Sunday, February 22–Part 1
Joan and I were up at 5 and out soon after. Breakfast at a local restaurant. Both of us had their version of Huevos Rancheros. The waitress asked us if we wanted it with green or red chilies. We asked her what the difference was and she said she didn't know. Joan ordered the green, and in order to determine the difference, I asked for the red. Turns out the only difference in this restaurant was the color.
We then drove to the Bosque del Apache Refuge for the morning show and arrived there at 6:15. We stopped at one of the pools and saw lots of the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese in the water. It was rather cold out (temperature was probably about 30 degrees). Joan was dressed fairly warmly and I was not. I was a wee bit chilled. Joan looked at one of the darker geese and thought it might it have been a dark phase Ross's Goose; I was pretty sure it was just a Blue Goose. Anyhow, I scanned the flock with my binoculars and thought some of the white ones might be Ross's Geese so, went back to the car for my scope and in the dim early morning light scanned the flock. Sure enough some of them did not have grinning patches and had smaller bills indicating they were indeed Ross's Geese. A lifer for me! In fact, number 500 in the ABA region. Other birds in the pool were Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers.
We stayed a while and watched as the Sandhill Cranes took off. A few at a time. Beautiful, graceful birds. The Snow Geese remained for a while and then took off in larger flocks. Thrilling to watch both species in flight.
We drove towards the visitors' center and along the way saw Western Meadowlarks, Green-winged Teal. Red-winged Blackbirds, and a Red-tailed Hawk. We walked around the grounds outside the center and picked up House Finch, White-breasted Nuthatch, and American Goldfinch as trip birds. Joan saw a Pyrrhuloxia which I missed but we both saw Say's Phoebe and Gambel's Quail. The latter was a must see bird for Joan —its top knot feather is just great. We walked through a cactus garden there which had samples of the plants that grow in the Chihuahan Desert. We also saw Dark-eyed Juncos; both the Slate-colored form that we are accustomed to in the East and also the Oregon form.
We went to a window inside the center where we could watch a lot of the ground feeding birds. Sounds from the outside were piped into the center by a microphone. There we saw more White-crowned Sparrows than I had seen in my life. Lots of White-winged Doves, Red-winged Blackbirds there also. And I did get my trip Pyrrhuloxia. Every once in a while, there would be a "whoosh" and the birds at the feeding station would take off. The visitor center had the tally of species counted the day before:
Before we left home, I was a little disappointed in the timing of the trip because I thought we would miss a lot of the good birds because we were going to the area too early. However, one of the main reasons for this trip was that I wanted to see the concentrations of cranes. At the center we found out that in another week most of them would be gone. So our "bad" timing turned out to be just right.
When we left the center some birders pointed out a very cooperative Cooper's Hawk that was perched nearby. It had been there for more than 20 minutes when we got to see it.
As we drove out of the parking lot, we saw the first of at least 4 Bald Eagles sitting in trees in the middle of a large pond. We headed toward the "Flight Deck" observation area and watched a male Northern Harrier flying over the marsh. The male has aptly been called the gray ghost. Quite striking. We would see countless females throughout the day. Both Common and Hooded Mergansers were nice sightings. Black-crowned Night-Herons and Long-billed Dowitcher even better. Lots of Green-winged Teal. We searched in vain for the first reported sighting in New Mexico of the Eurasian race of this species. We had seen one last week on Cape Cod. Several Cinnamon Teal were among them—I had only seen them once before. Northern Shovelers became a trash bird. Lots of Gadwall also. Can't list all the birds we saw but have to mention Ruddy Ducks in the best breeding plumage we had ever seen. Their bills were the most extraordinary shade of blue. I had only seen Ladder-backed Woodpeckers twice before, so this was a nice sighting; who knew how common they would be. Joan found a Wilson's Snipe, then another, and yet another. At one time she had three in the scope at once. She was thrilled! At the same place we saw the first of our Greater Roadrunners. This one was basking in the sun. The iridescent dark green tint on his wings and tail was a great surprise. Although it didn't go "Beep! Beep!" it was very cooperative and let us get some excellent looks at it. We would see a bunch more throughout the day.
It was now time for lunch and we observed a pair of Bald Eagles as we left the preserve. We scanned the wires alongside the road and came up with an American Kestrel. Then we saw a falcon flying overhead—much lighter than a Peregrine—it was a Prairie Falcon and a lifer! Also saw Great Blue Heron and Red-tailed Hawk on the way. Since the Owl Cafe was closed on Sundays, we thought that we would have to drive back to Socorro for lunch but I spotted a sign for Acostas Restaurant in San Antonio. Rather than driving 15 miles each way, we figured it was worth a try, and it was. It was small and quite busy. The service was friendly, the food simple but good and inexpensive. We had to wait to get an order of salsa and chips and couldn't understand why until it was served. They had actually made the chips for us! Joan had Cheese Enchiladas, I had tamales. As we left the restaurant, Joan yelled out "Ice Cream! They have ice cream!" as she spotted a couple walking by with two huge ice cream cones. Guess what our next stop was.
Later that Day Beginning of the Trip
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