TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT

Texas and New Mexico

Saturday 8th - Saturday 22nd January 2005


Leaders:
Mike & Liz Read

Trip Diary

Saturday 8th January
We met in good time at Gatwick and once the Continental airlines desk opened, we were greeted, questioned and allowed on to the ‘plane! The flight went smoothly and when we reached Houston, we took some time to pass through immigration with identification photos, questions and index fingerprinting. You have to wonder if they would allow any index-digitless person in to the country!

After some refreshment and a stretch of the legs, we were on the flight to McAllen. The vehicle hire went smoothly and we were soon heading for the motel in Pharr (with a little bit of ‘exploration’ on the way!). After a quick bite to eat for those who wanted it, and a look at some Common Grackles roosting nearby, we went to our rooms after a rather long day.



Sunday 9th January

After a leisurely breakfast, we headed for Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge to the southeast of Pharr. During the journey we saw a few birds including Red-tailed Hawk, Belted Kingfisher and a Cattle Egret.

On the refuge itself, our first bird was a Lower Rio Grande Valley speciality, a Long-billed Thrasher. These special birds continued intermittently throughout the day and the next few were seen at the visitor centre feeders where numerous Green Jays, a Tufted Titmouse, a couple of Plain Chachalacas and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker all vied for our attention. There were also 2 superbly coloured Fox Squirrels, a few House Sparrows and some Common Grackles present. As we wandered onwards, we soon added White-eyed Vireo and Orange-crowned Warbler and a Sharp-shinned Hawk flew past.

At Willow Lake the birds came thick and fast. Ducks included numerous Blue-winged Teals and Northern Shovelers as well as 3 female Ring-necked Ducks. There were 3 or 4 Pied-billed Grebes but by far the most common species of this family were the Least Grebes. Raptors here included an American Kestrel, which hunted insects from its regular perch, a nesting box, a Cooper’s Hawk flew across the lake and landed in full view and a Merlin dashed past allowing just one group member a brief glimpse! Between viewpoints, passerines included a Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and another White-eyed Vireo. To complete our morning, we had excellent views of a prolonged territory dispute between two female Green Kingfishers that were chasing each other and wing-raising as they perched a foot or so apart.

On the way to our lunch spot, we paused to watch two soaring Red-tailed Hawks and added our first Turkey Vultures of the day. The roadside poles and wires were convenient perches for a few American Kestrels. On the way back to Santa Ana there were a couple of Harris Hawks perched on a telegraph pole and they then flew around as we watched.

Along the ‘C’ trail we added more Great Kiskadees to the few we had seen earlier. Pintail Lake, strangely enough, held a few Northern Pintails and later some Green-winged Teals flew in to join them. Overhead we were constantly seeing more Turkey Vultures with as many as perhaps 200 being seen in the air together. Picking out anything different was difficult, although Crested Caracara and a different vulture were seen. In the shallows a dozen Glossy Ibis stood resting and preening and nearby were numerous Greater Yellowlegs. As we watched these birds a Red-tailed Hawk circled high above us with an Anhinga showing its distinctive outline and a Ringed Kingfisher went dashing by.

Even more waders featured at the next pond with a number of Yellowlegs wandering around together. Here it was easy to see the size difference between the two species; there was a total of about 50 individuals overall. It was now time to make our way back towards the car park with the final pause at the nature centre feeders. While Mike tried to photograph a Northern Cardinal he was totally unaware of the Clay-coloured Robin perched a short distance above his head! This completed what everybody agreed was a fabulous first day in this unique area of the USA.



Monday 10th January

We left the motel at 9.00am and after a brief stop in McAllen for our picnic lunches we began the drive westwards towards Falcon Dam State Park. Northern Mockingbirds were plentiful along the way and during the journey we also noted numerous TVs, a few Red-tailed Hawks and Loggerhead Shrikes plus 2 White-tailed Kites and a lone Harris Hawk.

The final approach road to the park had us viewing a number of Pyrrhuloxias. We continued with this species off and on throughout the rest of our visit and just inside the park our first Roadrunner of the day put in a somewhat brief appearance leaving a few clients disappointed. At the RV loop many of the winter Texans had bird feeders out and at the very first one was another Roadrunner. We spent some time looking at this before realising that the rather large group of birds in the trees opposite were Cedar Waxwings, needless to say our attention turned to these. During the day we saw at least 250 of this species but wherever they went throughout the park they seemed to be chased off by the local-patch Northern Mockingbirds. This proved to be a problem for the waxwings as the mockingbirds were very numerous that day. During a comfort stop we realised that there were more bird feeders beyond a high fence but openings allowed us to peer through and see an Altamira Oriole, Green Jays and waiting in nearby trees was a flock of Brown-headed Cowbirds and a few Inca Doves. By now we had already had 3 or 4 sightings of Osprey and this encouraged us to find a view point overlooking Falcon Lake. As we drove towards the lakeside picnic spot we saw 2 or 3 more Roadrunners and 2 White Pelicans flew past. A leafy bush held a rather elusive Verdin, which sadly not everybody saw.

During lunch we had really had really close views of an American Pipit plus frequent sightings of Ospreys patrolling the shore in search of their lunch. Out on the lake were a couple of Ringed-billed Gulls, a Pied-billed Grebe and a few Cormorants (both Double-crested and Neotropic). Along the shoreline of the lake were 3 Killdeer, a Greater Yellowlegs and a small group of Least Sandpipers.

Following this refreshing break in the shade we made another visit to the RV loop where we managed to find our second or third Great Kiskadee of the day. Yet more Roadrunners were found and one got so close to Margaret that she almost needed a wide-angled lens for her photography of it! During this little interlude some of us managed to glimpse a female Vermilion Flycatcher but unfortunately we could not relocate it, however, we did manage to see a pair of Brown-crested Flycatchers which gave us excellent views.

Having completed our visit to the Falcon Dam State Park, we tried to move to the river just below the dam but presumably because of cross-border incursions, this area is now closed to the general public. We therefore drove to our next intended location, which was Salineño where a retired couple welcomed birders to their extensive feeding station. American Goldfinches were numerous on bird tables and Green Jays paid frequent visits. Numerous White-tipped Doves gave excellent views and there was also a lone White-winged Dove to be seen. Comparisons were rather nice when a House Wren at one feeding point was quickly replaced by a Bewick’s Wren and we also had three species of Oriole at the feeders, namely Altamira, Hooded and Audubon’s. Also present were Olive, Chipping and Lincoln’s Sparrows although an approaching Red-winged Blackbird was definitely discouraged. Overhead we saw numerous Turkey and a lone Black Vulture as well as a Sharp-shinned Hawk which caused a degree of nervousness among the birds at the feeders. Our final good bird here was an Eastern Screech Owl which was peering out of a nesting box.

We enjoyed our visit to Salineño so much that time seemed to slip by and we were almost late leaving to make the return journey to Pharr.



Tuesday 11th January

After a few ‘minor detours’ we reached Bentsen Rio Grande State Park and Mike was surprised to find it was now closed to RVs and other vehicles. As we backed away from the barrier a group of about 20 Plain Chachalacas crossed the road in front of us. While purchasing our entry tickets at the visitor centre we saw a few Great-tailed Grackles and 3 Song Sparrows feeding just outside the window. As we walked towards the Kingfisher Overlook we noted that some feeders were still being maintained and here we saw 2 Clay-coloured Robins, some Green Jays numerous American Goldfinches and a Golden-fronted Woodpecker. The water area further on held many Least Grebes which were viewed at very close range, while a little further away a couple of Pied-billed Grebes were frequently diving. The heron family was well represented with numerous Snowy Egrets, 3 or 4 Great White Egrets, a couple of Great Blue Herons and 4 Tri-coloured Herons. 3 Anhingas joined a group of mainly Neotropic Cormorants in a dead tree. Many other cormorants were feeding in the water and when one of them caught a fish, many others tried to steal it; this continued for many minutes as the fish was far to large to be swallowed easily. Along our side of the bank, a Ringed Kingfisher was watched for some time but a couple of Common Moorhens only put in a very brief appearance. As we left to head along further trails, a group of 5 Collared Peccaries were wandering beside the main track.

