I’ve been eagerly awaiting spring here in New Mexico. This will be my first spring migration season and I’m looking forward to seeing some new migrant and breeding species. One of these, Franklin’s Gull, migrates through the state only in the spring and would be a lifer for me. These gulls nest in the northern Great Plains and make a long migration to the coasts of South America, some as far as Chile. I wasn’t expecting to see this gull so soon in the season, but a group of three made an appearance for last week’s Thursday birders trip.
Last week’s group of 17 birders (including two visitors from Wisconsin) ventured north into Sandoval County to the Peña Blanca and Cochiti Lake area. The visiting birders saw their life Say’s Phoebe in the distance at the gas station just off I-25; they got to see many more much closer later in the day. In Peña Blanca we drove along a road passing through farms and walked a bit along one of the irrigation canals. Some of the group saw the Franklin’s Gulls in a wet field but Gary, Lefty, and I missed them as we fell behind in the car caravan watching a Brewer’s Sparrow (Sandoval bird 90). The wet field still held a surprise: a Wilson’s Snipe (91) took off from along the fence.
We next stopped at a nest platform that has been used by Ospreys (92) for a few years. Lucky for us, one had already returned this spring and sat for about 10 minutes before taking off. Also in the area were a pair of Black-billed Magpies, a Black Phoebe, and a large flock of swallows too far away to identify.
As we drove slowly over the bridge below the Cochiti Lake dam, we spotted a large raft of Buffleheads and some other duck species including some Lesser Scaups (93). A Belted Kingfisher (94) perched on a wire over the river, as they often do.
At the visitor center high above the lake, we were treated to views of a Common Raven nest, some singing Cassin’s Finches (95), and a Canyon Towhee (96). Some others in the group heard a Juniper Titmouse–the habitat certainly looked good. What didn’t look good was the lake itself which seemed devoid of any water birds. Maybe if we got closer…
We were in luck, sort of. A female merganser swam out from a cove by the marina and we puzzled over its identity. The group was hoping for Red-breasted Mergansers that day, but we determined that the few we saw were Common Mergansers. Some Western and Clark’s Grebes sat in the water on the opposite side of the lake (of course) and some very distant cormorants turned out to be the expected Double-crested Cormorants (97). Then three Franklin’s Gulls (US bird 535, NM bird 252, and Sandoval bird 98) flew overhead. I just got a quick glimpse of them flying away so I didn’t see their black heads very well. But the other features matched this species (and any other dark-headed gull in New Mexico at this season would be more unexpected).
On our way to lunch at the Cohiti Lake golf course, we stopped at a small arroyo where not much was happening, but I spotted a flock of Evening Grosbeaks (99) flying to the north. A few birders in the group didn’t believe me, wondering how I knew what they were at that distance. (This post at the ABA blog talks about birders identifying briefly-seen birds “magic”. It’s all pattern recognition and knowing what to look for!) Lucky for me (and of course, more for the rest of the group!) a flock of seven or so Evening Grosbeaks decided that the juniper right next to our picnic tables was the perfect spot to fly in and out of. These are such beautiful birds and often hard to track down. I’ve only seen them a few times in my life (the first I saw was in northern New Mexico 15 years ago) and this was by far the best and longest sighting.
On the way home, Gary, Lefty, and I found most of the same birds below the dam as before along with some Common Mergansers, Gadwall (102), and a Northern Rough-winged Swallow (103).
For some better pictures from this trip, visit Joe’s blog.
Judy wrote about the trip here.