EASTERN SAN MIGUEL COUNTY JULY 19, 2017
With it being midsummer, an "0 dark thirty" departure time was needed to beat the heat of eastern San Miguel a landscape of red sandstone mesas and mesquite desert grasslands. Descending Corazon Hill just east of Trujillo around sunrise, we paused below stunning cliffs and just above some juniper savannah habitat. Regular breeders such as Juniper Titmouse, Black-chinned Sparrow, and Scott's Oriole were all vocalizing. On a tip from another birder, I played Gray Vireo and a territorial bird immediately popped up toward the road. Soon another joined in. Pretty exciting to see a pair, presumably breeding, this far east in New Mexico.
The ensuing drive to Conchas Lake added some roadside species such as Lark Bunting, an irregular breeder in this part of the state, Greater Roadrunner, and many Cassin's Sparrows engaged in their rather feeble display flights. Their song, however, is one of the iconic sounds of this primarily mesquite habitat.
Arriving at Conchas Lake we proceeded directly to the extensive marsh along the Canadian River below the dam. Yellow-breasted Chats were calling from every direction. Both Virginia Rail and Sora responded from the dense cattails but our hoped for Least Bittern did not. From the canyon walls on both sides came the songs of Canyon and Rock Wrens as well as Rufous-crowned Sparrow. Early in our walk several male Painted Buntings made their presence known. Their song is oh so close to that of Blue Grosbeak which often shares its habitat. Having both species in the same field of view was a color barrage. Making one last play for Least Bittern I finally got a response. But not from the marsh. Instead, in desert willows immediately behind us, an aggressive Yellow-billed Cuckoo was looking for the source of the sound. Surprising habitat for that spe cies but a real treat, especially an eye level view of a species normally hard to see high up in dense canopy of cottonwoods. I had never stopped to think that the "cucu-cu-cu-cu-cu" call of the bittern somewhat resembles one of the cuckoo's calls.
With mid day upon us, and 95 degree heat and climbing, we headed back to Santa Fe. A Mississippi Kite preening in a dead tree along our departure road from the lake was a nice bow on the day.