At one or two places we paused to look at birds coming to feeders and one of the most common species amongst these was Plain Chachalaca; they seemed to be everywhere. At the place we were aiming for to have our lunch, there seemed to be very little shade and few birds. Most of the group headed back to the shelter by the Kingfisher Overlook but before the final members of the group went, 3 Cedar Waxwings appeared in a nearby tree. At the end of lunch, the daytime temperature had risen considerably and so we decided to head for Anzaldulas State Park. Fortunately, a ‘bus’ came along at just the right moment!

We drove Anzaldulas only to find it was closed!! A rapid change of plans had us heading off to Santa Ana where we arrived, paid our dues and at the Nature Centre a Buff-bellied Hummingbird put in a very brief appearance. Other birds around the feeders were similar to a couple of days earlier and so we wandered on along various trails to seek out new species. Perhaps the best of the birds that we found was a Common Nighthawk, which was day-roosting high upon the branch of a tree. It was very difficult to find originally (in fact we had to be shown it) but once you knew where it was it was easy to see. Perhaps because of the heat birds seemed rather scarce as we made our way on around towards the far end of Willow Lake.

By the end of the lake there was an open grassy area where about 15 American Robins were feeding and a Great Kiskadee was perched in a tall tree. On the lake itself were numerous Northern Shovelers, a few Blue-winged Teals and 3 Ring-necked Ducks. This completed our birding for the day so we returned to the motel in good time for dinner.



Wednesday 12th January

With a planned visit to the coast, we left the motel a little earlier than previous days and having failed to find a suitable picnic purchase in Harlingen, we paused at Mike’s Supermarket and a bakery in Rio Hondo for the makings of lunch. As we drove the farm road towards Laguna Atascosa we saw numerous Long-billed Curlews in fields beside the road. Raptors were quite numerous and included a Harris Hawk, a few American Kestrels, both male and female Northern Harriers and a couple of White-tailed Kites. As we reached the T-junction to make our final turn for the reserve a White-tailed Hawk circled over the edge of some scrub.

Surprisingly, the Laguna Atascosa Nature Centre was closed but thankfully the nature trails were open. Feeders were still being maintained but held nothing new and so we headed out to the reserve proper. Less than a mile along the bayside drive, a Merlin was perched not far from the road and as we watched it flew off and landed in a tall Yucca plant. The strong breeze seemed to buffet the bird around as it came into land.

Northern Mockingbirds seemed to be everywhere as we drove along and we made our next stop at Pelican Lake where strangely enough we found a few American White Pelicans! The very strong wind here encouraged us to shelter behind the mini-busses for our watching but birds were plentiful. We were very pleased to find our first Roseate Spoonbill but then on looking further around we realised there were somewhere in the region of 35 present. Beyond our first spoonbill, a group of American Avocets were feeding in a wet long-grass area and the only reason we saw them was because they occasionally flew up. Northern Pintails were exceptionally numerous around the lake and there was a small group of Snow Geese at some distance from us. Two more White-tailed Hawks were perched not too far away and we were able to get good ‘scoped views of them.

We paused briefly at a viewpoint overlooking the Laguna Madre, a huge shallow coastal lagoon, where we saw the first of many hundred Redheads. This is the major wintering ground for this North American Pochard look-alike. Also here we saw the first of perhaps 20 Ospreys for the day. Further along the trail we made numerous stops to overlook Laguna Madre and birds seen here included a single female Red-breasted Merganser, a few more Long-billed Curlews, Killdeers, 15 Grey (black-bellied) Plovers, 8 Turnstones, 3 Sanderlings, 30 Dunlins, 10 Least Sandpipers and 15 Willets. It was overlooking Laguna Madre that we paused to eat our lunch at the end of which we witnessed a fabulous wildlife spectacle. There must have been a huge shoal of fish present in the nearby bay and this attracted about 100 Brown Pelicans, at least twice that number of American White Pelicans a few Double-crested Cormorants and perhaps 1000 Neotropic Cormorants. What could almost be described as a feeding frenzy continued for about 20 minutes at least and the diving birds seemed to move past us and out into the bay, presumably following the fish. It was a marvellous spectacle to witness.

We moved on and found about 25 Little Blue Herons in a shallow lagoon together with 3 or 4 Tri-coloured Herons. Here the driveable trail took us away from the salt-water area and we headed on through scrub and grassy areas. The major bird seen here was an Aplomado Falcon but unfortunately it was a hunting bird that rapidly flew past us. Mike in fact had pulled up to identify some terns and almost missed the falcon! The terns by the way, were Gull-billed which were hawking for insects.

We then drove back to the Visitor Centre and after a brief pause drove towards the Osprey Overlook. As we crossed a lake along the way, a Belted Kingfisher was well seen on one side of the road while on the other, a Great White Egret dwarfed a Tri-coloured Heron. It was here that we also saw a couple of American Wigeon. The large lake by the Osprey Overlook produced very little so we took a walk to the Alligator Pond where, strangely enough, we found some Alligators. There was one large adult present and about 14 metre-long youngsters. Not far from the young alligators a tiny Green Heron almost eluded our searching but thankfully we all managed to get good views of it in the end. On the other side of the lake an Eastern Phoebe was behaving a typical flycatcher manner as it fed on passing insects.

This completed our watching actually on the reserve and it was time to begin our journey back towards Pharr. Once again Farm Road 106 provided some good birding with more views of Long-billed Curlews, a group of about 100 Snow Geese, 2 or 3 Northern Harriers, a White-tailed Kite perched on roadside wires and perched close to each other on the ground was a Crested Caracara and a White-tailed Hawk. For quite some distance along this road we were aware of numerous Ospreys which were resting on the ground no doubt encouraged to be here by the strong winds which had continued throughout the day.



Thursday 13th January

We left the hotel in good time to catch our flight to Houston and onwards to El Paso to begin the New Mexico part of the tour. While waiting for take-off at McAllen Airport we saw a few House Sparrows, Grackles and a Sharp-shinned Hawk but sadly saw nothing at Houston. On arrival at El Paso we found a suitable lunch establishment while Mike and Liz sorted out the vehicle hire. After this we were soon on the road heading for Las Cruces passing the occasional Red-tailed Hawk on the way. From the edge of town we headed towards the Organ Mountains and the Dripping Springs area.

Along the quieter part of the road we were able to make occasional stops to see birds that we were passing and these included quite a few Loggerhead Shrikes as well as one or two lovely Black-throated Sparrows. Approaching the visitor centre we saw a group of Bluebirds feeding in the roadside bushes and these included at least one Eastern Bluebird although sadly the rest were not specifically identified. At the visitor centre we were informed that the park was due for closure in about 20 minutes time so all we had time for was a quick look at the birds coming to the feeders. These included 4 House Finches, 3 Canyon Towhees, some Dark-eyed Juncos and a probable Pine Siskin or two.

We drove the Baylor Canyon road towards our accommodation and saw a few more Loggerhead Shrikes as we went and we also had a brief view of a couple of Common Bushtits. By now dusk was falling and it was time to settle into our accommodation before heading out for a delicious evening meal.

