I participated in my first Birdathon, a fund raiser for the Central New Mexico Audubon Society (CNMAS). We traveled to Fort Sumner and visited several locations in the area. The Birdathon lasted 24 hours. We met at Lake Sumner at 10 am on Thursday, May 7. I didn’t count how many of us were there but it was under 20 people I believe.
We started our bird watching by slowly driving the few miles of road through grasslands toward the lake. I got several good photos of birds I already have on my life list but previously only had poor quality images. Most notably the Lark Bunting and the Scaled Quail. My friend Valerie will remember the first time we photographed a Scaled Quail. We were visiting Chaco Canyon and I didn’t have my long range lens on my camera. So I’m yelling at her to “get that bird!!!” She frantically running down a path trying to shoot that bird in with manual settings. I’m yelling “put your camera on auto!!!” LOL! She did get a picture though…and not too bad a one considering the circumstances. 🙂
Lark Bunting on top with a Lark Sparrow down below
As we approached the lake we first went down to the Pecos River below the dam. Someone had spotted a Black-Chinned Hummingbird female in a nest. I was shown the nest and was able to get a great photo of her with moss in her mouth for building her nest. I really enjoyed seeing that. I got a new bird there, an Olive-Sided Flycatcher. Sadly he was directly between me and the sun so the photo isn’t great.
Pecos River just below the dam
Black-Chinned Hummingbird with moss in her mouth
From the river area we moved to the shoreline of the lake. I got a new bird there too, a Forster’s Tern. Again, the bird was flying and at such a great distance the photo was not good. Sigh….
After having lunch we went to Redondo Lake near Fort Sumner. This was a nice small lake that you could drive all the way around in just a few minutes. But it offers a large area of cattails that bring in a diverse amount of birds. We noticed a clump of Ruddy Ducks which turned out to be the parents and seven young ones almost full grown. We were treated to the sight of a Blue Jay who posed nicely for everyone to get a good look at. I got to see a Red-Headed Woodpecker (which is a new bird for me) but sadly didn’t get a photograph. 😦 He will have to go on my Seen/Heard but Not Photographed List.
Ruddy Ducks – the adults have the white on their face
Red-Winged Blackbird – Juvenile
We drove along the farm roads in hopes of seeing a variety of blackbirds – most especially the Bronzed Cowbird. No luck with the Bronzed Cowbird but we saw plenty of Brewer’s Blackbirds, Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, Common and Great Tailed Grackles, and Brown-Headed Blackbirds. They were hanging around the cattle eagerly grabbing up the insects stirred up.
A variety of blackbirds including Brewer’s Blackbird and Yellow-Headed Blackbird
We then drove to a location called Melrose Trap. It’s a small grove of trees located in the middle of prairie and farmland. So it’s a huge draw to migrating birds – most especially warblers. We were in high hopes of seeing a variety of species there.
There were lots of Western Kingbirds making lots of racket, which made it difficult for birding by ear. The foliage was dense and lighting low which made for difficult photo ops. But I managed to get some nice pics. Most especially of a Yellow-Rumped Warbler who sat on a limb not 10 feet away just grooming without a care for us. I was thrilled to get a new bird, the Western Wood-Pewee…and a good photo for a change!
One of the birds on our “love to get list” was a Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher. We drove down the highway from Melrose Trap looking for it but without luck. One my drive back to Fort Sumner that evening I was talking to my husband on the phone and saw one fly up to get a bug. I exclaimed “OH!!! I gotta go! I have to turn around a get a pick of that flycatcher!” I was thrilled to report to the group at dinner that we could add that species to our list.
The next morning I got up extremely early (for me) to meet again at the Melrose Trap. The sun was just coming up. I saw there was fog ahead so I wasn’t in any big hurry to get there. There’s this old schoolhouse that I’ve passed many times on this road that I’ve always thought to myself “I’d love to photograph that building”. Well, this morning the lighting was perfect and I had the time to stop. I really enjoyed the photos I was able to capture.
Old School House
I finally arrived at the Melrose Trap. Several birders were already there from our group. The warbler activity was very good but the lighting was very poor due to the foliage of the grove and the fog.
Very difficult birding and photo conditions…but beautiful
Fellow birder Maurice and I quickly found a corner of the grove that was very productive. I got several new birds that morning. But I was able to get a few nice pics. Most especially of the a new bird for me the Chestnut-Sided Warbler. I also got to photograph a Northern Waterthrush and Lincoln’s Sparrow…two new birds!.
Bullock’s Oriole – Famale
Western Tanager – Female
Northern Waterthrush – sure wish that stick hadn’t been in the way…would’ve been a great photo…
All of a sudden in the grasses beyond the grove we saw a big bird land in the sage bushes. We quickly saw it was a baby Great Horned Owl. What a treat!
Baby Great Horned Owl
Part of the group left the grove to go in search of the Bronzed Cowbird that had eluded them the previous day. I decided to stay with Maurice to see if we could get any more new warblers. Sadly about that time the activity seemed to die down. So we decided it was probably time to head back and meet up with the group for the final bird count at 10 am. On my drive back I spotted a large woodpecker fly into a tree. I quickly pulled off to find it. Maurice saw me pull off and followed me in. We both saw two woodpeckers fly off to a further tree. One was clearly a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker but the other was much bigger and had white patches on its wings and rump and red on it’s head. With those markings it was clearly a Sapsucker. After consulting with each other we came to the conclusion that it was a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker. Which was a new bird for me! and an uncommon sighting for the area.
We met up with the group at 10 am and heard they finally got their Bronzed Cowbird. Everyone went over their sightings and the group as a whole got 108 birds. Not too bad for how few of us there were.
Afterwards I decided to spend a little more time at Lake Sumner before I headed home. I was rewarded with several birds that surprisingly weren’t seen during the birdathon…a Loggerhead Shrike, a Horned Lark, and a pair of Ash-Throated Flycatchers. I had also heard from the count that Bank Swallows were seen at the dam so I was determined to find them as they would be a new bird for me. I was rewarded to see them exactly where they were decribed to be seen. 🙂
I ventured to the lake and a Turkey Vulture on the shore. I got pretty close and was able to get several pics. I especially liked the ones in flight.
On my way out of the park I saw another lifer! A Grasshopper Sparrow!
Sadly, it was time to head home. I really enjoyed spending two whole days birding. I got several new birds bringing my Life List to 321 birds that I’ve photographed and identified! My total count of Seen/Heard and Photographed is now at 330 birds!