The ritual of a "Big Day" is a bizarre, borderline masochistic ritual-one that is impossible to explain to a non-birder. This year, our team opted for a new starting spot that would let us "sleep in" until 3:30 am (normally we are up at 2 am). We hiked in darkness to our first destination-a canyon mouth on the south side of the Guadalupe Mts. within shouting distance of the Texas border. With most of our desert species recorded by ear well before sunrise (and even a surprise Peregrine screeching in the darkness from the cliffs high above us) we headed for the oasis of Rattlesnake Springs. On the way we had a nice look at a stunning male Varied Bunting. Once at the springs, we quickly completed the bunting "grand slam" with great looks at Indigo, Lazuli and the unforgettable Painted. Although we recorded most of the other regulars at the springs (including the now annual Gray Hawk), we missed out on unusual migrants save for a lone northbound Northern Waterthrush. Heading to the lakes north of Carlsbad we encountered somewhat meager waterfowl and shorebird diversity but did have some highlights with the likes of Harris' Hawk, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, and a late Long-billed Curlew. Pressing north to Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Roswell, we did well with waterfowl species normally long gone such as Lesser Scaup, Canvasback, and Northern Pintail. The star of the show, however, was an adult Little Blue Heron-first I have seen in NM for 10 years. After collecting some odds and ends in Roswell such as Mississippi Kite and Burrowing Owl, we headed west to the mountains of Lincoln County. A Common Blackhawk was airborne near San Patricio, a Black-chinned Sparrow was singing on Stanton Mesa, and our first (in six counts) Black-throated Gray Warbler showed well in nearby Elk Valley. Moving quickly to higher elevations, we found almost all the mid and high elevation species such as Pygmy Nuthatch, Grace's Warbler, Virginia's Warbler and Golden-crowned Kinglet-the latter at over 9,500' near the ski basin. At dusk and into the first hour of darkness, we added a suite of nightbirds-Spotted Owl, N. Saw-whet Owl, Flammulated Owl, Western Screech Owl and Mexican Whip-poor-will. Our final total of 190 species was our 2nd highest in six years of doing the southeast New Mexico route.
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