Friday 14th January

We began the day by heading back towards Dripping Springs and once we reached the Baylor Canyon Road, birds were plentiful especially in the housing area. White-winged Doves seem to be everywhere and a singing Cactus Wren caught our attention. It soon transpired that there was a pair of them and they were investigating a nest site. House Finches and a possible Black-chinned Sparrow were seen and a Northern Flicker flew past and landed in the distant tree. As we left this area a Red-tailed Hawk flew by and there were Loggerhead Shrikes intermittently along the road.

At the nature centre feeders were some Pine Siskins and House Finches and as we set off up the Dripping Springs trail we were soon seeing a few White-crowned and Black Throated Sparrows and lots of Dark-eyed Juncos; in fact this latter species seemed to be everywhere. Canyon Towhees were in much smaller numbers but still frequently encountered. A Ruby-crowed Kinglet fed actively and proved fairly illusive but most people actually saw it. Further up the trail a Curve-billed Thrasher sang from the top of a dead tree before moving to other song perches where it was also ‘scoped. We walked some distance along the trail but the species remained similar and as time was pressing (and we hadn’t even had breakfast yet!) we decided to head back without seeing the true Dripping Spring itself. For a while our walk seemed rather empty but then rounding a bend we came into the Dark-eyed Junco “hoard” again. Something dark and mammal-like dashed across the trail a few yards ahead of us and constant searching eventually revealed it to be one of two Crissal Thrashers. For a long time these birds were very difficult to see but eventually they took turns at perching upon a bush and giving us excellent views. We returned to the vehicles happy with what we had seen and sped off for breakfast, collected our picnic lunch and began the journey westwards.

We left I10 at Deming and began driving northwards. There were occasional American Kestrels, Red-tailed Hawks and Chihuahuan Ravens to be seen as we sped along but a stop was made necessary when we saw about 25 Pronghorns. However, the good birding began when we paused for our picnic lunches at rest area. We were just finishing eating when Liz T found 8 Horned Larks wandering around nearby. In the fields away from the main round there were a number of Mourning Doves and least 250 Lark Buntings feeding close to a small dwelling. But perhaps the best bird was Lorna’s find of a majestic Golden Eagle which perched on some telegraph poles some distance away. Even at this range its bulky size was obvious! When we had had our fill of food and feathered friends here, we continued our onward journey.

Not far along we found another raptor perched on a telegraph pole and this turned out to be a magnificent Prairie Falcon. We stood and admired this bird for quite a while before we realised it was becoming interested in something away in the distance. Suddenly it sped off low to the ground and its powerful wing beats soon showed that it was definitely hunting. There was a sudden sideways movement from the falcon as two Mourning Doves rose in panic. There was a puff of feathers but still the doves climbed into the afternoon sky. The falcon picked on the “near miss” and began pursuing it as hard as he could and the dove’s direction meant that we had excellent views as both birds passed quite low overhead. We continued to watch in amazement as the dove cleverly avoided swoop after swoop and eventually it made it back to the safety of some deep shrubby cover. The falcon left to hunt elsewhere. Strangely, as we journeyed on we saw yet two more perched Prairie Falcons.

We completed our journey to Silver City and after a brief pause at the motel we drove up to Little Walnut Picnic Ground in cooling temperatures. The sun was near the horizon now and the area of pine and juniper we walked in seemed to have almost shut down for the day: our only birds were 2 Acorn Woodpeckers.



Saturday 15th January

After a fine breakfast at the renowned ‘Grandma’s Café’ we headed back towards Little Walnut Picnic Ground. As the dwellings thinned to a mere scattering we found a couple of Western Scrub Jays. As we walked around the picnic area Dark-eyed Juncos were again in evidence. Some noisy calls alerted us to the presence of perhaps 3 Acorn Woodpeckers, while Mountain Chickadees fed at various levels from low bushes to high pines. A few calls announced the arrival of a White-breasted Nuthatch and while some people watched this, others found our first Hairy Woodpecker. Deep calls from nearby enabled us to locate a perched Common Raven. We watched this for quite some time at fairly close quarters and it provided excellent entertainment as it wing-stretched and frequently called. Our final birds here were a couple more Ruby-crowned Kinglets and so we headed back to Silver City and then westwards towards Cliff. After a few miles a group of Common Ravens dived down into a bushy hollow and spooked up a magnificent adult Bald Eagle. Another aerial chase ensued but in reality it was no contest. The Bald Eagle did just what it wanted to do and landed back on the top of a juniper.

Further on we paused at a frontage road by Mangas Creek. Our walk here proved most entertaining with Dark-eyed Juncos and Ruby-crowned Kinglet among the regulars and we also had good views of 3 or 4 Lesser Goldfinches. The variety of colour in this latter species’ plumage showed that the greenish birds that we had seen at Dripping Springs on Thursday evening were also Lesser Goldfinches. A group of American Robins arrived into the area and were soon being well watched, that is until a group of Gambel’s Quails rose from beyond some cattails and flew off in alarm at our approach. Also glimpsed here was a very elusive Marsh Wren but despite further attempts to view it, we failed. The return walk proved how quickly birds leave or arrive because at one point we located two new trip species. A Black Phoebe was easily identified but the Hammond’s Flycatcher had us pouring over the books during our lunch a little later on.

Despite the glorious weather and the calm conditions Bill Evans Lake was not populated by the usual wildfowl but by dozens of anglers and their families! The only two species on the lake were Pied-billed Grebes (2) and American Coot (20+). Because of this we decided that elsewhere would be better and began to drive back towards the major road. A couple of circling Red-tailed Hawks caught our attention and Janet saw some kind of ground squirrel disappearing into a hole in the bank. Unfortunately the mammal never did reappear while we watched…perhaps because of the flying Red-tailed Hawks!

Further along we stopped by the river where a number of Western Bluebirds vied for our attention with 2 White-breasted Nuthatches. We drove to Cliff and then took the ‘Gila Loop’. A Say’s Phoebe perched flycatcher-like on the tops of vegetation while beyond a couple of Red-tailed Haws were perched in the various Cottonwood trees. The fact that one of these hawks turned out to be a Ferruginous demonstrates the importance of checking individuals. As we stood overlooking the river itself we could see Racoon tracks in the mud below and a few European Starlings in the surrounding trees. Just before we left, Katherine found a slightly distant Belted Kingfisher, which everyone was able to admire through the telescope.

We returned to Silver City in good time to prepare ourselves for another evening meal at the Red Barn.



Sunday 16th January

Another fine sunny day greeted us, as did another good breakfast at Grandma’s café. This set us up for our day’s journey that would end at Truth or Consequences. After leaving interstate 180 we began the climb to the Mimbres Mountains with occasional stops for birds on the way. Western Bluebirds were frequent with occasional American Robins and a lone Curve-billed Thrasher being noted. The walk at Lower Gallinas was surprisingly quiet but eventually we did find a few Dark-eyed Juncos and a woodpecker that caused some discussion as to its true identity; it turned out to be a Downy Woodpecker. We paused at the Emory Pass Viewpoint at 8228 feet above sea level and the views were fantastic.

