Bird Treks - A Quality Birdwatching Tour Company

Previous Tours - NEW MEXICO

Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of each tour.


15-23 November 2004>

 1) BLACK ROSY-FINCH--excellent looks at a mixed flock of approximately 60 Black and Brown-capped Rosy-Finches at Sandia Crest feeders.
 2) Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch--a single bird of the Hepburn's race coming to the same feeders. All three of the rosy-finch species were life birds for most of the tour participants.
 3) Harris's Sparrow--an immature seen at close range through the spotting scope at the Rio Grande Nature Center.
 4) Prairie Falcon--a pair circling low over our heads at Las Vegas NWR.
 5) Pyrrhuloxia--many good looks of this handsome bird throughout the tour.
 6) Crissal Thrasher--nice views at an often elusive species at Bosque del Apache NWR.
 7) Sandhill Crane--large gatherings at Bosque plus a pair-bonding dance made this an all-around favorite.
 8) Black-chinned Sparrow--repeated good looks at a new location on our itinerary, Dripping Springs.
 9) Phainopepla--several good scope views of this rather tropical looking member of the Silky-Flycatcher family.
10) Sage Sparrow--we had good looks at a small flock at Petroglyph National Monument on the final morning of the tour.

Mammalian highlights included a large herd of 30+ Pronghorn, several sightings of Mule Deer, Coyotes stalking Sandhill Cranes, a Badger, and the improbable-looking Abert's Squirrel.

Leaders: Bob Schutsky and John Puschock
Trip Report by John Puschock

Cold weather (at least it was cold to me, since I was flying in from Florida) and snow in the higher elevations greeted the ten participants and Bob and me as we arrived in Albuquerque for the Bird Treks tour of New Mexico. Actually, the weather was quite welcome. A major target of this tour is the Rosy-Finches on Sandia Crest, and snow in the mountains helps bring them into the feeders. The weather was definitely working for us. The finches had made an early arrival at the Crest this year, and Bob had seen all three species, including his lifer Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, while scouting the previous day.

But the finches would have to wait until the second day of the tour. Today, our destination was the Rio Grande Nature Center, located along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque. I took the tour participants who had arrived early, while Bob waited to pick up the rest of our group at the airport. One of the first birds we saw at the nature center was New Mexico's state bird, a Greater Roadrunner. We spent time studying the various subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco visiting the feeders plus the geese on the pond next to the parking area. The recent split of Canada and Cackling Geese (both species were here at close range) has renewed interest in these birds that many of us have been dismissing for years as just another flock of Canadas.

The highlight of this stop was an immature Harris's Sparrow. We got great looks at this vagrant from only 10 feet away. Unfortunately, we weren't able to relocate it for those who arrived later - at least not today.

The next morning we headed to the Sandias, a mountain range just east of Albuquerque that rises about a mile above the city. Our first stop was in the foothills for some of the birds typical of pinyon-juniper forest, such as Western Scrub-Jay, Juniper Titmouse, and Townsend's Solitaire. Another quick stop a little higher in the Ponderosa Pine zone turned up an Abert's Squirrel, a striking dark gray species of tree squirrel with long ears tufts. From here we headed straight up to Sandia Crest, 10,678 feet above sea level.

At the end of the road on the top of the mountain, the Crest House, a restaurant and gift shop, hosts several feeders right outside its windows. This is where the Rosy-Finches come for regular, though sometimes brief, visits to feed on sunflower seeds. The crest was totally enshrouded in clouds when we arrived, and there was several inches of snow on the ground, but the weather certainly didn't hinder our birding. In fact, it probably helped. As soon as our group entered the restaurant, a flock of about 50 Black and Brown-capped Rosy-Finches descended out of the mist. I was still in the parking lot paying the day-use fee when I first saw them. I hurried inside to find everyone enjoying the birds, which were at a feeder less than 10 feet from the window. That was easy! However, we still wanted to see a Gray-crowned. We knew they were around thanks to Bob's scouting. Besides, we were planning on staying for lunch, so no one minded waiting. After several more visits by the large flock, a small group showed up. There were only four birds, but one was a Gray-crowned. Patience certainly pays off.

Just as we were preparing to head back down the mountain, the clouds gave way to sunshine, giving us great views of Albuquerque far below us. On the drive down, we added several more birds to the trip list, notably Pine and Evening Grosbeaks. We ended the day back at the Rio Grande Nature Center for another try at the Harris's Sparrow. No one left disappointed this time. Someone noticed it sitting in a shrub. A scope was set up on this cooperative bird, giving everyone incredible looks as it posed for us for over 10 minutes. The day ended with a Western Screech-Owl landing at dusk, practically overhead in response to a recording.

