Friday, June 19, 2009

May Birding Adventures

Well, I’ve developed a nasty birding habit and I’m told if I don’t knock it off that I will soon be single. We’ll see, I suspect I can convert Aubrey.

Mescalero Sands
Well it’s early May and its migration time here in the West. The reports I’ve read on BirdMail suggest northern Florida and southern Alabama are having a good year.

While working down in the Oil Fields I decided to see what I could find at Rattlesnake Springs in southern Eddy County. So after 8 long days in the field digging trenches by hand we finished trap installation and opened the traps. We then decided to drive the hour down to Carlsbad to get a shower and plate of food sans a side of dust. The next morning we awoke before dark, drove the half hour to the site, arriving at daybreak to a cacophony of birdcalls and a visual feast.

Here is what we found in a few hours:

Say’s Phoebe
Barn Swallow
Eurasian Collared Dove
Wild Turkey
Blue Grosbeak
Cassin’s Kingbird
Green Heron
Vermillion Flycatcher
Wilson’s Warbler
Yellow-breasted Chat
*Plumbeous Vireo
Rose-Breasted Grosbeak
Western Tanager
Swainson’s Hawk
*Townsend’s Warbler
*MacGillivray’s Warbler
Prairie Falcon
Northern Cardinal
Turkey Vulture
*Black-headed Grosbeak
House Finch
White-winged Dove
Yellow-rumped warbler
Orchard Oriole
Summer Tanager
Hummingbird sp.
Western Kingbird
Northern Mockingbird
Amercian Goldfinch
*Mexican Cave Swallow
Bronzed Cowbird?
Great Egret
Belted Kingfisher
*Painted Bunting
Swamp Sparrow
Chipping Sparrow
Great Horned Owl

We went back a few days later to RS and nearby Camp Washington Ranch and here is what we added to the list:

Blue-winged teal
Indigo Bunting
Hermit Thrush
Blue Grosbeak
Northern Waterthrush
Common Nighthawk
Ladder-backed woodpecker
*Cassin’s Vireo
Black and White Warbler
*Virginia’s Warbler
Black Phoebe
White-crowned sparrow
Red-winged blackbird
*Zone-tailed hawk- atop a Mulberry tree as we were exiting.

A total of 52 species in a few hours at one locality. While not a record breaker, I was pretty damn happy having seen quite a few eastern species at the edge of their range and a number of life birds (*). If I could bird by ear and we had taken time to explore some the desert areas adjacent to the springs we probably could have pumped up the list, but a rookie has to start somewhere.

SW New Mexico, Gila NF, and surrounding areas
In late May, Aubrey and I participated in a 2-day workshop pertaining to the Endangered Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Rana chiricahuensis) in Silver City, NM. During the workshop, we found a few of the CLF along with a dead Bald Eagle face down in a large debris pile. It looked to me as if someone shot and tried to hide the bird. USFWS personnel were present but didn’t seem to be upset or bothered by it.

On Friday, after the workshop ended, we decided to head ~ 20 miles north to camp in McMillan Campground along Cherry Creek in the Gila NF, north of the ghost mining town, Pinos Altos. My immediate impression was favorable as we entered a beautiful forest of pine trees and ascended in elevation. The campground was beautiful and limited to 3 spots. We set up camp and immediately took off to explore the woods and boulders. We spent a few days in the area alternating between bumming, birding, and scampering around.

Here is the bird list we generated:

Hermit Thrush (their beautiful melodious call echoes throughout the mountains and we were serenaded by them our entire time there)
Violet-winged Swallow
*Mexican Spotted Owl (call only)
*Cordillerean Flycatcher
*Grace’s Warbler
*Red faced Warbler (Probably the most abundant bird present)
*Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Spotted Towhee
Mountain Chickadee
*Painted Redstart
Chihuahuan Raven
Turkey Vulture
Hairy Woodpecker
Stellar’s Jay
House Wren
Pygmy Nuthatch
American Robin
*Dark-eyed Junco (Grey head form)

On Sunday, we decided to check out the Catwalk, a National Recreation Trail along Whitewater Creek, where it is possible to find American Dippers.

The birding highlights included:

*Yellow Warbler
*Acorn Woodpecker
*Willow Flycatcher
*Bridled Titmouse
*American Dipper
Canyon wren

We also found a few Clark’s Spiny Lizards, ornate tree lizards, golden columbines on a rock face above the creek, and a narrow-headed garter snake.

Before turning onto the main highway, we ducked into the Glenwood Fish Hatchery to see if I could find a nesting Common Black Hawk. I inquired at the office, and a gentlemen pointed me in the right direction. However, a nasty storm was rapidly approaching and I didn’t want to get caught out in the mess, so I waited in the car for a few minutes to see if would pass. It wasn’t looking promising, but about this time a large darkly colored bird took flight out of the trees. I stepped out of the car and sure enough, a beautiful Common Black Hawk. Shortly after lowering my binos, a raptor came swooping in front of me after a bird and quickly disappeared out of sight. My initial guess was either a Merlin or Peregrine Falcon but the bird did not reappear so we started the car and got back on the main road when the sky opened up and the hail began to rain down.

Throughout the day we stopped to bird a little here and there. We turned up the following species throughout the day, giving us a total of nearly 40 species for the day including a few species at Cherry Creek.

Scrub Jay
Vermillion Flycatcher
Gambel’s Quail
Red-tailed Hawk
Violet Green Swallow
Great Blue Heron
Mourning Dove
Turkey Vulture
House Finch
American Goldfinch
American Robin
Northern Cardinal
Stellar’s Jay
European Starling
Black-headed Grosbeak
American Kestrel
Red-winged Blackbird
Cinnamon Teal
American Coot
Loggerhead Shrike
White-breated nuthatch
Western Bluebird
Pinyon Jay
Vesper Sparrow

After thinking several times throughout the day about kingsnakes, I found a nice desert kingsnake in our yard in Bosque Farms underneath a coverboard. Overall a great trip.