From here we made a rapid descent pausing only in Hillsboro to view a quantity of Pine Siskins and a single female House Finch on some garden feeders. Soon we were back in the Rio Grande Valley and heading for Percha Dam State Park to have our lunch. As we checked in Cedar Waxwings were frequent and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker put in a brief appearance. During lunch a Brown Creeper was seen climbing the trunk of one of the Cottonwood trees, while more bluebirds and a Phainopepla fed on the berries of mistletoe. White-winged Doves were numerous and as we began a brief walk, a Ladder-backed Woodpecker was seen. The river was at a very low ebb giving opportunities for a couple of Spotted Sandpipers and Killdeer to feed along dry riverbed. A Great Blue Heron and a Belted Kingfisher seemed confused by the lack of water in which to fish, although a couple of Black Phoebes were happy with the situation. Scrubby areas and trees nearby held Ruby-crowned Kinglet, White-crowned Sparrow and 3 American Goldfinches but little else was seen here.

We then moved up to Caballo Lake State Park and firstly visited the area close to the dam. An adult Bald Eagle was resting along the near shoreline and a group of Canada Geese swam nervously past. There were about 5 Great Blue Herons on a peninsula, while in the drier areas of land we found a group of about 30 Shore Larks. Up at the main park area we stopped overlooking the lake and searched the water area with good results. There was a lone Pied-billed Grebe close in shore while further out about 30 Clarke's Grebes could be seen. Another Bald Eagle perched on a snag across the lake and there was a constant passage of Ring-billed Gulls. On the water itself there were about a dozen American White Pelicans scattered around but it was the little ducky things that proved most interesting and quite a challenge due to the distances involved. There was a group of 9 Ring-necked Ducks in one direction and some more American Wigeon and a Gadwall in another. To complete our watching we managed to find a distant group of 5 Goosanders (including 2 males).

By now, we felt it was time to complete our journey to Truth or Consequences which we did without adding any other wildlife of note.



Monday 17th January

After breakfast we drove towards Elephant Butte State Park and at the lake by the hill, we paused first to view an Osprey perched on a telegraph pole and then to scan the lake for birds. The scattering of wildfowl included many Northern Shovelers as well as a few American Wigeon and Ring-necked Ducks and lone Ruddy Duck and Lesser Scaup. Inside the State Park itself the first bird we encountered was a fine Crissal Thrasher which perched high up on the top of a bush. As we pulled away from here, the group in the second bus saw another bird and this turned out to be a Hermit Thrush, which was drinking from a dripping tap! Sadly, by the time the first mini-bus returned, the bird had disappeared and was never re-located. A drive around the RV loops revealed little and a drive to one of the further parts of the park seemed to be going the same way until a group of about 15 Bushtits flitted through the bushes very much in the same manner as a party of long-tailed tits would do.

On the way back towards the entrance we managed to find 2 Sage Thrashers and 2 Verdins in fairly close company and a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher put in a very brief appearance. A few Rock Squirrels were seen adding to the mammal list, while the lake held Clarke’s Grebes, Ring-billed Gulls and a couple of Great Blue Herons. We had lunch at the riverside picnic area and typically Black Phoebe was busy feeding here. 3 American Goldfinches were across the far side of the water but an American Pipit made a much closer approach. The trees not only provided a little shade but also suitable feeding places for Northern Mockingbird, Ladder-backed Woodpecker and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The best birding though was reserved for overhead as we had some Common Ravens indulging in ‘synchronised flying’, an Osprey flying up river, as well as Bald and Golden Eagles flying past at the same time giving wonderful opportunities to compare their outlines. We then drove north to Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge where the quantity of birds suddenly increased enormously. As we drove to the northern end of the farm loop, Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese as well as numerous ducks seemed to be everywhere. As we overlooked one area to view some distant cranes, 2 Coyotes suddenly stood up, had a stretch and lay down again. We were lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

In one place masses of cranes and Snow Geese were feeding right beside the track. Alone these provided an impressive sight but then they were joined by numerous Red-winged and Yellow-headed Blackbirds. As we watched we were able to pick out a few Ross’s Geese but just as everyone was sorting out the two species of white geese, they all took flight in a massive flurry of wings. This sight and sound was just spectacular. Most of the birds flew off to feed elsewhere but as there seemed to be some disturbance a few fields away they were soon coming back to land in front of us once more. The comings and goings here held us spell-bound for a considerable amount of time. We then drove down to the flight deck as the sun neared the horizon. Here we were able to watch geese and cranes flying in and calling noisily as they did so. Again a most impressive sight to finish our day.



Tuesday 18th January

We arrived at the Bosque del Apache flight deck at 6.30am and soon after there was a mass exodus of Snow and Ross’s Geese as a Bald Eagle arrived on one of the dead trees nearby. Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds were leaving their waterside roost just behind us and strangely landing in the tree almost beside the Bald Eagle! The usual Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintails were quite happily feeding and a Great Blue Heron perched in the next tree to a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk. Needless to say, the Sandhill Cranes remained totally unimpressed by the presence of the eagle.

As most of the geese had gone we decided to look on the roadside pools back towards Socorro, certainly there were plenty of cranes and geese present but not the huge numbers of the latter that we had hoped for. The same duck species were here in fair numbers but in amongst them a female Bufflehead was the first we had seen of this species. Back in Socorro we had a fine breakfast at El Camino restaurant before heading back to Bosque. We spent a while at the visitor centre, watching a video and engaging in a little retail therapy but the only birds that we saw here were a few White-crowned Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

As we left the car park area there were a couple of Goosanders and Double-crested Cormorants on one of the pools. We decided to drive the Marsh Loop and began well with Green-winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals and a Says Phoebe at our first stop. Feeding along the waters edge and in the shallows were 7 Long-billed Dowitchers and as we made our way further round many of the usual duck species were seen and also a new one, Canvasback; there were a couple of these on one of the southern most pools. At the same location a female Northern Harrier landed on the roadside and a couple of Song Sparrows were 'furtling' in the vegetation. Heading back northwards again we found a few Ring-necked Ducks on one pool and a little further out was a group of 7 Buffleheads which included 2 males. We returned to the flight deck to have lunch with close views of nearby Pintails and Shovelers after which we headed north around the Farm Loop.

We decided to walk the river trail but birds seemed to be particularly scarce here perhaps due to the time of day or the dryness of the area. A couple of Dark-eyed Juncos and a lone Ruby-crowned Kinglet was all that we located and so we decided to head back to the vehicles and take on part of the woodland walk which seemed equally birdless.

Northwards along the Farm Loop there were many pools which held small numbers of geese, cranes and ducks but it wasn’t until we reached the northern end of the loop that the birding picked up. Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes were present in very large numbers. A distant tree held a couple of adult Bald Eagles and after we had been watching them for a while, one dropped down and picked up a Snow Goose. We were not able to decide if this was caught before our eyes or whether it was an already dead bird but whatever the case, to see the eagle pick it up and fly back to its perch with it was quite impressive. Also in this area numerous geese and cranes were feeding in a maize field while skeins of geese seemed to be constantly passing overhead. And if this scene was not impressive enough, it continued when we drove on around to the flight deck to witness the arrival of birds at their night-roosting locations. As dusk came in, so did literally thousands and thousands of birds making a most memorable hours watching.

The drive back towards Socorro was punctuated by a large shape perched on a telegraph pole. Despite the gathering darkness we were able to see that this was indeed a Great Horned Owl. We watched this from the comfort of the minibuses, for fear of disturbing it, before completing our journey back to the motel.



Wednesday 19th January

We left the hotel at 6.00am and dashed to Bosque for the early morning flight-out, just as had happened yesterday, we arrived at the flight deck in time to see a mass exodus of Snow Geese. Their panic was caused by a couple of adult Bald Eagles arriving at their regular perching place on an old dead tree. The Sandhill Cranes however remained more or less were they were and we were able to watch them for a while as they slept, preened and eventually started to drift off to the feeding grounds. We then decided to drive the farm loop in the hope of perhaps finding a late hunting Coyote but sadly this was unsuccessful. We did of course see thousands of Sandhill Cranes and as we reached the northern end of the loop perhaps as many as 20,000 Snow Geese rose in a huge flock and milled around for some time with the Magdalena Mountains as a fabulous backdrop.