We headed south for the next several days for our first exposure to birding in the desert, but we first made a run through Bosque del Apache NWR, where we saw huge flocks of geese, ducks, and Sandhill Cranes. It was here that we saw our only Greater White-fronted Geese of the trip, plus some cooperative Ross's Geese not far from the road. Everyone was able to study the field marks that separate this species from Snow Goose while these two species were literally right next to each other.

We then began to bird the desert more intensively and were rewarded with sightings of Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, Pyrrhuloxia, and Phainopepla. Next, we drove to the Black Range for more montane species. One tour participant had informed me that she wanted to see Pygmy Nuthatches...actually, she informed me several times each day, so I was really hoping to find some for her. At first, the forest was quiet. I was starting to get nervous that we were going to leave empty-handed after dragging everyone on the hour-long drive up the mountain. Sure, the view was outstanding, but we were here to see birds. Luckily, some pishing attracted a few birds, and then more and more started coming in to check out the commotion. To my relief, several Pygmies were in the flock, and we were able to get a scope on a couple of them.

We started the next day with an early morning drive to Las Cruces. The first stop was New Mexico State University. There is a resident population of Burrowing Owls on the campus, and we slowly cruised the streets looking for one of these unique little owls. During a quick stop to look at some shorebirds in a drainage pond, a tour participant noticed a pair of birds on the far side of the pond. Looking through binoculars, she wasn't sure if they were doves or owls. However, there was no uncertainty when we looked through a scope - she had found our owls. They were sitting just outside their burrow, which happened to be alongside another road, so we drove over to get a closer look. By staying inside the vans, we were able to watch them from only 20 feet away. It seems that everyone likes Burrowing Owls.

Dripping Springs, located at the base of the Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces, was our next stop. The scenery here is spectacular. Towering granite cliffs serve as the backdrop for some great birding. An unexpected find was a heard-only Carolina Wren, singing loud and clear from a brushy gully. We had excellent scope views of a male Western Bluebird plus satisfying looks at several Pyrrhuloxia, but the sparrows were the main feature - twelve species were seen. The highlight was definitely several Black-chinned Sparrows, but Green-tailed Towhees, Black-throated Sparrows, and a Fox Sparrow were nice additions to the trip list. A stop at nearby Isaac's Lake added several more sparrows - Brewer's, Cassin's, and Grasshopper. Unfortunately, the latter two were seen well only by the leaders.

We spent the sixth day of the tour at Bosque del Apache NWR. Much of the time we merely enjoyed the huge numbers of cranes and geese. We also saw several "Mexican" Mallards (formerly regarded as a full species but now considered a subspecies of the Mallard), a Greater Scaup, and the "Prairie" subspecies of Merlin. Actually, the Merlin caused a great deal of confusion between Bob and me, but not because of any uncertainty about the identification. Bob didn't see the bird fly past, so when I told him we had just seen a "Prairie" Merlin, he thought I was saying that we had seen a Prairie/Merlin - in other words, he thought we weren't sure whether we had seen a Prairie Falcon or a Merlin, and he couldn't understand how we could confuse those two species. It took us at least two or three minutes before either one of us realized what was going on! Hey, who's on first?...

A midday stop at the visitor center turned up a very cooperative and very tame Yellow-headed Blackbird, a mere several feet from a walkway. It was oblivious to the crowd that joined us as we watched it feed with some Red-winged Blackbirds. The bird was still there 30 minutes later when we checked on it again, though it was now resting inconspicuously in the shrubs. Later, a hike up an arroyo gave us a Crissal Thrasher and a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, two more desert specialties.

We ended the day watching a huge flock of Sandhill Cranes feeding in corn stubble. Several Coyotes were also watching the flock, hoping to feed on one of the cranes, though none of them nabbed a meal while we were there. Then it was time for our meal, so we drove to the famous Owl Cafe for dinner. Appropriately, we saw a Great Horned Owl silhouetted against the sunset on the drive there.

Water Canyon in the Magdalena Mountains was our primary destination the following day. On the drive there, we watched a herd of Pronghorn as they grazed near the road. Most of the bird activity this morning was around the mouth of the canyon, where we found a Blue Jay (rare this far west) with several Western Scrub-Jays, a flock of Cassin's Finches, and one or two late Band-tailed Pigeons. Joining our tour here was Bowser the Wonder Dog. Bowser decided to follow us as we went higher into the mountains, even though we were riding in vans and he had to walk. Surprisingly, he followed us for FIVE miles until snow forced us to turn around. Equally surprising, he then followed us the next five miles back down! We were quite relieved when he left us as we passed his home on the way out of the canyon. We were worried that he was going to follow us to our next stop, the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array, and then on to Albuquerque. Bowser was quickly voted the tour mascot.

