RANCHES OF NORTHERN NEW MEXICO MAY 13-16,2019
Heading east from Santa Fe the morning of May 13, we birded Los Trigos Ranch on the Pecos River. Los Trigos has an unspoiled riparian corridor amid mudstone cliffs. It is home to an interesting mix of breeding birds and migrants. We encountered species setting up territories including White-throated Swift, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Black Phoebe, Canyon Wren, Plumbeous Vireo, Black-headed Grosbeak, Virginia's Warbler, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat. Being mid-May, there were migrants passing through such as Western Tanager, MacGillivray's Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, and a first for the ranch, Rose-breasted Grosbeak. A female Common Merganser seemed late for the date but made me wonder if it might stick around to breed.
After a mid day drive to Santa Rosa, further southeast on the Pecos River, we arrived at Spirithaven Ranch. Late afternoon rewarded us with several raptors including Common Blackhawk, actively breeding on the ranch, and a group of Mississippi Kites, here at their northwest most location in New Mexico. Watching these graceful birds catch cicadas and grasshoppers on the wing is a treat indeed. Nearing dusk, the year's first Common Nighthawks were foraging over the river. After dark, we were able to call up a local pair of Western Screech Owls. All the while, Common Poorwills were calling from the cliffs above our ranch bunkhouses. A vocal Black-crowned Night Heron down by the river was a ranch first.
Our full day in the Santa Rosa area was split between the ranch and the trout hatchery a short distance to the north. On the ranch we viewed regular breeders such as Wild Turkey, Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, and Northern Cardinal (also at the northwest limit of its NM range). Migrants of note included Indigo Bunting, Eastern Phoebe and yet another Rose-breasted Grosbeak (perhaps an NM breeder someday?). We saw adult Common Blackhawk carrying food to the nest, making me hopeful a next generation would make it to flight stage. Our time at the fish hatchery ponds produced late Lesser Scaup and Ring-necked Duck, Green Heron, an Osprey, and three migrating Lazuli Buntings.
On Wednesday, we headed north to the Las Vegas area with our main stop being Ruby Ranch, just north of town. The ranch's lakes are always the highlight of any visit and today was no exception. Besides a mix of waterfowl which included Clark's Grebe and many Eared Grebes in stunning breeding plumage, we had quite a gull and tern show. Several Forster's Terns were quickly trumped by the largest flock of Black Terns I have seen in New Mexico. 50-60 Black Terns were hawking insects over Lake David as a group. Their aerial gyrations were a sight to behold. Amid the terns were several late Franklin's Gulls, some with pinkish bellies, indicating their brine shrimp heavy diet on alkali lakes while wintering in the Andes of South America. Both these species share a common breeding ground of the prairie provinces of the northern Great Plains. Looks like they travel together as well.
Late afternoon we arrived at Buena Vista Ranch on the Mora River near La Cueva. We had daylight enough to scan Rhiner Lake where another migrating Osprey seemed a bit out of place but was topped by a Snowy Egret, an unusual sighting for Mora County. Tree Swallows were among the throng of swallows and might possibly stay to breed in this location. The Great Blue Heron rookery on the west ranch boundary was well populated, with 16 nests active.
Our last birding day was all on Buena Vista. Notable breeders included several groups of Lewis' Woodpeckers, a declining species in northern NM, Downy Woodpecker, Gray Catbird, a species colonizing eastern NM over the past two decades, Black-billed Magpie, Mountain Bluebird, Vesper Sparrow, and Cordilleran Flycatcher. Migrants included many Western Tanagers, Red-naped Sapsucker, Dusky Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee, and Evening Grosbeak. Our tally of 70 species while on the ranch indicates its value to a broad spectrum of species.