We returned to Socorro for breakfast and to purchase our lunch, after which we drove a few miles to the west for a walk at Water Canyon. As we neared the turn-off a group of 23 Pronghorns could be seen to the north of the road and then a little way along the canyon road a further 5 were noted. As we drove into the forested area we saw occasional Dark-eyed Juncos and a couple of American Robins while on top of two dead trees, 3 Acorn Woodpeckers seemed to be enjoying the warm sunshine. At the car park another Acorn Woodpecker seemed intent on chasing a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker out of its territory. We then began a short walk and were soon seeing a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. We thought this indicated the possibility of more birds to come, however we were very disappointed. The usual birds just did not seem to be present at all and we returned to the car park somewhat disappointed. The only other thing of note during this walk was a Morning Cloak/Camberwell Beauty butterfly. Acting on ‘advice received’ (from one of the local constabulary) we drove around to the former mining town of Kelly. It was a ghost town and everywhere seemed abandoned except for the church which still seemed to be in use. We had our lunch here and were amused by the ladies and gents toilets! A Cliff Chipmunk was busy adding soft lining to a nest although some of the lining seemed to consist of tissue paper, we assumed it was a female Chipmunk as at one stage it was seen to dash away from the ladies toilet!

Towards the end of lunch a Western Scrub Jay perched on top of a juniper bush and then Janet found our first Townsend's Solitaire. Unfortunately this latter bird flew off before everyone could see it but during a short walk afterwards we managed to get excellent views of this species. Also during the walk we saw another Solitaire, 4 more Western Scrub Jays, a Mountain Chickadee and a group of Dark-eyed Juncos.

We returned to Socorro a little early to catch up on some rest and/or to visit the local minerals and mining museum.



Thursday 20th January

We began the day with another dawn visit to Bosque del Apache. As usual Snow Geese were spooked by an arriving Bald Eagle and disappeared into the distance. However, on this particular morning we could watch them against gloriously coloured clouds that were lit by the rising sun. Also as usual the cranes took absolutely no notice of the Bald Eagle and the Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintails continued to feed very close to us. In the meantime, Great-tailed Grackles flew past us from their roost and flew to a dead tree in the middle of the water. Eventually the sun peered above the horizon giving lovely silhouette views of the cranes.

A quick drive to the northern end of the Farm Loop enabled us to walk out to the observation blind. Just as we pulled up, thousands of Snow Geese flew out from the ponds here, needless to say cameras clicked to record the scene. At the viewing screen a female Northern Harrier was perched in some bushes in the middle of the lake showing the reason for the sudden departure of the geese but there was little else to see here apart from a very elusive Marsh Wren. During the walk back to the vehicles about 15 American Goldfinches were feeding among the seed heads.

We returned to Socorro, had breakfast, completed our packing and began the journey north to Albuquerque. Occasional Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels were seen prior to a brief visit to Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. Here we saw a couple of Black-throated Sparrows in the dry scrub and further in we found a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and Yellow-rumped Warblers. A couple of Red-tailed Hawks flew overhead and during a brief walk a Spotted Towhee was seen. A Sharp-shinned Hawk was well watched, a group of Bushtits worked their way through the undergrowth and a Greater Roadrunner dashed across ahead of a road scraper which we managed to neatly avoid (the scraper not the roadrunner!).

We drove to Albuquerque seeing more hawks and kestrels as we went and made our way to the Rio Grande Nature Centre. A kind ranger saw we were interested in birds and offered to show us a roosting Western Screech Owl, which we were grateful for. One of the nearby ponds held numerous Canada Geese, Mallard, 2 Canvasbacks and a female Bufflehead. After our lunch we took time to view the birds on the feeders and these included a couple more Spotted Towhees and some House Finches. We went to the visitor centre and from here could see more wildfowl on a different lake and these included many Wood Ducks and a few Greater Scaup. More feeders were attracting Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, White-breasted Nuthatch, Mountain Chickadee and Black-capped Chickadee. We took a short walk along one of the nature trails down to the Rio Grande and as we stood watching a group of 14 Goosanders a juvenile Bald Eagle flew past. This more or less completed our birding here but it might be worth mentioning that there were a few American Crows about! We left there and drove to our motel in plenty of time for rest and packing before going out for a nice Italian meal.



Friday 21st January

We left the hotel at 9 a.m. and headed for Albuquerque airport in readiness for our flight to Houston and then homewards. As we left, some American Crows were calling and we saw a few on our way to the airport. After sampling a final ‘all American’ breakfast, we boarded our first flight and were soon landing in Houston. We bade our farewells to Lorna who was returning to McAllen and then going to South Padre to visit relatives. The four-hour wait here seemed to pass fairly quickly and we boarded our international flight back to Gatwick.



Saturday 22nd January

We arrived at Gatwick just a little behind schedule and after a longish wait for our luggage, we bade our farewells.



