Last weekend was my fourth trip to Arrey, NM for a crane survey along the Rio Grande. Another crane surveyor named Matt and I drove down on Saturday afternoon for the first half of the survey. We stayed overnight in Truth or Consequences (T or C for those in the know).
Before the survey period started Saturday afternoon, I spotted an adult Ferruginous Hawk north of the site, but it drifted away before we could count it. The afternoon was uncharacteristically slow, lacking most of the raptors that had brought some excitement in previous weeks. Sparrows put on a good show with Spotted Towhees screaming in the bushes; a Lincoln’s Sparrow skulking along the riverbank; Chipping, Savannah, and Vesper Sparrows flitting between the bushes and fields; and Song and Gambel’s White-crowned Sparrows mostly just sitting in the bushes and giving a few bits of song near sunset.
A check to the north on the river turned up a Great Egret (Sierra bird 88) feeding with a couple Great Blue Herons. Some ducks swam around on the river including two Gadwall (Sierra bird 89) and a female Hooded Merganser (90). Later in the afternoon a flock of Canada Geese (91, surprisingly) flew north over the farms and dairy.
After sunset, the crane show started. We tallied 1325 Sandhill Cranes flying north to roost either at Caballo Lake or Elephant Butte Reservoir. A surprise, for me anyway, were two Greater Yellowlegs (NM bird 239, Sierra bird 92) calling “tew-tew-tew” as they flew by to the south. This is the more expected species during winter in southern New Mexico.
The morning survey was cold, as usual, but we had large numbers of ducks (mostly Mallards and American Wigeons) flying north fairly high overhead. The crane flight began just at sunrise and only lasted about 20 minutes this morning rather than two hours the last time I was at Arrey. We counted 1194 Sandhill Cranes in the morning which means (1) we missed some, (2) we either over-counted in the evening or under-counted in the morning, or (3) 131 cranes decided to stay put for the day.
The rest of the birds in the morning were similar to the afternoon’s birds with the exception of a Loggerhead Shrike (Sierra bird 93) which stayed the morning along an irrigation ditch north of the site.