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Maxwell NWR, Stubblefield Lake, Wind River Ranch 12/01/09

NEW MEXICO BIRDING TRIPS Today we headed 2 hours northeast of Santa Fe beginning at Stubblefield Lake, a reservoir a few miles west of the town of Maxwell. Clear, cold (mid 20), windless, with the snow covered Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop. A mile or so south of Maxwell, we pulled over on the interstate to admire an adult Golden Eagle on a roadside pole. It seemed to ignore the truck traffic as it stared out at a large prairie dog colony. Several hundred yards to the north we passed the much larger female of this pair and watched as the bird sailed across the road. When we arrived at Stubblefield Lake, we had great lighting as one can only view the birds from the east side of the lake. Bufflehead and Lesser Scaup were the dominant species, with each numbering around 500. We sifted through the waterfowl for over an hour and finally had great looks at an adult male Barrow Goldeneye, a species that is regular only in the extreme northwest part of the state in winter. As a bonus we heard (and saw briefly) a calling Lapland Longspur as it flew across the lake to fields on the west side. As we headed to Maxwell NWR, a large falcon kept flying down a treeline. We finally eased the car underneath the bird and had crippling views (as a British birder friend would say) of this wintering Prairie Falcon. At the one lake on the refuge that still had water, we observed most of the same species (but lower numbers) as at Stubblefield. We saw a behavior that was new to me. A Ring-billed Gull kept harassing the feeding Common Goldeyes as they returned to the surface, trying to rob them of whatever they had brought up from below. My friend Jim then said look at all the Great Blue Herons. I scanned in the direction he was looking and saw a flock of about Sandhill Cranes. Turned out I was looking a bit farther than he was as, upon closer inspection, there were about 20 Great Blues in the taller grass in front of the cranes. So much for assumptions. Before we left the refuge we encountered a group of about 30 American Tree Sparrows, a hardy species that doesn't winter much further south than where we were. As we drove back south to Wind River Ranch, we were treated to great views of a Rough-legged Hawk on a roadside pole. This species, a tundra breeding specialist, seems to be declining in New Mexico in winter. On the side road in to Wind River, we stopped by a private ranch that has a large lake (unfortunately, a great distance off the road). We were able to spot a pair of Greater White-fronted Geese grazing with the hordes of Canada Geese. At Wind River itself, located in a spectacular canyon on the Mora River, birding was slow. We did spot a female Williamson Sapsucker, a species that has been showing up this fall in the foothills in higher than usual numbers. As we left the main gate of the Ranch a Northern Shrike flew in front of us and perched on a fence. Although initially scared off by a passing truck, we lured it back with tape to the same fenceline and had superb, close up views. The black mask on this specie barely comes up to the eye and this bird had very little black in the lores. There is also a white area that separates the mask from the gray head, being very prominent over the upper mandible. In fact, when this bird stared straight at us from close range, I thought for a moment I was looking at the face of a raccoon! A very exhilarating sunset capper on a great day of winter birding in New Mexico. Species of note: Common Loon, Clark Grebe, Greater White-fronted Goose, Barrow Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Rough-legged Hawk, Prairie Falcon, Williamson Sapsucker, Northern Shrike, American Tree Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Chestnut-collared Longspur

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