SPECIES ACCOUNTS

BIRDS

Pied-billed Grebe
Seen every day except 13th and 15th in small numbers.
Least Grebe At least 10 at Santa Ana on 9th, 20 at Bentsen Rio Grande and 4 at Santa Ana on 11th, also seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Clark’s Grebe At least 30 on Caballo Lake on 16th and also seen at Elephant Butte the following day.
Anhinga One flying over Santa Ana on 9th and 4 at Bentsen on 11th.
Double-crested Cormorant Seen in small numbers on 7 days in widely separated locations.
Neotropic (Olivaceous) Cormorant Small numbers seen on 10th, 11th and 20th but the most impressive sighting was of about 1000 birds in a ‘fishing frenzy’ at Laguna Madre on 12th.
American White Pelican Two on 10th at Falcon Dam, 15 on 16th at Caballo Lake and a few at Elephant Butte on 17th. As with the previous species, the most impressive sighting was about 250 at Laguna Madre on 12th.
Brown Pelican About 100 seen at Laguna Madre on 12th.
Great Blue Heron Small numbers seen every day except 9th and 13th.
Cattle Egret Seen on 5 consecutive days from 9th in the Lower Rio Grande Valley very often near cattle or horses.
American Great White Egret Two near Santa Ana on 9th, 2 at Bentsen on 11th and also seen on 12th at Laguna Atascosa NWR.
Reddish Egret Just a couple seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Tricolored Heron Three at Bentsen State Park on 11th and then about 20 at Laguna Atascosa the following day.
Snowy Egret Three on 10th on the way to Falcon Dam about 10 at Bentsen on 11th and good numbers seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Little Blue Heron About 25 seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Green Heron Just a single bird at the Alligator Pond at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
American White Ibis About 15 at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
White-faced Ibis/Glossy Ibis A dozen birds identified by a local birder as ‘Glossy’ were at Santa Ana on 9th.
Roseate Spoonbill A few singles and a large feeding group (total about 35 birds) were seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Black-bellied Whistling-duck Eight seen flying past our Super 8 Motel in Pharr on 9th.
Ruddy Duck A male near Elephant Butte Lake on 17th was followed by 8 the following day at Bosque del Apache.
Greater White-fronted Goose A skein of 7 at Falcon Dam and a single flying bird, all on 10th, were probably of this species.
Snow Goose About 100 birds were seen near Laguna Atascosa on 12th and we then saw at least 20,000 on our four visits to Bosque del Apache from 17th.
Ross’s Goose At least 30 seen at Bosque on 17th and then noted there on the next 3 days.
Canada Goose Ten nervous birds near a Bald Eagle at Caballo Dam on 16th and then seen on the following four days.
American Wigeon One on 10th at Salineño, 2 on 12th at Laguna Atascosa, 8 on 16th at Caballo Dam, quantities seen at Bosque del Apache and finally about 10 at the Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th.
Gadwall The first was at Caballo Lake on 16th and then seen on the next four days, mostly at Bosque.
Green-winged Teal Six at Santa Ana on 9th, then seen on 18th at Bosque del Apache and on 20th at the Rio Grande Nature Centre.
Mallard Two on 10th at Falcon Dam, then seen on 5 consecutive days from 16th.
Northern Pintail Eight at Santa Ana on 9th, then probably in excess of 100 at Laguna Atascosa on 12th. At Bosque del Apache on 4 consecutive days (from 17th) we had really close views of this lovely species.
Blue-winged Teal First seen at Santa Ana on 9th, then seen on 11th and 12th, 17th and 18th.
Cinnamon Teal Just 2 seen at Bosque del Apache on 18th.
Northern Shoveler Seen on 7 days at various wetlands with the closest views being at Bosque del Apache.
Canvasback Two on 18th at Bosque del Apache and then at least 3 at the Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th.
Redhead Hundreds seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th and also noted on 16th and 17th at Caballo and Elephant Butte respectively.
Ring-necked Duck Three at Santa Ana on 9th and also 3 there on 11th. A similar number were at Laguna Atascosa on 12th and then we saw the species well on 16th, 17th 18th and 20th.
Lesser Scaup A distant bird seen near Elephant Butte State Park on 17th was probably of this species and 2 on 18th at Bosque certainly were.
Greater Scaup About 5 seen at the Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th.
Wood Duck Only seen at the Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th where there ere perhaps 20 individuals.
Bufflehead Seven on 18th at Bosque and a female on 20th at the RGNC.
Red-breasted Merganser Just a single bird seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Common Merganser (Goosander) Five on 16th at Caballo Lake was our first and we then saw the species on 3 consecutive days from 18th.
Turkey Vulture Seen in good numbers on four consecutive days in the Lower Rio Grande Valley from 9th.
American Black Vulture One at the 10th at Salineño and at least 3 on 12th at Laguna Atascosa.
Osprey At least 15 individuals seen in the Falcon Dam/Salineño area on 10th then even larger numbers seen on 12th at Laguna Atascosa. Finally there were 2 at Elephant Butte State Park on 17th.
White-tailed Kite Two seen on the way to Falcon Dam on 10th and then about 6 seen on the way to and from, and also at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Bald Eagle Our first adult was west of Silver City on 15th. There were 2 at Caballo Lake on 16th, at least 4 at Elephant Butte and Bosque on 17th. At this last location we saw 4-6 individuals on 18th, 19th and 20th and our final bird was a juvenile flying along the Rio Grande at the RGNC on 20th.
Northern (Hen) Harrier At least 15 seen on 12th at and near Laguna Atascosa and then smaller numbers seen on 6 further days during the tour.
Sharp-shinned Hawk Two at Santa Ana on 9th and then singles seen on 5 further days during the tour.
Coopers Hawk Excellent views of one beside Willow Lake at Santa Ana on 9th and also noted on 11th and 12th.
Harris (Bay-winged) Hawk As expected, seen each of the four days in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
White-tailed Hawk Four seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th and then one seen on 14th during the journey to Silver City.
Red-tailed Hawk Our most frequently encountered ‘buteo’ raptor. Seen every day except 13th, our transfer day.
Ferruginous Hawk Just a single bird seen on 15th near Gila.
Golden Eagle Our first was seen on 14th during the journey to Silver City, then on 17th at Elephant Butte State Park we saw one flying fairly close to a Bald Eagle (excellent for comparison). Our final bird was seen during the journey to Albuquerque on 20th.
Crested Caracara One on 9th at Santa Ana and 3 on our visit to the Falcon Dam area the following day. Finally 4 were seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
American Kestrel Seen every day.
Merlin One glimpsed on 9th at Santa Ana and then we had better views of one at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Prairie Falcon Three seen during the journey to Silver City on 14th with a spectacular chase watched by all.
Aplomado Falcon Just a single hunting bird seen to dash past at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Plain Chachalaca Four at Santa Ana on 9th, about 50 at Bentsen and 20 at Santa Ana on 11th.
Gambel’s Quail About 25 seen to spring up from beside a wet area to the west of Silver City on 15th.
Common Pheasant Just a single male seen at Bosque del Apache early on 20th.
Sandhill Crane Our first were 15 at Caballo Lake on 16th. We then saw thousands on our four days at Bosque (from 17th).
Common Moorhen Just a couple seen at Bentsen on 11th and one on 17th at Bosque.
American Coot Noted on 9 days at widely spaced locations during the tour.
Black-necked Stilt Fifteen at Santa Ana on 9th was our only sighting.
American Avocet At least 16 seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Grey (Black-bellied) Plover About 15 seen at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Killdeer A group of about 50 flew over the Santa Ana car park on 9th where we had already seen perhaps 10 individuals around the various reserve lakes. We also saw this species on 10th, 12th and 16th – 18th.
Long-billed Curlew At least 50 seen at and near Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Greater Yellowlegs Many seen at Santa Ana on 9th with smaller numbers the following day at Falcon Lake. Also noted on 12th at Laguna Atascosa and 17th and 18th at Bosque.
Lesser Yellowlegs We were able to make a good size comparison with its larger relative at Santa Ana on 9th; our only confirmed sightings.
Spotted Sandpiper Six at Santa Ana on 9th, 1 on the Gila River on 15th and 2 at Percha Dam on 16th.
Willet About 15 seen at Laguna Atascosa NWR on 12th.
(Ruddy) Turnstone 8 at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Common Snipe Two at Santa Ana on 9th and 1 at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Long-billed Dowitcher Twenty at Laguna Atascosa on 12th, 7 on 18th and 15 on 20th at Bosque del Apache.
Sanderling Three at Laguna Atascosa on 12th was the only sighting.
Least Sandpiper Fifteen on 10th at Falcon Dam and 10 on 12th at Laguna Atascosa.
Dunlin Thirty at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Ring-billed Gull Noted on 5 days with the first being 2 at Falcon Lake on 10th.
Gull-billed Tern About 30 near Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Caspian Tern Ten at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Royal Tern Three birds probably of this species dashed across the road as we drove back from Santa Ana on 9th.
Forster’s Tern Twelve at Laguna Atascosa on 12th.
Rock Dove (Feral Pigeon) Noted every day.
American Mourning Dove Noted every day except 11th and 13th.
White-winged Dove Noted on 9 days.
Common Ground-dove Seen on the first 5 days in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Inca Dove Six at Falcon Dam State Park on 10th.
White-tipped Dove Ten at Falcon Dam State Park on 10th and also seen the following day at Bentsen.
Greater Roadrunner Ten at Falcon Dam State Park on 10th and 2 on 12th at Laguna Atascosa, 1 on 14th near Dripping Springs, 1 on 18th at Bosque and 1 on 20th at Sevilleta NWR.
Great Horned Owl One on 18th on our way back from Bosque del Apache.
Eastern Screech Owl One at Salineño on 10th.
Western Screech Owl One at Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th.
Common Nighthawk A single bird was seen day-roosting high in a tree at Santa Ana on 11th.