The final full day of the tour found us exploring the plains northeast of Albuquerque. At Las Vegas NWR, we saw some Mountain Bluebirds, several Ferruginous Hawks, and a Prairie Falcon that quite nicely decided to fly right over both of our vans, even though we were separated by several hundred yards. It then joined another Prairie Falcon as they both flew out of sight. We also saw a "Prairie" Merlin for good measure. (There was no confusion between Bob and me this time.) Next, Conchas Lake gave us our first Common Loons and Horned Grebe plus another flock of Mountain Bluebirds.

We woke up to a drizzly morning on the last day of the tour. But it was unanimous that we head to Petroglyph National Monument on the outskirts of Albuquerque despite the intermittent rain because we had one more target bird - Sage Sparrow. After examining some of the ancient rock art at this site, we came across a small flock of these birds and got good looks as several posed on the tops of shrubs for us. Satisfied, we returned to our hotel to pack for our flights home.


15-23 November 2003

 1) SANDHILL CRANE--thousands throughout the Rio Grande Valley
 2) Black Rosy-Finch--a close flock at Sandia Crest
 3) Western Screech-Owl--close encounter with a pair at the Rio Grande Nature Center
 4) Sage Sparrow--great scope views in Rinconada Canyon
 5) Greater Roadrunner--numerous sightings, with a few very close ones
 6) Prairie Falcon--nice views of several in flight
 7) Cinnamon Teal--we finally found two drakes after much searching
 8) American White Pelican--a large flock at Elephant Butte flying, swimming, and feeding
 9) Golden Eagle--our best view was the adult in a face off with a Sandhill Crane
10) Ross's Goose--many superb views in direct comparison with Snow Geese

We also enjoyed the Coyotes stalking the cranes and geese and the adult Golden Eagle that showed more than a passing interest in a flock of cranes. There were large numbers of Pronghorn and a herd of Mule Deer. Black-tailed Jackrabbits are always enjoyable and the Abert's Squirrels were quite unique with their large ears. We encountered dust storms, snow squalls, and 70+ mph winds that sent the tumbleweed tumbling, all in the same day.


21-29 November 2000
by Mike Haldeman, Tour Leader

Bird Treks premier New Mexico Tour was a tremendous success. From deserts to marshes to snow-capped peaks we explored many habitats and were rewarded time and time again. From the summit of 10,678-foot Sandia Crest we had to force our eyes from the spectacular 360 degree view to look through the wintering Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches and the meandering flocks of Red Crossbills. The reservoirs of southern New Mexico were filled with four species of grebes and we managed to find a bonus Pacific Loon. The deserts around Elephant Butte provided us with excellent views of Crissal and Curve-billed Thrashers as well as crowd pleasers more fun to see than pronounce: Pyrrhuloxia and Phainopepla. New Mexico's abundance of wide-open plains allowed us great looks at large herds of Pronghorn and brilliant Mountain Bluebirds. As is to be expected, raptors abound in these open spaces and we had many opportunities to for close study of Ferruginous and Rough-legged Hawks, Prairie and Peregrine Falcons, Merlin, and a Golden Eagle that hung in the air above us for a full five minutes. But none of these experiences could prepare us for the spectacle at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. 50,000 ducks, 40,000 Snow Geese, and 12,000 Sandhill Cranes and some very excited birders converge on this network of wetlands along the Rio Grande every winter. Our quest for the sole Whooping Crane, of which we had excellent looks, was an underlying theme of our four days in the Bosque area, but only one of the highlights. Watching a pair of Coyotes stroll through thousands of Snow Geese surrounded by their perfect circle of gooseless terrain for half an hour was another highlight. Picking through the close flocks of Snow Geese until everyone could confidently identify their own Ross's Goose was another highlight. An immature Northern Shrike, a feeding Sora at thirty feet, several Greater Roadrunners, and many Bald Eagles were also highlights. But the real spectacle of Bosque occurs every night and morning at the "Flight Deck" when thousands upon thousands of geese and cranes descend on the marshes to roost or leave for their feeding grounds. The rush of air from a thousand geese suddenly rising and flying directly over your head is something you won't soon forget.


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