2400 Cranes at Arrey/Derry!

Last Saturday (November 20th) I did yet another crane survey at the Arrey Derry site south of T or C. My survey partner today was Jonathan, an undergrad who has been working on birds with his amateur ornithologist patents since he was 6 collecting birds in South America.

We arrived at the site right on time and heard one Great Horned Owl over on the cliffs. Soon one flew overhead and we spotted on sitting on a rock ledge. As the sun rose, we started seeing more birds including a Belted Kingfisher that posed nicely in the Rio Grande. We had the survey team’s fancy camera so some of these pictures will be much better than the usual point and shoot photos I normally get!

Within about and hour after sunrise, the Sandhill Cranes started flying south. Cranes flew by for the next two hours or so.

Some Snow Geese flying with Sandhill Cranes

The lighter bird in the lower right is a leucisitc Lesser Sandhill Crane, with lighter than normal plumage.

Once the mass exodus of cranes had passed and the numbers of birds dropped off, Jonathan and I played around with the fancy camera.

Chipping Sparrow in winter plumage

Many of the birds counted in the morning survey were new for my Sierra County list: Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Cooper’s Hawk, Spotted Towhee, Snow Goose,  Horned Lark, Ring-billed Gull, and (surprisingly) Mallard (#69-76).

During the break, we went up to Percha Dam and Caballo Lake State Parks, some New Mexico birding hotspots for migrants and water birds. We didn’t find much at Percha, but two Common Moorhens (left) and a beautiful male Vermillion Flycatcher were great to see. A Eurasian Collared-Dove and a male Ruby-crowned Kinglet were new for me in the county (#77 and 78).We looked through many Ring-billed Gulls at Caballo Lake but didn’t find any rare species. Grebes, however, were all over. The lake was full of hundreds of Western and Clark’s Grebes (Sierra birds 79 and 80), one Pied-billed Grebe (Sierra bird 81) as well as a few Eared Grebes (Sierra bird 82) and, surprisingly close to shore, a Horned Grebe (NM bird 234 and Sierra bird 83). It swam close to an Eared Grebe for a great comparison between the two similar species. Jonathan and I drove around the Percha Flats area (left) to try for better views of the lake.

Farther along the shore, I looked back to where we had been and saw a large brown bird on the jetty. Brown Pelican! (NM bird 235 and Sierra bird 84). A few of these normally coastal pelicans had been seen all summer and fall either at this lake or Elephant Butte Reservoir to the north. The white feathers on the head show that this is an adult Brown Pelican. We checked the main marina area but found mainly the same waterfowl, save for a few Lesser Scaup (Sierra bird 85).

Jonathan and I then drove to Hatch for some delicious green chile cheeseburgers at Sparky’s.  Still the best ones I’ve eaten so far!

The afternoon survey was slower than the morning as usual. We had plenty of time to take some nicer pictures with the fancy survey camera. Raptors were the highlights of the afternoon. A first year Golden Eagle (right) passed by soon after we started. An hour later, we noticed a beautiful adult Ferruginous Hawk (Sierra bird 86) circling over the site before heading back north. It returned about an hour after that along with a Prairie Falcon. The second time both raptors were hounded by a number of Common Ravens. A few Northern Harriers flew around the area, hunting, throughout the afternoon.

Golden Eagle

Ferrugionous Hawk

Prairie Falcon

Northern Harrier, taken by Jonathan

More Ferruginous Hawk photos

Prairie Falcon (bottom) and Ferrugionous Hawk (right) cased by Common Ravens

Northern Harrier, by Jonathan

European Starlings, in a large flock flying over the fields to the north, became my 87th species in Sierra County.

A few hundred cranes flew back north after sunset but mostly flew to the east and out of view behind the cliffs. We watched the full moon rise over the cliffs and checked out some of Jupiter’s moons through my spotting scope. This is turning into a survey tradition, mostly because there are far fewer birds to see after the sun goes down!






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