder, including both yellowlegs, Baird's, Western, and Stilt Sandpipers, and flocks of Wilson's Phalaropes, were all southbound migrants. One wonders how these wetland-dependent species fare in years when these playas are dry.