My third crane survey took my back to the Arrey Derry site, this time with Shane, another grad student in the Witt lab. He picked me up at 3:55 AM and we made it to the spot a little after we were supposed to start.
In addition to some of the more common birds in the area, the highlight of the morning survey was the estimated 1200 Sandhill Cranes that flew south in the span of about 25 minutes. We heard the cranes bugling to the north and spotted flock after flock of cranes in the air. Some of the flocks contained between 100 and 250 birds. Such an amazing sight. I hope that later surveys and trips to Bosque del Apache can rival this sighting.
After the morning survey, Shane and I drove down I-25 and went past Hatch (famous for green chiles) on NM 26. A seasonal playa, called the NuttHatch playa because it is along the road between the towns of Nutt and Hatch, is located a few minutes to the west of Hatch. As we got out of the car, we noticed hundreds of cranes circling overhead; they eventually landed on the far side of the playa. Other birds in the area included Least Sandpiper, Amercan Avocets, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Long-billed Dowichers, Eared Grebes, and Violet-green Swallows. We spent some time sorting through the numerous sparrows in the scrubby vegetation on the east side of the playa. Despite the wind and the skittish birds we found some very dark Savannah Sparrows, Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows, Brewer’s Sparrows, and quite a number of Lark Buntings in winter plumage.
As we walked along the roadside, we noticed a number of dead birds. We suppose that birds flying across the road between the low bushes often get hit by cars and trucks. NM 26 is a major route between I-25 in New Mexico and I-10 in Arizona and carries a lot of traffic. Shane collected a recently dead Brewer’s Sparrow for the museum collection at UNM; all the other dead birds were too stiff, messed up, or dessicated to be of value. In addition to the Brewer’s Sparrow, we found an accipiter, more Brewer’s Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, aVesper Sparrow, and a Wilson’s Warbler.
Lunch in Hatch was amazing. We ate at Sparky’s where I had a chile mango shake, a green chile cheeseburger, and a pulled pork BBQ sandwich. Though I’ve only tried three green chile cheeseburgers in New Mexico, this was the best and I think it will be hard to beat.
After lunch, we drove up I-25 to check out Percha Dam State Park, one of New Mexico’s top birding spots. The area acts as an oasis of bosque vegetation surrounded by miles of open scrubby land to the north and south. Migrants congregate in the park and vagrants are often attracted to the area and stick around. The designated bird habitat was essentially dead and the rest of the park (picnic and camper areas) mostly had Chipping Sparrows. On the way back to the car, Shane spotted a sapsucker in a tree. Any sapsucker along the river is an interesting bird, so we studied it for as long as we could. I took some notes on the bird, but couldn’t get a picture. The bird was an adult male, with red on the crown and throat. The back was barred with a light buffy color and the back of the head had no red on it. Other than that, we didn’t notice any field marks which could separate Red-naped from Yellow-bellied. We felt it matched a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker best, but I’m not sure how our sighting will fly with other birders in the state.
I walked around the survey area before the afternoon survey while Shane tried to take a nap. During this time we saw many White-throated Swifts and I tracked down a calling Pyrrhuloxia. The afternoon survey was windy and uneventful; no cranes flew by, so all the ones in the morning must have been headed south on migration rather than traveling to a feeding area. After the essentially full Moon rose, we took a look through the scope and had a discussion on why we always see the same side of the Moon on Earth. We also put Jupiter in the scope and could see three of the Galilean moon on the left side of the planet.
As we drove out to the main road, Shane noticed a nightjar on the road. After getting it in the headlights we determined it was a Common Poorwill. Nightjars cannot walk well on the ground–this one shuffled around 180 degrees and slowly waddled away from us before taking off. It would have made an amusing video.
With this trip, my Sierra County list is at 68, while the trip to Hatch and beyond got me to 29 in Doña Ana County.