Birding & Photography in New Mexico & the Southwest
Late Winter Birding in TorC – Day 1
Last weekend I traveled to Truth or Consequences to meet up with a birding group from Santa Fe. They had planned a trip birding in locations I hadn’t been to before. So I was really looking forward to this trip as I know the birding is always good in the TorC area.
I drove down the day before and made it a point to get to the Bosque del Apache at dawn. I figured if I have to drive right past it, I might as well go early and spend the day there.
The sunrise was very pretty….. for about 5 minutes. Then clouds moved in and it stayed overcast the whole time I was there. As usual, the low light conditions always prove to be a challenge to me photographing birds. But it made for beautiful landscape views.
I stopped at the ponds along the highway prior to the visitors center to see what might be about. The Bosque has let these ponds start to dry up. There was very little water in just a small area. The shore birds were enjoying it, but no ducks, geese or cranes about.
I was the first and seemed to be the only car there. Which was nice because all the wildlife hadn’t been disturbed. I drove extremely slow around the main loop. The light was still very low so I couldn’t make out what was on the ponds yet. So I kept driving past them to see what wildlife might be out along the backside of the loop. It’s more treed and brushy there so critters are more likely to be seen here. As I rounded the bend I was thrilled to see a Ring-Necked Pheasant. A male too! Just beautiful. I took several photos but because of the low light they aren’t as sharp as I’d have liked them to be. But he was a gorgeous sight!
Then to my surprise a skunk was walking along side the road. I’d smelled plenty of them in my life and had trapped a very young one in my chicken coop. But I’d never seen one in the wild before. They are actually very pretty. The fur on the tail is very long and wispy. I took several photos but definitely stayed in the car! He decided he didn’t like me following him, so he dove into the brush alongside the road – tail up!!! Yikes!
As I watched him move into the brush, a Red-Tailed Hawk landed in a tree right next to me watching that skunk. He was thinking “Breakfast!”. I took several photos quickly before he moved off following that skunk. He was so intent on that breakfast that he never even noticed me. Just beautiful!
As I made my way to the farm area, I scanned the brush next to the road. There’s usually sparrows of different varieties in there. But all I saw was a small flock of Savannah Sparrows.
As the morning progressed the activity started picking up. I made my way to the ponds to see what waterfowl might be around. There’s a dead tree out in the middle of the main pond. The Bald Eagles love to sit on this tree. It’s great to easily see them, but I just wish that tree was much closer! Lol! Since it was impossible to get a decent photo of the eagle in the lighting I had available, I made the photo more artistic 🙂
There were the usual suspects on the ponds. Mallards, coots, northern shovelers, buffleheads, northern pintail, etc. A Song Sparrow was singing away in the brush next to a Ladder-Backed Woodpecker.
I made my way to the pond across from the boardwalk. There I saw Pied-Billed Grebes and an Eared Grebe. I’ve only seen the Eared Grebe a couple of times in the past. They are not real common in New Mexico.
I then walked the boardwalk. Very quiet on the pond. There were lots of turtles sunning themselves in the weak sun and a Great Blue Heron was trying to get some breakfast.
Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron
After touring the loop a couple times, I made my way to the visitor’s center to see what might be visiting the feeders there. Lots of finches, sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Gamble’s Quail.
House Finches – male and female
After a fun morning at the Bosque, I decided to drive on down to TorC and scout out the meeting location of the birding group. So I headed to Percha Dam State Park. This area is touted as one of the top year-round birding spots in New Mexico. It’s a park along the Rio Grande River below Caballo Lake. This time of year, the water level is very low in the river. By the time I got there, it was late afternoon.
I walked along the river and was pleasantly surprised to see lots of little sparrows in the dense brush. I saw White-Crowned Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows. But when I clicked a photo of one bird, I had to zoom in and study it further. To my delight I saw it was a Swamp Sparrow. Evidently they are commonly seen in this area in the winter. It’s a terrible photo but it’s a new bird for me! Why are all my new bird sighting photos so terrible??? I managed to get several bad photos with which to help identify the bird. Otherwise I might have had to pass this observation by.
I saw a Belted Kingfisher and a few Black Phoebes that afternoon. It took several tries, but I was finally able to get a photo of that kingfisher. He was very skittish!
Belted Kingfisher – female
I was looking forward to the next morning. Should be a good birding day! Forecast called for plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures!