Saturday, February 21
Saturday morning Joan and I were up at 6:30 and out of the house by 7:30. We treated ourselves to a limo ride to LaGuardia airport—made sense because we are coming back to Newark.
Delta Airline flight to Cincinnati. We both enjoyed a hearty
breakfast of juice and three small cookies on the plane. Had a quick lunch at a
restaurant specializing in chili dishes at the airport and after an hour layover
boarded another Delta flight to Albuquerque. This time we were treated to a bag
of pretzels. It was cloudy for most of the trip, but at times we were able to
look down on some snow covered mountains. As we approached Albuquerque, we saw
the browns of the desert from the air.
After landing at a little after two (local time) in Albuquerque we picked up a rental car from Alamo-we were both surprised how quickly and smoothly this went. We headed south on Interstate 25 toward Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I had chosen this place for its wintering Sandhill Cranes. (I was not satisfied with the 2 we had seen in Cape Cod the previous weekend.)
The drive down was interesting—We drove past the Rio Grande where we saw some birds in the water but they were too far away to identify. Then on down the highway with lots of desert scrubby stuff alongside the road and mountains in the distance on both sides. I find this very attractive as I did when I first saw the desert in Arizona years ago.
My first bird of the trip was a Rock Pigeon (what most non birders simply call a pigeon). We saw some hawks and large black birds flying overhead but I couldn't identify the hawks and wasn't sure if the black birds were American Crows or one of the two species of ravens found here. We did stop and I did decide that (at least) some of them were American Crows. Heavy rains came for a while and made for some dramatic looking skies. Drove past some cattle and horses—we are in the West!
Came into the town of Socorro and made a short stop at a place mentioned in the New Mexico bird finding book on the campus of New Mexico Tech. Saw a White-winged Dove in a tree—then Joan noticed a whole bunch more in the same tree. Saw an immature White-crowned Sparrow and several mature ones. Very pretty birds. Then we saw a small bird fly into a bush and we both said "Verdin" at the same time. Very nice little bird. I finally saw my second American Robin of the year (this is why I came here???), and then a small flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. These are different than the ones we have back east (the Slate-colored subspecies). These were the Pink-sided race—soft brown with delicate pinkish sides. We added a Ruby-crowned Kinglet to the list and then walked over to some "ponds" which were connected to a golf course. The highlights here were a large number of American Wigeon and some exquisite Ring-necked Ducks. Best views we ever have had of the latter. We saw a woodpecker in a tree and I was able to tell it was a flicker—the Red-shafted subspecies found in the West. A short drive down a road produced a large flock of American Wigeon grazing on the land. It was rather cool here and Joan even wore gloves.
We then headed towards Bosque del Apache but decided to stop at the Owl Cafe in San Antonio which was recommended in the bird finding guide. Their specialty is a green chili cheeseburger with tomato and onions. Delicious. I asked what the local special beer was and was told "Bud." I opted for a Dos Equis instead.
We had hoped that there would be a motel near the refuge but was told that there were none. Although sunset was approaching, we decided to go towards the refuge anyhow just to see what we could see. On the drive down, we saw a Loggerhead Shrike, American Kestrel, and a Western Meadowlark perched on wires. Saw several more meadowlarks flying by.
We looked up and saw several large birds flying overhead just as we approached the beginning of the refuge. Then more and more of the Sandhill Cranes as we got a little further into the refuge. We pulled up by a small pool which had hundreds of the cranes in it as well as hundreds of Snow Geese (including several Blue Geese). There were a few Northern Pintails in the pool. All the while, more cranes and geese were flying in. Fantastic. We drove a little further down and stopped at another pool. Even more geese and cranes. We must have seen a thousand of each—And we were hardly into the refuge!!! I enjoyed watching the silhouettes of the cranes flying against the darkening sky and mountains. Joan noticed a pair of the cranes dancing—then others joined in. All this was accompanied by the constant bugling calls of the cranes and the humming of the geese. What a combination of sights and sounds.
It was getting dark so we headed back to Socorro to find a motel. Picked a Holiday Inn Express—rather nice and they had a hot tub!
Day 2—Bosque del
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