Two trips to Quarai–5/5/11 and 5/7/11

Over a month ago, in early May, Central New Mexico Audubon led two trips to the Quarai ruins, part of the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. These ruins of mission churches and pueblo are located southeast of the Manzano Mountains near the town of Mountainair.

The ruins at Quarai sit beside a fairly lush riparian woods which is a decent migrant trap on the west edge of New Mexico’s eastern plains. The monument hosts an event each May for the International Migratory Bird Day.

On the Thursday birder trip, I was lucky enough to ride with one birder in her recently-purchased a Mercedes convertible. That was fun! The group first stopped at a pond in the town of Manzano where we found some common migrants and resident birds for an impressive total of 40 species. Some highlihgts included two Marsh Wrens, Cedar Waxwings, a Lark Sparrow, and a singing Brewer’s Sparrow. One birder got a photo of a very obliging Sora walking out in the open, but the rest of us missed it.

On to Quarai, where we found several species nesting in the church ruins: Violet-green Swallows, a pair of Great Horned Owls, and a Rock Wren. The creek produced several warblers including Orange-crowned, Audubon’s, MacGillivray’s, Common Yellowthroat, Wilson’s, and a skulking Yellow-breasted Chat. A flock of Pinyon Jays flew by, gracing us for a brief time with their presence as they so often do.

Another trip on Sunday returned to the same spots. I got a late start and decided to drive down I-25 to get to the ruins and check some wetlands on the way south. A Tricolored Heron had been reported from the Belen marsh, but most of the herons had left their roost by the time I got there. I did see some Black-necked Stilts at the Isleta wetlands (Bernalillo bird #205). A Ring-necked Pheasant in a field in Valencia County, as well as Great Egrets and, of all things, House Sparrows brought my Valencia County list up to 90. I should bird more in that county.

I got to Quarai a little late, birding on my own for a while until I found the group. Before catching up, however, I noticed a small bird fly out of a dense area of chokecherry bushes and land in a small cottonwood. The white eye and yellow lores stood out immediately on this bird which looked an awful lot like a vireo.  Could it be? The bird fit all the characteristics of a White-eyed Vireo, a very rare migrant to New Mexico and my 292th species in the state! This was the first report from Torrance County. I observed the vireo for a few minutes and then ran off to find the group. We headed back to the spot and searched diligently, but with no luck. Not even playing a recording of the species’ song could coax the normally responsive and inquisitive vireo out of the bushes.

Great Horned Owl nest in the upper right in one of the gaps in the bricks

Things were slow at the Manzano pond, though we managed to find a Virginia’s Warbler and a Lincoln’s Sparrow on our short walk. Just as we were getting back in the cars to head north, I heard a familiar sound from a nearby tree: zee-zee-zee-zee-zip! A Northern Parula! I frantically waved at the other cars for everyone to get out. Luckily no one had started to drive away! We watched the bird sing and flit about the tree for a few minutes before it flew off to another cottonwood where we lost the bird among all the leaves.

As we drove north, I noticed a Cassin’s Kingbird while in Bernalillo County for county bird #206.

The last stop on the trip was Ojito de San Antonio Open Space. I haven’t done much birding here apart from looking for a Winter Wren last February, and I won’t get much chance anytime soon. The area is now closed due to fire danger and is always closed in the late summer to fall due to high bear activity in the old apple orchards. Birds were few here back in May late in the morning, but one of the birders along on the trip pointed out a small hawk perched in the trees near the start of the trail. Initially it looked like a Swainson’s Hawk, but deep in a tree and so small. Then it hit me: Broad-winged Hawk (NM bird # 293 and Bernalillo #207). (In less than a year in Bernalillo County, I’d officially matched the number of bird species I saw in Centre County, PA over three years!) Broad-wings are rare migrants in the state at the extreme western edge of their migration route. Most breed in the eastern forests, but eastern forest habitat extends west into Alberta. The hawk took off very soon after we saw it but we all got some good looks.

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