We set off early for the 1 hour 45 minute drive to Wheaton Creek Ranch, just west of Ocate, NM. This ranch has an impressive mix of habitats ranging from lush meadows to lake studded mesas. Although the lakes are the main feature of this ranch, there is fun birding to be had in other portions of the property. In a ponderosa/oak side canyon we were able to find a number of sought after southern Rockies species such as both Williamson's and Red-naped Sapsuckers, Virginia's and MacGillivray's Warblers, Townsend's Solitaire, and Hammond's Flycatcher. On our way up to the lakes, we skirted meadows with singing Vesper Sparrows and fence-line adorning Mountain Bluebirds. Despite recent dry conditions, the lakes hosted various breeding waterfowl including a number of Eared Grebes with their oh-so-optimistic nesting scheme of pond plant material heaped into a floating pod. A wonder of nature to be sure. Other surprising water birds (in a location surrounded by Ponderosa Pine) included Black-crowned Night Herons, 2 Ring-necked Ducks, Virginia Rails, and an early migrating Solitary Sandpiper.
Our afternoon journey south to Ruby Ranch, just north of Las Vegas (NM of course) took us through some impressive grasslands. Enroute, we were fortunate to glimpse a Prairie Falcon, a rare breeder in NM. Once on the ranch, we proceeded directly to Lake Isabel, the largest of two playa lakes on the property. Although only mid July, some shorebird migrants were taking advantage of this prime stopover. Stilt Sandpiper, Wilson's Phalarope, and Lesser Yellowlegs were already southbound scarcely three weeks after the solstice. The phalarope had a particularly far flung destination-high altitude playa lakes in the Andes! Waterfowl numbers were surprisingly high for summer with Canada Geese and Western Grebes being the most numerous.
Heading back off the ranch, we were surveyed by a pair of adult Bald Eagles that have been nesting on the ranch for several years-one of the few such locations in NM. In the same grove as the eagles, a pair of Lewis' Woodpeckers were present doing their very un-woodpecker like flycatching behavior. Before departing the ranch we spotted a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, a long running breeding presence on the ranch. This spot is the only one I know of in NM where the kingbird trinity-Eastern, Cassin's, and Western-occur at the same time in the breeding season. Nice spice to end the day.
Checklist for Wheaton Creek Ranch