Buff-bellied Hummingbird Just a single brief sighting at Santa Ana on 11th.
Ringed Kingfisher Two at Santa Ana on 9th, 1 on the way to Falcon Dam on 10th and 1 at Bentsen on 11th.
Belted Kingfisher Just 4 sightings during the tour seemed to be a very poor showing of this species. However, we did get one or two good views. Seen on 9th, 12th, 15th and 16th.
Green Kingfisher Two at Santa Ana on 9th and 2 more there on 11th. In both cases birds were seen to display at each other and we believe they were all females in territorial disputes.
Golden-fronted Woodpecker Seen on each of the first 4 full days in the Lower Rio Grande Valley with many of the sightings at feeders.
Ladder-backed Woodpecker Seen on 9th at Santa Ana, 10th at Falcon SP on 16th at Percha Dam and on 17th at Elephant Butte.
Hairy Woodpecker One on 15th at Little Walnut Picnic Ground and one on 20th at the Rio Grande Nature Centre.
Downy Woodpecker One on 16th at Lower Gallinas and one on 20th at Rio Grande Nature Centre.
Acorn Woodpecker Two on 14th and 3 on 15th at Little Walnut Picnic Ground, then 5 on 19th at Water Canyon.
Northern Flicker First seen on 14th near Dripping Springs and then seen on a further 5 days.
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker Single bird seen on 9th at Santa Ana, 16th at Percha Dam and 19th at Water Canyon.
Brown-crested Flycatcher Two seen at Falcon Dam State Park on 10th.
Hammond’s Flycatcher A single bird of this species was seen on 15th to the west of Silver City.
Eastern Phoebe Seen on 9th at Santa Ana, 12th at Laguna Atascosa and on 15th to the west of Silver City.
Black Phoebe Our first was on 15th beside the Gila River and then seen on the next 5 days always near water.
Say’s Phoebe Our first was on 14th near Dripping Springs and we then encountered the species on a further 4 days.
Vermillion Flycatcher A female was seen briefly at Falcon Dam State Park on 10th and sadly this was our only encounter of this lovely species.
Great Kiskadee Frequently encountered on each of the four full days in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.
Shore (Horned) Lark Eight on 14th during the drive to Silver City and then about 30 seen on 16th at Caballo Dam.
Northern Roughwing About 50 seen at Santa Ana on 9th with a few more there on 11th, then seen on 12th at Laguna Atascosa.
American (Buff-bellied) Pipit One well seen during lunch at Falcon Dam on 10th and one the following day at Santa Ana. Finally 2 were seen on 17th at Elephant Butte State Park.
Loggerhead Shrike Seen every day except 9th and 11th in small numbers.
Cedar Waxwing About 250 were at Falcon Dam State Park on 10th we then saw 3 at Bentsen SP on 11th and about 40 at Percha Dam on 16th.
Phainopepla One on 15th beside the Gila River and then about 5 seen the following day during our journey to Truth or Consequences.
Cactus Wren Five on 14th at and near Dripping Springs, then 1 on 17th at Elephant Butte State Park.
American Rock Wren One on 14th at Dripping Springs was our only sighting.
Marsh Wren One on 15th to the west of Silver City and one glimpsed at Bosque del Apache on 20th.
Bewick’s Wren One at Salineño on 10th and one at Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th.
House Wren Just one at Salineño on 10th.
Northern Mockingbird Seen every day from 9th – 17th with good numbers especially noticeable at Falcon Dam State Park on 10th.
Long-billed Thrasher Four at Santa Ana on 9th and one there on 11th.
Curve-billed Thrasher One on 14th at Dripping Springs and one on 16th at Caballo State Park.
Crissal Thrasher Two well seen at Dripping Springs on 14th and one at Elephant Butte State Park on 17th.
Sage Thrasher Two well seen at Elephant Butte State Park on 17th.
Eastern Bluebird At least 1, possibly the group of 6 – 8 birds seen at Dripping Springs on 13th were of this species.
Western Bluebird Five on the way to Little Walnut picnic ground and more to the west of Silver City on 15th then seen on the way over the mountains the following day. Also seen at Elephant Butte State Park on 17th.
Townsend’s Solitaire
At least 2 well seen at the Kelly mine area on 19th.
Hermit Thrush A single sighting by some of the group. It was drinking from a dripping tap in the RV area of Elephant Butte State Park on 17th!
American Robin Seen on 9th & 11th at Santa Ana NWR, at Falcon Dam on 10th, near Silver City on 15th and 16th and near Albuquerque on 19th & 20th.
Clay-colored Robin A single bird was at Santa Ana on 9th, 1 at Salineño on 10th and 3 at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park was a good set of sightings which Mike had never seen before!
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher One at Santa Ana on 9th and 1 at Falcon Dam on 10th.
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher Just a single brief sighting at Elephant Butte State Park on 17th.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Noted on 9 days in small numbers in various habitats.
Common Bushtit 2 on 13th along the Baylor Canyon Road near Las Cruces then 15+ at Elephant Butte SP on 17th and finally 10+ at Sevilleta NWR on 20th.
Verdin A single bird was seen briefly at Falcon Dam SP on 10th then there were 2 at Elephant Butte SP on 17th.
Mountain Chickadee Two on 15th at Little Walnut Picnic Ground , 1 at the Kelly Mine on 19th and 1 at the Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th
Black-capped Chickadee Just a single bird at the Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th.
Tufted Titmouse
The black tufted form was seen at Santa Ana, Salineño and Bentsen on 3 days from (9th).
White-breasted Nuthatch One at Little Walnut and 2 near the Gila River on 15th then 3 seen at the Rio Grande NC on 20th
Brown Creeper Just a single bird seen at Percha Dam on 16th.
Western Scrub Jay
Seen on 15th and 16th near Silver City then 4 seen on 19th near Kelly.
Green Jay Noted on 4 consecutive days from 9th in various parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and at Laguna Atascosa.
American Crow Only identified on the last couple of days in the Albuquerque area, which fits in with the species’ distribution.
Chihuahuan Raven One on 10th at Falcon Dam then not seen again until 14th when at least 50 were seen during the drive to Silver City. Those identified on 18th, 19th & 20th were probably mostly of this species but a few of them may have been American Crows!
Common Raven Noted every day from 15th in small numbers.
Common (European) Starling Noted every day except 14th.
Song Sparrow Three at Bentsen RGSP on 11th and 2 at Bosque on 18th.
White-crowned Sparrow Seen on 5 consecutive days from 14th and also on 20th.
Dark-eyed Junco Seen every day from 13th.
Savannah Sparrow Just 7 seen at Falcon Dam SP on 10th.
Chipping Sparrow About 10 at Falcon Dam SP on 10th then seen on 15th to the west of Silver City and a couple the following day at Percha Dam.
Lincoln’s Sparrow Just a single individual seen at Salineño on 10th.
Rufous-crowned Sparrow A few were seen to the west of Silver City on 15th.
Black-chinned Sparrow At least 5 seen during our walk at Dripping Springs on 14th.
Black-throated Sparrow One on 10th at Falcon Dam SP, 6 on 13th near Las Cruces/Dripping Springs where the species was also seen the following day.
Lark Bunting A flock of at least 250 were seen during our lunch stop on the way to Silver City on 14th.
Spotted Towhee Six on 14th during the Dripping Springs walk then 2 seen at Sevilleta NWR and a further 2 at the Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th.
Canyon Towhee Three at Dripping Springs on 13th where the species was also seen the following day. Our final views of this bird were on 15th when we saw a few in 2 or 3 locations to the west of Silver City.
Olive Sparrow Just a single individual seen at Salineño on 10th.
Northern Cardinal Seen on 9th, 10th and 11th in various parts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley usually close to feeders.
Pyrrhuloxia At least 40 seen in the Falcon Dam area then a single male seen near Dripping Springs on 13th where we also saw the species the following day. There was 1 at Percha Dam on 16th and finally we saw a couple at Elephant Butte on 17th.
Orange-crowned Warbler
A few were seen at Santa Ana on 9th and there was a single individual at Falcon Dam SP on 10th.
Yellow-rumped Warbler
This variable species was seen in good numbers during the first 3 days in the Lower Rio Grande Valley then on 3 days from 15th and also on 20th.
White-eyed Vireo
Two or three seen at Santa Ana on 9th then a single sighting at Bentsen on 11th.
American Goldfinch First seen on 10th at Salineño where there were at least 30 individuals. Seen the following day at Bentsen then on 16th and 17th at Percha Dam and near Elephant Butte respectively and finally seen on 20th at Bosque del Apache.
Lesser Goldfinch Seen at Dripping Springs on 14th then seen again the following day to the west of Silver City.
Pine Siskin Three or four seen at Dripping Springs on 13th and 14th then seen on 16th at Percha Dam and a single bird was at the Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th.
House Finch Four on 13th at Dripping Springs were the first and we then saw the species on the next 4 days and on 20th.
House Sparrow This introduced species seems to be doing better than in Britain as we saw it every day!
Altamira Oriole One distant individual seen at Santa Ana on 9th then we saw about 8 individuals the following day at Falcon Dam SP and at Salineño. To confirm its Lower Rio Grande Status, our final sightings were 6 at Bentsen on 11th.
Hooded Oriole Just 2 at Salineño on 10th.
Audubon’s Oriole A single bird was well seen at Salineño on10th.
Yellow-headed Blackbird Seen on each day at Bosque del Apache where they were mostly in the company of the following species.
Red-winged Blackbird Seen every day except 14th and 16th. The largest numbers were at Bosque del Apache as expected where we saw feeding flocks of about 2000 individuals feeding in the maize beside cranes and geese as well as at least 200 of the previous species.
Eastern Meadowlark First seen on 10th at Falcon Dam SP then seen on a further 6 days especially at Bosque del Apache.
Great-tailed Grackle Regularly seen through the first 5 days and then seen at Bosque del Apache.
Common Grackle
Seen every day except 15th.
Brewer’s Blackbird A few were in a McAllen car park on 10th but we did not see the species again until17th & 18th when we saw a few at Bosque del Apache.
Brown-headed Cowbird About 5 seen at a feeder in Falcon Dam State Park on 10th; our only sighting.

