O Valencia (County)

(I’ve been listening to a lot of The Decemberists lately)

Several months ago, I volunteered to lead a shorebird trip for the Central New Mexico Audubon’s Thursday birder outing. Although I am no expert on shorebirds, I find them fascinating–possibly because I saw them so rarely living in central PA for a few years. Melissa’s mom got me the recent photographic shorebird field guide for my birthday and I’ve been studying up on using shape to help identify certain species and how to tell how old an individual is.

My plan was to either go to the local Tramway wetlands or to Belen. Neither are really great places for shorebirds, but you can’t be too picky in Albuquerque. The Tramway wetlands are actually on Sandia Pueblo lands and until I’m sure birding there is cool with the tribe, I’m going to avoid it. The basin there is really overgrown this summer, unlike last summer when it was all one large expansive mud flat. Belen was the better choice for the field trip.

I scouted the Belen marsh last Tuesday. The usual shorebirds were there: Spotted, Solitary, Least, and Western Sandpipers, Long-billed Dowitchers and Wilson’s Phalaropes. Nothing too special, but we could at least focus on identification of common species on Thursday. I also checked Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area to see if it was worth a stop after the marsh. Few birds were around, but I did find some butterflies, one of which, the Reakirt’s blue, was new for me.

Checkered WhiteWestern pygmy-blueReakirt’s blueMelissa bluesBordered patchSouthwestern Fowler’s toad

On Thursday, we were lucky enough to find a Marbled Godwit at the Belen marsh, standing all by itself next to the Black-necked Stilits and American Avocets. (Joe got a photo of the godwit.) And I’m glad Gary thought to look closer at the two Long-billed Dowitchers on the far side: one of them turned out to be a Stilt Sandpiper. Both were feeding so voraciously that we had a hard time seeing the bill differences. However (and thanks to my shorebird field guide for the tip) we could tell that the Stilt Sandpiper tilted its posterior up higher when it fed due to longer legs and a shorter bill. My poor digiscoped photo may show this:

The Stilt Sandpiper is on the left and the dowitcher is the larger bird on the right. The two smaller sandpipers are Baird’s Sandpipers, though you wouldn’t know it from the photo!

Whitfield was hot and slow. Many of the trip participants slowly trickled back to their cars to head home. The highlight there, though, was an immature female Vermilion Flycatcher, a plumage not often illustrated in field guides. It was plain gray overall with a yellowish wash to the belly and vent. I don’t know if anyone got a photo.

Not too bad a trip! Even though I don’t deserve credit for the godwit, I think that will definitely get me asked back to lead another trip.

Some kind of gossamer-winged butterfly caterpillars feeding on mallow.

Judy also wrote about the trip at her blog.

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One Response to O Valencia (County)

  1. Rebecca Gracey says:

    Matt, It was a great trip. Good shorebirds plus Burrowing Owls. Thanks for taking the group on this outing.

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