CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT IN SANTA ROSA DEC. 20, 2018
The weather gods certainly smiled on us for count day-low wind, sunny, with highs approaching 60. Our team started in the cottonwood bosque along the Pecos River. A number of hard to find species such as Downy Woodpecker, White-throated Sparrow, and Winter Wren got our day off to a good start. We then headed north out of town and birded a drier, cholla (cactus) studded, Juniper savannah grassland. My hopes for both Cactus Wren (here at the northeast edge of its range) and Curve-billed Thrasher were realized rather quickly. Mountain Bluebirds (destined to becoming the most numerous species of our portion of the count circle) seemed to be the Christmas ornament on top of almost all the junipers. We were treated to some unexpected bonus birds as well: several Sage Thrashers, an irruptive species absent most years, and a female Pyrrhuloxia-only the second occurrence in the history of the count.
The bulk of our count responsibility was to survey Santa Rosa Lake. Aided by the Corps of Engineers Park Ranger Paul Sanchez (and the department's great boat!) we were able to thoroughly check the many miles of lake with all its numerous coves. Although the Bald Eagle show was great(8 adults and 3 sub-adults), the Common Merganser show was spectacular. Dense rafts of the birds would flush some distance from the boat and we were challenged with counting these fast flyers on the wing. With groups moving in all directions on the lake, we were conservative (to avoid double counting) and still came up with over 1,300 individuals. One wonders how many different breeding spots these birds represented.
We were also able to tally numerous wintering gulls, including three species mixed in with the hundreds of Ring-bills: Bonaparte's, Herring (not a common bird in NM), and California. A raft of 80 some Eared Grebes was a nice addition as well.
After returning to land, we had about two hours of daylight remaining to scout the pinyon/juniper habitats around the lake. Some regular denizens such as Juniper Titmouse, Woodhouse's Scrub Jay, and Townsend's Solitaire were present. Totally unexpected were the likes of Cassin's Finch, Fox (Slate-colored) Sparrow, and a far from the mountains flock of Evening Grosbeaks. The latter bird a first ever for the count. All in all, a very diverse and rewarding day while being diligent with our citizen science effort.