Today's birding took us to Ruby Ranch along Sapello Creek just north of Las Vegas, Terrell Ranch located at 8,600' in the mountains west of town and the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, a short distance out on the great plains to the east. By late August the songbird migration is in full swing and we notice species such as Western Tanager, Green-tailed Towhee, and MacGillivray's Warbler draining out of the mountains along riparian corridors such as Sapello Creek on Ruby Ranch. Since the ranch is located on the east side of the Rockies, we sometimes find eastern birds such as the Black-and-white Warbler we encountered today. Waterbirds are a feature on the ranch which has two large playa lakes. On the smaller of the two, Lake David, we saw 4 active Clark's Grebe nests. This birds employ a risky strategy of piling grasses into a floating platform. They seem to wait until late summer to nest, perhaps to better guage the suitability of the lake level. Too low and ground predators can get at the nest-too high and even a moderate wind can create wave action that may tip the eggs out of the nest. The grebes are very attentive and we did not see a nest uncovered for more time than it took for the adults to change places. Leaving the ranch, we headed into the mountains, stopping in Ponderosa Pine habitat where a still singing Grace's Warbler caught my ear (quite late for that behavior). As my clients were from New York, they were delighted at the close up views of this striking bird. Grace's do not migrate using river valleys in New Mexico so one needs to venture higher to see them even in migration. An added bonus at this stop was a very quiet flock of Evening Grosbeaks resting in the ravine just below us. At the Terrell Ranch, we found some high altitude species such as Lincoln's Sparrow, Band-tailed Pigeon and Red Crossbill. A surprise for the elevation was a close up view of a migrating Cassin's Vireo. Late afternoon found us heading out on the plains to the refuge. Lark Buntings along the road told us there had been enough moisture this summer as, in some years, they are completely absent from eastern New Mexico. At the refuge, we watched White Pelicans doing their group feeding behavior where they form a line in the shallows and drive fish toward the shore. They stab their bills into the water in unison, which perhaps increases the chance for at least one member of the group to land a meal. Passing some recently planted fields, we saw numerous Swainson's Hawks scouring the ground for grasshoppers. The hawks are about to set off to Uruguay and Argentina and need to pack on some weight. Out last stop, at McAllister lake, rewarded us with a major flight of Wilson' Phalaropes (about 800), also on their way to South America. Plenty of inspiration for us to take home after a great day of fall birding.
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