MAMMALS

Coyote
Just a couple seen briefly at Bosque del Apache on 17th.
Grey Fox A single sighting at Percha Dam on 16th.
Collared Peccary Five seen well at Bentsen Rio Grande State Park on 11th.
Mule Deer Eight on 15th to the west of Silver City and another one seen the following day
Pronghorn
At least 30 seen during the journey to Silver City on 14th and 27 seen to the west of Socorro on 18th.
Eastern Fox Squirrel Some lovely reddish individuals were seen on 9th, 10th & 11th at Santa Ana, Salineño and Bentsen SP.
Tassel-eared Squirrel Just a single individual seen on 15th as we left Little Walnut picnic ground.
Rock Squirrel
One on 15th to the west of Silver City and a few were at Elephant Butte SP on 17th.
Hispid Cotton Rat
Three at Salineño on 10th.
Cliff Chipmunk One seen lining its nest with tissue paper at Kelly on 19th. It must have been a female as it was collecting the ‘tissue’ paper from the nearby ladies loo!!
Muskrat Just a single sighting at the Rio Grande Nature Centre on 20th.
Black-tailed Jackrabbit 1 well seen on 14th added to a glimpse of one (probably!) the previous day.
Desert Cottontail Noted on 13th & 14th close to Dripping Springs and also seen on 17th at Elephant Butte SP.

REPTILES

Terrapin species
At least 2 seen at Santa Ana on 9th and about 15 were along an irrigation ditch at Bosque del Apache on 18th.
American Alligator One large adult and 14 metre-long youngsters see at the Alligator Pond at Laguna Atascosa NWR on 12th.


PLANTS

Pinon Pine Pinus edulis
Gray Oak Quercus grisea
American Privet
Russian Olive Elaeagnus angustifolia
Seepwillow Baccharis Baccharis glutinosa
Eastern Cottonwood Populus deltoides
Hawthorn spp.
Big Sagebrush Artemisia tridentata
Sugarberry (Hackberry) Celtis laevigata
Mesquite Prospois grandulosa
Sqawbush Rhus tribulata
Aligator Juniper Juniperus deppeano
Common Juniper Juniperus communis
Sotol Dasylirion wheeleri
Narrow-leaf Yucca Yucca elata
Broad-leaf Yucca Yucca torreyi
Agave Agave lechuguilla
Pricklypear Cactus Opuntia phaeacantha
Barrelcactus Ferocactus wisilizenii
Tree Cholla Opuntia imbricata
Ocotillo Fouquieria splendens
Brickelbush Brickellia californica
American Mistletoe Phoradendron cockerelli
Englemann Daisy Englemannia pinnatifida
Turpentine Bush Encramena lancifolia
Snakeweed Gutierrezia sarothrae
Silverleaf Nightshade Solanum elaeagnifolium
Russian Thistle
Tumbleweed
Reed Mace Typha latifolia
Common Reed Phragmites australis
Spanish Moss



BUTTERFLIES

American Snout
Cloudless Sulphur
Golden Skipper
Red Admiral
Bordered Patch
Orange Barred Sulphur
Julia Heliconia
Phoar Crescent
Little Metalmark
American Painted Lady
Morning Cloak


DRAGONFLIES & DAMSELFLIES

Swamp Drummer
Stripe winged Basket tail
Roseate Skimmer
Eastern Pondhawk
Red Saddlebags

With 185 bird species and 13 species of mammal this was a most enjoyable tour. The weather was kind to us and there was good humour (except some of Mike’s jokes!!) throughout. Of course, the fabulous wildlife spectacle of thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes was very special indeed. To stand enjoying the sunrise or sunset was great but when you add in the sight and sounds of the masses of birds, it becomes one of those totally memorable experiences that you carry in your mind’s eye and ear forever. I can still hear the cranes calling; can you?

The difficulty of finding suitable dinner establishments which did vegetarian food was a difficulty that we managed to overcome fairly successfully on most occasions and we thank everyone for their patience and understanding on this. Somehow, Laura seemed to do very well with her veggie choices but “I’m sorry, we’re fresh out of that” seemed to be a frequent response when Liz T ordered anything. Strange how things work out eh?!

You, our clients, were very kind and considerate when Mike was a little below par so thank you for that. It was much appreciated and we did manage a full(ish) programme of outings despite everything. The change in visiting arrangements at Bentsen, the closed Anzaldulas Local Park and the closed visitor centre at Laguna Atascosa all seemed to conspire against us. We almost wondered what would be closed next! Would it be New Mexico?!

Despite these problems, we believe everyone saw their ‘target species’ sometimes in greater numbers than anticipated and once as just a very quick fly-past. Even Mike had a lifer with his first ever Clay-colored Robins. The Lower Rio Grande Valley harbours some of the States’ rarest birds with a tiny ‘blip’ of distribution of many South and Central American species while New Mexico combines desert and wetland birds all in a fairly compact (in USA terms) area.

We sincerely hope you enjoyed the experience as much as we did and we look forward to the pleasure of your company on future
Travelling Naturalist tours.

Mike & Liz Read


© The Travelling Naturalist 2005