Monday, February 23
Having seen our targeted Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese, we got up early for a planned drive through New Mexico to Southeastern of Arizona. We checked the weather channel and found that Socorro is so small that it doesn't even merit a local forecast on the Weather Channel! Instead it just shows forecasts for different cities throughout the United States. However, in the main part of the program the weathermen got around to the western part of the country, and it didn't look good for us! Precipitation in large amounts in New Mexico and Arizona.
We drove through some wonderful countryside—the warm morning sun gave golden tones to the scrubby desert. Mountains were on both sides of us; some with snow-covered peaks. We watched storm clouds moving in that produced dramatic skies with shafts of sunlight passing through. We stopped to get gas in Truth or Consequences and checked out some scruffy stuff behind the gas station for birds. Saw several of the landbirds we had seen at Bosque del Apache and a Cactus Wren and a Black-throated Sparrow. The latter was a lifer for Joan. While at the gas station, we asked one of the locals if he had heard a weather forecast and he said that quite a storm was coming. When I asked for details he said, "Rain, Sleet, and Snow. All of them!" He also said it was due to start in a couple of hours.
Therefore, I suggested that we should not go all the way to Arizona but make stops in New Mexico as long as the weather held. Joan agreed and checked our New Mexico bird finding guide and selected Caballo Lake State Park. It got a little chilly there so we broke out the hats and gloves (I wound up wearing Joan's spares of both). The park was a good choice producing American Kestrel, Phainopepla, tons of Western Bluebirds eating mistletoe berries (okay so maybe it wasn't tons, how about pounds? ounces?), and the Red-shafted form of the Northern Flicker. We walked along a partially dry river and saw lots of Green-winged Teal, Gadwall, American Wigeon, and other ducks. Saw a pair of Kestrels. We found an American Pipit and would see a few more later in another spot. Took a walk through the woods and both the Myrtle and Audubon's forms of the Yellow-rumped Warbler; laughed at about ten Gambel's Quails as they scurried along the ground. They "talk" to each other, especially when they get separated from the flock, as if to say "I'm here! I'm coming, wait for me!"
Back in the main section of the park I spotted a Vermillion Flycatcher and got it in my scope. Only my second sighting of this beauty. Wow! What an intense color! We talked with a woman who said that she had seen a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker the day before. We searched the area where she had seen it and found plenty of sapsucker wells, but not the bird.
Earlier, her husband had told us of a good birding spot along the Rio Grande in T or C. We had no idea what T or C was and had to ask: Truth or Consequences, of course. (Joan loved the abbreviated name.) We decided to drive back there.
We walked along the wrong part of the river and saw lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets—fast becoming a nuisance bird. Saw some swallows on a wire. I "assumed" they were Tree Swallows, but a closer look proved them to be Northern Rough-wings. White-throated Swifts flew over our heads. Saw a Spotted Sandpiper bobbing along and heard a House Wren singing (which we did track down).
Finally decided to find the right place to bird—Paseo del Rio Park. Really nice. You can look down at the river as you drive along, or walk along a very nice path. It was raining lightly when we started, so we drove. Saw many of the usual ducks and some American Coots and a Great Blue Heron. By the time we reached the end, the rain had stopped and we walked a bit alongside the river. Found Song Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush. The guidebook says that the area is good for Hammond's Flycatcher and Gray Flycatcher in the winter. We saw a Hammond's Flycatcher or a Gray Flycatcher. We didn't see it long enough to get an ID. If it was a Hammond's, it would have been a lifer for me.
Then on to Elephant Butte Dam. Pretty impressive. Joan quickly spotted some Clark's Grebes (lifer for me) and I followed it with a Pied-billed Grebe. I told Joan that there were more grebes by the pelican and she gave me a strange look—she thought that all the white things in the water were buoys, but two were American White Pelicans. We drove down a twisty dirt road to get closer to the grebes: some may have been Western but I couldn't be sure. Also saw Red-breasted Merganser.
Time for lunch. We didn't like the looks of the first place we saw so we drove around and found the White Coyote Cafe. Sort of health food oriented, very pleasant ambience and staff. I had a Santa Fe wrap and a Blue Sky root beer. Very good.
Back on the road, we saw Sandhill Cranes and Canada Geese. Some rain along the way but nothing like what we had been warned about. Arrived at Deming, New Mexico and wanted to check out the cemetery. The guide book said it was "a good haven between two environments" and was located on Main Street. So we drove around a while looking for Main Street, but Deming has no Main Street. Turns out it was on Pine Street. The trees in the cemetery were supposed to be good for songbirds but we didn't see too many in there. There were a good number of Gray-headed Juncos. A couple of workers drove by us and told us the cemetery was closing in two minutes—we took that to mean in about fifteen minutes since it was about 20 to five. I spent a good deal of time trying to identify a hawk perched in a tree and settled on Cooper's Hawk (could that be the reason there weren't too many songbirds) while Joan unsuccessfully scanned the area outside the cemetery to try and locate the source of some beautiful bird song. It was almost five so we figured we had better leave. When we got to the gate, the cemetery workers were waiting for us in their truck which was blocking the gate. We nodded our apologies and when we got outside read the sign that said the cemetery closed at 4:45. Ooops.
Joan wanted to track down the songbird so we tried to find a road that paralleled the back side of the cemetery. We stopped at a cattle yard and saw lots of blackbirds on wires. Most were Brewer's Blackbirds but there were some Brown-headed Cowbirds mixed in.
Left that area and drove down a dirt road that we hoped would lead to the cemetery. It didn't but we spotted a bird in the brush and finally saw it scurrying along with its tail held high—Sage Sparrow a lifer for me (and Joan but she doesn't keep a list). We had some very nice looks at it although it is supposed to be shy. Also had Say's Phoebe and then Joan found her songster—Curve-billed Thrasher.
After that checked in to a motel and had dinner. Joan said that earlier she felt like apologizing to the cattle in the pen. She said that it isn't easy to eat meat when you look them in the eye. But nevertheless she had the steak special and said it was quite good. So ended a very nice day.
On to Arizona/Cave Creek Canyon Beginning of the Trip
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