A perfect weather day enticed us to the east side of the Rockies, about an hour east of Santa Fe. Upon arriving at Ruby Ranch, a short distance north of Las Vegas, NM, we saw a shrike zoom across the entry road. Fortunately, it paused on a fence line giving us time to study the bird. Although an early arrival, the bird clearly turned out to be a Northern Shrike, a scarce winter visitor to the northern quarter of New Mexico. Heading into the bosque (woods) along the Sapello Creek, we found a mixed flock that included both Mountain and Black-capped Chickadees as well as a migrant Red-naped Sapsucker. Further up the creek we flushed 3 Barn Owls and a Great Horned.
We were then off to the two playa lakes on the ranch, both brimming with water from the massive September rains. With fall in full swing, thousands of waterfowl had arrived from points north. These stopovers on major migratory routes are valuable havens indeed. The first southbound Buffleheads had arrived and a lone male Wood Duck, a ranch first, seemed out of place here in this grassland prairie setting. In the old planted elm grove between the lakes, a Steller's Jay and Golden-crowned Kinglet seemed equally out of place. Both species are denizens of the nearby mountains and have been straying out onto the plains this fall.
Heading back to the ranch entrance we were treated to a Ferruginous Hawk soaring overhead with a Northern Harrier and a Cooper's Hawk sharing the same thermal. Near headquarters we found one Eastern Bluebird amid the dozens of Mountain Bluebirds hawking insects and our lone flycatcher of the day, an Eastern Phoebe-a species that winters in the state along both the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers.