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Big Day -May 05, 2014

Our Big Day effort this year was fun and frustrating. Fun because we got to search for birds from 2:30am to 10:30pm-what's not to like about that? Frustrating because our carefully scouted starting strategy backfired on us and by 8:00am we were over an hour behind. Live and learn. Now on to the fun stuff. Near our overnight camping spot, the Elf Owls piped up beautifully to get our day rolling. The dawn chorus at a desert canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains produced the expected species(including the very melodic Scott's Oriole) with a bonus of White-throated Swifts launching off the top of the escarpment just after dawn. In the first two hours of desert and deciduous riparian birding we encountered great birds like Hooded and Orchard Orioles, Varied, Lazuli, Indigo, and Painted Buntings, Gray Hawk, and a totally surprising adult male Purple Martin cruising over a local pond. We headed north (albeit an hour behind schedule) and, at our last desert stop, found some missed birds from earlier-Pyrrhuloxia, Lesser Nighthawk, and Curve-billed Thrasher. Going through Carlsbad we picked up Inca Dove at a known location but missed Chimney Swift even though my co-counter hung out the car window listening the whole drive through town. After picking up Western and Clark's Grebes at a nearby lake, we were racing north to Roswell. The middle of the day centered around Bitter Lake NWR. Shorebirding there was better than average with Willet, Dunlin, Marbled Godwit, and Stilt Sandpiper all welcome additions. Unfortunately, the large flock of Long-billed Curlews with 1 Whimbrel that we had seen the afternoon before had moved on. Waterfowl diversity was about average but by some unexpected twist of birding fate, we were unable to find a Great Egret. The birding gods made up for that miss however by letting us stumble on a late American Bittern-first recording of that bird in eight runs on the same Big Day route. Great to see the bittern fly and short distance and immediately point it's bill skyward after landing in the reeds. I felt sorry for it panting in the 98 degree heat! Savannah and Clay-colored Sparrows were good additions before we headed bay through town and found Burrowing Owl and Mississippi Kite. The last third of the count takes place in higher elevations around Ruidoso. Our lack of time and moderate winds limited our finds as we recorded only about 2/3 of our pine forest breeding birds. We ran out of light, grabbed some dinner and then went back out for the rest of our night birding. Not only did we find Mexican Whip-poor-will, but all three area owls as well-Spotted, Flammulated, and Northern Saw-whet-giving us a record 8 species of owls for the day. Another adrenalin and memory-filled Big Day came to an end as we set up camp and collapsed into our sleeping bags at about 11:45pm

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