Varied Thrushes are a Pacific Northwest species, usually wintering along the coast. Wintering birds can, however, end up anywhere across the continent. In fact, I saw a long-staying Varied Thrush in Northern Virginia just last March! New Mexico has several records of this species and this seems to be the second record for Sandoval County (in Corrales in early November 2006) and the third for the Albuquerque metro area.
The directions in the email said to walk north along a dry ditch, cross on a footbirdge, continue north and then cross another bridge over a ditch with flowing water. The thrush was seen just north of the second bridge in some Russian Olives and New Mexico Olives. A bridge over the flowing ditch was just south of the first bridge so I continued north not knowing that I had passed the area. The extra walk wasn’t in vain, though. I found some Sandhill Cranes feeding in an apple orchard, many Song Sparrows and Spotted Towhees, and two ducks that I’m fairly confident in calling Mexican Mallards.
I saw some birders back at the first bridge over the main ditch, but they were too far away for me to catch them before they left. Maybe they had found the thrush, maybe not. As I made my way back, I found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet and several more sparrows feeding in branches over the water or at the water’s edge. I think this ditch will stay flowing all year and might be a good spot to find some lingering birds in the winter.
Back at the bridge where I was supposed to be, I heard then saw some movement beneath a bush. Thinking it was a sparrow, I was surprised to find the Varied Thrush (NM bird 237 and Sandoval bird 82) right there, not 10 meters away from me! It quickly hopped out of sight. Despite the striking orange and gray plumage, these birds can blend in better than you’d think.
On the other side of the ditch, I waited for the bird to come out and show itself. Eventually it did, feeding in the open for several minutes. I got a few pictures through my binoculars (left and at the top of the post) and made some field notes for when I submit this sighting to the New Mexico Ornithological Society. This bird looks like a female with dull orange coloring and a diffuse breast band. The Varied Thrush I saw in March was a bright adult male. Melissa has some pictures of it and I’ll post a few on here later.
On the way home I stopped at the Alameda Street bridge over the Rio Grande and at the Tramway wetlands, but neither had too many birds other than Mallards. The wetlands were quite dry.
I took the slow route to the Rio Grande Nature Center through Los Ranchos de Albuquerque down Rio Grande Boulevard. This area goes by the western edge of Los Poblanos Open Space and I was hoping for flocks of geese and cranes. The cranes were far away, but I found a large flock of Cackling and Canada Geese with about half a dozen white geese. A quick check through the scope turned up four Ross’s Geese (Bernalillo bird 169) and three Snow Geese, maybe the same three I saw yesterday at Los Poblanos. These geese probably move around a lot.
The sun was already below the cottonwoods when I got to the nature center. Very few ducks were on the Candelaria pond this late in the day, but some of the scaup caught my eye. Two first-winter males swam with some female Lesser Scaups and one of them had the widest, broadest bill I’ve seen on a duck that wasn’t a Shoveler or a Canvasback. Surely this was a definite Greater Scaup! (NM bird 238 and Beralillo bird 170) I still am not sure if the scaup I saw last week was an adult Greater or not, but at least I’ve seen one definite individual of this species.