Tramway Wetands, Albuquerque 8/30/10

Coming from shorebird-poor central Pennsylvania, I’ve been enjoying my visits to the Tramway Wetlands on the northern edge of Albuquerque. Better spots can be found in other areas of New Mexico, but I have been impressed with not only the diversity that I’ve seen but also species reported by other birders this year and in the past.

The name Tramway Wetlands might make you think of a serene marsh with cattails, grasses, maybe a beaver dam, and peaceful, still water. Well, guess again. These wetlands are the end of one of Albuquerque’s many flood control channels where storm water and who knows what else flow back into a canal near the Rio Grande. Oh, and at the moment you get to it through an active construction site or walking over the tracks of Albuquerque’s Rail Runner system. At least someone removed the dozen or so shopping carts from the mud and stacked them on the side. But it’s a great spot for birding! And for huge soft-shelled turtles.

The Tramway Wetlands

Pile of shopping carts with a Say's Phoebe on the upper right

Shy Say's Phoebe

These soft-shelled turtles have crazy heads

For the first time, I had the place to myself. No other birders to help me identify the more difficult sandpipers. The first bird I noticed, however, was easy. As I drove I saw a large white bird feeding in the water. This reminded me of the time last fall when I drove up to Colyer Lake near State College, PA and saw a large white bird that turned out to be an American Avocet, a rare bird for central Pennsylvania! Sure enough, this was another American Avocet (Bernalillo County bird #130), though much more common in central New Mexico.

I scoped the wetlands as I walked along the dirt road at the edge of the water. Dozens of noisy Killdeer stood out at the upper end of the wetlands. Further down, I picked out a juvenile Wilson’s Phalarope and Semipalmated Plover that I had seen yesterday evening. Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers fed here and there; one of the latter had an injured right wing. Then on to the peeps, those tiny nearly-identical sandpipers that excite some birders but frustrate the rest of us. Thankfully there are only three expected species here: Baird’s, Western, and Least Sandpipers.

Killdeer

Juvenile Wilson's Phalarope at Tramway Wetlands

Solitary Sandpiper

Just a week or so ago, I saw my first Baird’s Sandpiper here. The larger and longer shape than the smaller peeps, the tan coloration above, and especially the wings that extend beyond the tail when standing make this species one of the easier peeps to identify. Least Sandpipers are tiny and most of them are juveniles in a rusty-colored plumage, making them stand out. Western Sandpipers, to me anyway, seem a little front-heavy with a long drooping bill. Identification purists will point out that these characteristics are not distinctive enough. I’m still learning.

Baird's Sandpiper?

Then there is this little bird, poorly digiscoped by me.

At least the bird was close, but it didn't help

no idea

Here it looks like a Least

Is it a Least? The last picture shows greenish-yellow legs, but the bird looks to be different from the one in the other picture. Or perhaps the more uncommon Semipalmated Sandpiper (not the plover; it’s not only the plumages of sandpipers that can be confusing). Or a Western Sandpiper with a short bill?

I found a few warblers feeding in the brush and weeds along the water: MacGillavray’s, Virginia’s, Yellow, and Orange-crowned. The Orange-crowned was brightly colored overall; could it be the Pacific subspecies?

Someday I’ll have a real camera and can get good pictures. Until then, I apologize for the poor digiscoped pictures!

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