I recently took a trip to the Gulf Coast town of Port Aransas, Texas, to spend a week at the beach with my folks. I drove a route that would take me past one of the best birding spots in New Mexico for sheltering spring and fall migrants. This place is called Melrose Trap near Fort Sumner, New Mexico. The reason it’s so good is because it’s one of the few places in that vast flat area that has a large patch of trees that has been left wild for many many years and there’s not much human presence for miles. The undergrowth is so thick, it’s difficult to navigate your way around this small forest. But because of this, the migratory birds absolutely love it. It is well known for harboring rare sightings during migration due to storms that can send a bird off its normal migration course.
I had noticed on eBird that recently two rare sighting warblers were seen at Melrose Trap: Swainson’s Warbler and Worm-Eating Warbler. The Swainson’s normal territory is in the coastal states from Texas to Florida. The Worm-Eating Warbler has a larger territory but most usually seen from Texas east.
Before getting to Melrose Trap, I stopped in at Fort Sumner and visited Bosque Redondo Park. It has a little stream-fed pond and is usually a good birding spot. It was a nice stop for Scarlett and I to stretch our legs after a couple hours of driving. During this visit, I saw the usual Red-Winged Blackbird showing off their striking plumage.
I saw quite few birds, but nothing was being very cooperative for photos until I spotted a Gray Catbird. I had only seen this bird once before briefly while visiting my friend Kelly in Atlanta. So it was wonderful to not only see this bird more closely though briefly, but hear his unusual song.
While driving back to the highway, I saw this cute foal with it’s mother, who had the most glossy coat I think I’ve ever seen on a horse. Adorable!
Upon arriving at Melrose Trap, I noticed a couple of fellow birders there from Albuquerque. We quickly joined forces to hunt for these warblers. While looking for these birds in the thick vegetation, I enjoyed photographing a few of the more regular sightings for the area.
One of the highlights of the day was seeing a pair of American Kestrals nesting in the area. I happened to catch one of the birds holding breakfast for their babies.
Soon I heard someone call “Wormer!” I quickly headed in that direction hoping to see that warbler. But I missed it. In the process I gave myself a 6-inch gash along the back of my thigh trying to navigate quickly through the thick mess of broken limbs and undergrowth that litter the floor of this grove. Ouch!!! Note to self: wear long pants next time!
While I was trying not to scream or dance around like an idiot due to the sharp pain of my new wound, I looked down and saw the Swainson’s Warbler foraging on the ground. As I was taking a photo, I alerted the others of my sighting. It stayed deep in the shadow but fortunately moved slowly enough that we all got a nice look at the bird. Lifer!!
Soon after that I saw a blackbird in bush in the distance. As I took a picture I saw it’s red eye gleam in the rare shaft of sunlight coming through the thick canopy. Another lifer for me! A Bronzed Cowbird. I was lucky enough to get one crappy photo before he disappeared never to be seen again.
I needed to hit the road as I still had hours of driving ahead of the me to get to San Angelo. Just as I was about to leave, another sighting of the Worm-Eating Warbler was called out. This time I managed to get over to the area without further injuring myself (whew!) and managed to get a couple photos of this bird way up high in the canopy. As is usual with warblers, this guy was moving fast! So even though my photos weren’t very good, I was still thrilled to capture an image of this lifer bird.
I hated to leave this great birding spot, but knew I must. As I was getting into my car, I noticed a thrush foraging on the ground not too far away. When I zoomed in with my camera, I saw it was a Swainson’s Thrush. Lifer!!! I wasn’t expecting to see this bird, so it was a nice surprise. Four lifers in 30 minutes!!! 🙂
Upon reviewing my photos when I got in my car, I noticed I was still having issues trying to get a good focus with my new camera. I was struggling with focusing on a fast-moving bird among leaves, limbs and grasses. I needed to get this camera figured out!
My next stop was outside Clovis, New Mexico, at a large, beautiful park called Ned Houk Memorial Park. It has 3 ponds and lots of trees with manicured lawns. Scarlett enjoyed running and stretching her legs. We were practically the only ones there that morning.
We were greeted by a Western Meadowlark hopping across the parking lot. I always have a hard time getting them to show me their beautiful bright yellow breast feathers. As usual, this bird only showed me his plain back.
I noticed a large number of Barn Swallows nesting in the area around the shelters over picnic tables. I managed to get a photo of one with a mouthful of mud for its nest. 🙂
There was one nest that was just low enough that I could hold my phone over my head to get a photo of the inside of the nest. They had lined their nest with some soft, white duck feathers. 🙂
Barn Swallow eggs
I knew from a previous visit that Great Horned Owls nested in a large cottonwood in this park. I figured I was too late to see any babies, but thought I would check the location just in case. I was rewarded with seeing an adult snoozing in the tree. He kept a sharp eye on Scarlett.
Great Horned Owl
My next stop was at Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge. I had never stopped in here before so I thought I would take the quick detour to see what it was like. It has several lakes (more like ponds…), but seemed like one lake in particular was popular on eBird. I saw lots of prairie dogs and one burrowing owl way off in the distance.
Baby prairie dog – so cute!
Among the short grasses and flowers, I spotted a large flock of Lark Buntings. I never can seem to get a good photo of these birds. This is the best I got on this day.
Lark Bunting male
Lark Bunting female
When I got to the lake, I noticed a busload of kids had just unloaded. With all their noise, I figured any birds in the area had moved on. The only bird I spotted was this Lark Sparrow.
I didn’t stay long and headed back to the highway. Just as I was about to turn onto the highway, I saw several variety of sparrows in the area. I was thrilled to get this good photo of a Grasshopper Sparrow. I had seen this bird once before, and the distance was too great for a decent pic.
My next stop was at Big Spring. I’ve never stopped here before, so decided to walk around the lake so Scarlett could do her business and stretch her legs. I’m so glad I stopped in. It was a beautiful afternoon and the birds were active. I got a mockingbird holding a worm to take back to the nest.
Here are a couple other birds I saw there.
As I was heading back to the car, I noticed some birds I thought at first were Barn Swallows but they sounded different. Upon closer inspection, I realized they were Purple Martin babies. Lifer!!! I looked for a parent bird, but none showed up while I waited. But the babies were adorable waiting for their dinner to arrive.
Purple Martin juvenile
It was dark by the time I made it to San Angelo. I woke up early to spend some time birding there before I had to hit the road again. I visited beautiful Spring Creek Park. It was a lovely morning and birds were EVERYWHERE!!!
My first sighting was of two young Great Horned Owls. They will soon be in the more adult plumage.
Great Horned Owl juvenile
I heard a flycatcher nearby. It looked like an Ash-Throated Flycather, but sounded nothing like one. After searching my bird app, I realized it was a lifer for me – a Great Crested Flycather.
A starling was busy feeding its greedy baby.
Across the lake I noticed a huge rookery. It had all kinds of egrets noisily nesting. I enjoyed sitting for awhile watching all the activity.
Rookery with a posturing Great Egret
A spotted a pair of Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers bringing in breakfast for their young.
Before leaving, my last sighting was of this Great Blue Heron catching a nice breakfast.
Great Blue Heron
I was happy to note that I was doing much better with the focus of my new camera. I figured by the end of 10 straight days of birding, I would be an expert! LOL!
Next post: Port Aransas, Texas. So many lifers!!!! Stay tuned!