Our survey of some of the most pristine private ranches in northeast New Mexico began with a visit to Los Trigos Ranch on the Pecos River near Rowe. The varied habitats on the ranch, which include cottonwood/riparian and pinyon/juniper hosted breeding regulars such as Black-throated Gray and Virginia's Warblers, Plumbeous and Warbling Vireos, and Cordilleran and Ash-throated Flycatchers. The adjacent cliffs are home to Canyon Wren and White-throated Swift. A notable surprise was a lingering Clark's Nutcracker, a bird much lower than it should be at this time of year.
We then drove southeast to Santa Rosa, lower down on the Pecos River. At Spirithaven Ranch we encountered a number of species scarce or absent around Santa Fe including Summer Tanager, Blue Grosbeak, Northern Cardinal, and Mississippi Kite.
Our night birding added vocal Great Horned and Western Screech Owls. The next morning we found the newly returned pair of Common Blackhawks, a species at the extreme northeast edge of its range. We watched the male, with a rodent dangling from its bill (a surprise as this species is known to prefer aquatic fare), make repeated attempts to offer the food to the female. In addition, since migration was still happening, we saw a male Indigo Bunting, Northern Waterthrush, and a singing Green-tailed Towhee.
Moving a great distance out on the plains to the northeast, we entered the short grass prairie region east of Roy. Numerous Lark Buntings, males already dapper in breeding plumage, were swirling along the fencelines. We were also graced with a flyover Ferruginous Hawk, a scarce breeder in northeast NM. Arriving at DeHaven Ranch, we were greeted not only by our gracious host, Stephanie Brock, but also by a pair of Eastern Phoebes, which had set up shop under one of the eaves of the main ranch house. Early the next morning, we were birding the Alamitos Creek that runs through the ranch. A first year male Orchard Oriole, a ranch first, was singing with great exuberance down by the creek. A most dazzling male Lazuli Bunting joined in the chorus. Other migrants of note included Olive-sided Flycatcher, Common Nighthawk, and a far north Summer Tanager. On the grassland portion of the ranch we encountered more Lark Buntings, several displaying Cassin's Sparrows, and a soaring Swainson's Hawk.
After lunch, we headed west toward Las Vegas, NM to visit our last ranch just north of town on Sapello Creek. On our way we stopped at the rim of Mills canyon and, despite a fierce wind, we able to call out a male Hepatic Tanager. Although Ruby Ranch does have a riparian corridor, the main feature is the two lakes north of Sapello Creek. On our way to the lakes, we were surveyed by a nesting pair of Bald Eagles, a rare event in NM. At the lakes we found some late waterfowl such as Canvasback and Common Merganser, as well as late Franklin's Gulls headed north to the prairie pothole country of the northern Great Plains. These amazing migrants winter on high altitude alkali lakes in the Andes in South American. Praise be! Several Forster's Terns, also destined for the same breeding grounds, put in an appearance. A nice icing on the migrant cake was a Baird's Sandpiper and 2 Stilt Sandpipers in breeeding plumage. The capper for our day, and the tour, was watching the aerial ballet of a Peregrine Falcon pursuing a Franklin's Gull for over 15 minutes. Although the falcon made numerous powerful dives, the gull was just able to avoid capture, sometimes by inches. Quite a thrilling display.