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New Mexico Big Day

BIG DAY COUNT: EDDY, CHAVES AND LINCOLN COUNTIES, NEW MEXICO MAY 03, 2011 Another spring, another crazy Big Day count. With two friends that I have birded with in Mexico, Costa Rica and Ecuador, we woke at 2:30, packed up camp, and hit the road by 3:15am. While we were putting our gear in the 4-Runner, we heard the local Elf Owl, here at the extreme northeast edge of its range. Heading to a marsh on the Pecos River near Carlsbad, we picked up a calling Least Bittern as well as a Marsh Wren chattering in the reeds-a bonus bird for this late date. On our way to Rattlesnake Springs, a riparian oasis surrounded by the Chihuahuan desert, we heard a trilling Lesser Nighthawk. A late cold front had us, and the birds, severely chilled in the pre-dawn light. The dawn chorus was barely a whimper and a number of species we expected to tick by ear remained silent. Once the sun was up, we found regulars such as Orchard Oriole, Painted Bunting, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Gray Hawk (also at the northeast extent of its range). New records for our cumulative Big Day counts included Swainson Thrush and Eastern Bluebird-already feeding fledglings. We raced on to Walnut Canyon for desert species such as Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Scott Oriole. Though we missed a Gray Vireo scouted the day before, we had another count first-an early Varied Bunting. At the Pecos River near Carlsbad, we began picking up waterfowl, herons, and shorebirds. Curve-billed Thrasher, Scaled Quail, and Pyrrhuloxia were good finds in the desert nearby but we missed Harris Hawk for the first time. Moving through Carlsbad, we lucked out by finding Chimney Swift and a lone Cave Swallow in the masses of swallows foraging over the Pecos. The lakes north of town lengthened our waterbird list and close inspection of shorebirds revealed a Semipalmated Sandpiper, a scarce migrant in New Mexico. Next, we blitzed to Roswell, already over an hour behind schedule. Our run through the Bitter Lake NWR was made in record time with many quality additions such as Stilt Sandpiper, Franklin Gull, Willet, and a late Snow Goose. As we were trying to make up time, we bolted west toward the mountains of Lincoln County but we picked up several Mississippi Kites before leaving Roswell. The clock was definitely ticking for us as we entered Lincoln County. Quickly, we recorded Common Blackhawk at a nest as well as the usual pinyon/juniper birds such as W. Scrub Jay, Gray Flycatcher, and Juniper Titmouse. As we transitioned to higher elevations, we found very local breeders such as Eastern Meadowlark, Mountain Bluebird and Vesper Sparrow. When we arrived in the mountains we paid the price for our tardiness as the cold temperatures had already suppressed the bird activity. Though we added mountain regulars such as Acorn Woodpecker, Band-tailed Pigeon and Spotted Owl, we knew we were short of breaking our 2009 record of 202. A final total of 183 was respectable, given the weather cards we were dealt.

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