January 12-14, 2007
This three-day trip began with a bit of a surprise Friday morning. As I was preparing to lock my car after loading my gear into Liz’s car at her house near Sabino Canyon around 6:45 am, I saw several large shapes move into her driveway through the gate. It took me a few minutes to put them into my animal schema. At first I thought they might be coyotes as they were gray and moved in a stealth-like manner with heads lowered (they had obviously seen me), but I quickly realized they were way too big. My brain suggested wolves, but no this is Tucson. Then one of them moved into the light and I saw its snout. Aha! I realized they were javalinas. I stood perfectly still and they must have determined that I was no threat as they continued walking into Liz’s backyard to drink from the birdbath. My first close encounter with a peccary!
We got everything packed into the car and met the group on Houghton Road around 7:30am. Our leader, John Higgins, told us that we were all to ask the dumbest questions we could think of, drag things out as long as we could, and above all, have lots of fun. One thing I like about John as a leader is his relaxed attitude about birding. We started with about 8 cars and 15 or 20 people. Our first stop was Texas Canyon were we saw Western Scrub Jays and Yellow-rumped Warblers at the rest area there. We then traveled to Willcox for a quick check of the ponds. We saw several Common Mergansers, Ruddy Ducks, American Coots, Canada Geese, and Ring-billed Gulls. No cranes here as they had all left for the day.
We entered New Mexico near Lordsburg and stopped at the visitor’s center hoping for a few Scaled Quail, but alas, it was not to be. :-( However, we did get good maps of Bosque and other New Mexico birding sites. Up until this time the weather was beautiful, but by the time we finished with lunch in Deming at La Fonda Restaurante where I ate dos enchiladas quesos con salsa verde (yes, my favorite and quite good, too!), it had started to rain. Between Deming and Hatch we saw a very wet and hunched up Golden Eagle on a telephone phone. He looked pretty miserable sitting up there, but we were glad to stop and take a look at him. Also along this route we spotted an American Kestrel kiting its prey, a flock of Ring-billed Gulls and several Common Ravens. Just prior to reaching Caballo dam, we spotted our first Sandhill Cranes! There were several dozen grazing in a field fairly close to the road. By this time it had stopped raining and we were able to get some very good looks at them.
We got to Bosque del Apache around 3 o’clock (if I remember right), and watched the many Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers dabble around near the Eagle Scout deck. We also spotted the first of several Northern Harriers scouting the marsh lands here. We then made our way around the refuge to the lookout ponds and watched the hundreds of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes return for the evening. If you’ve never witnessed hundreds or thousands of birds converging on a pond at dusk it’s hard to describe the excitement that is practically palpable in the air. I always wonder how far away they have been all day and how they know how to get back to this pond. It’s been this way for thousands of years – the coming and going of geese, ducks and cranes. Some basic annual rhythm that is essential to life on this tiny blue marble in the universe. OK, too deep, let me progress a bit to something more mundane…
After checking in at the hotel, Liz and I scouted an outlet for our own evening ritual of putting food in our mouths. We were directed to the “The Brewery” which turned out to actually be named “Socorro Springs Brewing Company”. We shared a 7-cheese and a wild mushroom pizza for dinner and chocolate mousse for dessert. Heaven!
The next morning, Liz and I tentatively stepped out of the motel room. How cold was it going to be? The forecast was for 20 degree nights and 30 degree days, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the day was already in the upper-30’s with very little wind. We joyfully joined the group at the front of the motel and headed back to Bosque for the morning flight. The day dawned beautifully over the refuge ponds. The Snow Geese had already departed when we got there, but the cranes were still walking across the pond waiting for some invisible signal for departure. Meanwhile a mature Bald Eagle sat on a bare tree and surveyed the layout. After the cranes lifted off, John decided we should go back to a smaller pond we past on the way into the refuge where several hundred snow geese had been. The chatter of the geese was quite intense and by listening carefully, you could hear it slowly rise in pitch until finally the entire group rose as one mass and departed leaving only a few pintails and 2 cranes on the whole pond. It was quite a sight!
We took advantage of the balmy weather and birded the both loops of the refuge. Birds seen here in addition to those mentioned above included:
Great Blue Heron
Greater White-fronted Goose
Hooded Merganser (2 females and a male, thanks to Liz’s persistence!)
Bald Eagle (with a prey duck)
Northern Harrier (trying to wrest the eagle’s breakfast)
American Crow (haven’t seen those since I left PA!)
Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon, Pink-sided, and Slate-colored varieties)
Around noon we headed to the “famous” Owl Café were the specialty of the house is burgers with green chilies, but I found that the chilies taste just as good on a grilled cheese sandwich. Please check out the “art” of the Owl Café on my Multiply site. It’s a “hoot”.
After lunch, several of us headed west toward Magdelena where we stopped at an improved campground, the name of which escapes me at the moment since I didn’t write it down. Anyway, along the road we saw a large herd of Pronghorns and a Golden Eagle flew overhead. At the campground we searched quite a while for signs of bird life. It was all very quiet. We couldn’t even “pish” them out. Just when we were about to give up, we spotted 2 jays which we first took to be Mexican Jays, but later ID’d as Western Scrub Jays. Then we were joined by an amazing mixed flock of about 20 Western Bluebirds*, Pine Siskins, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets many of whom sat in the same coniferous tree (except the kinglets, of course, who couldn’t sit still if they wanted to). The tree looked like a Christmas tree with birds of many colors on almost every branch. It was such an amazing sight! Then back to the refuge for the evening fly-in. Saturday night’s dinner was quite tasty New Mexican food at Frank and Lupe’s El Sombrero. The chili rellenos were delicious as were the sopaillas.
Sunday was the travel back day and we had hoped to find Pinyon Jays as we traveled west, but found none. However, the trip back was not without excitement even though it was quite cold traveling over the Continental Divide. There was about a ½ inch of snow on the road as we traveled over the mountains and the air was cold much of the day. We stopped at the VLA (Very Large Array) and then again at a campground where we saw 2 Lewis’ Woodpeckers in excellent light. The greens, pinks and gray of this bird are just stunning. We also spotted a Ferruginous Hawk perched on a telephone pole along the road. He performed a few fabulous aerials as he flew from pole to treetop a bit further back in the field.
Our next stop was the Glenwood fish Hatchery between Reserve, NM and Safford, AZ. There we saw several duck species including Ring-necked Duck and American Widgeon. We also had a beautiful Vermillion Flycatcher (never tire of watching those) and Black Phoebe while a Bald Eagle flew over. We didn’t stay here long and were soon off to our lunch stop. The Black Jack campground in the Apache National Forest was alive with birds flitting about a bush as we entered. We soon realized there were several Ruby-crowned Kinglets feeding in various areas. One was gathering sap from a Yellow Pine. We were looking at a White-breasted Nuthatch when some of the others reported a Williamsons’ Sapsucker*. John helped us chase it down so that everyone got a look at it - an excellent lifer to end the trip. The rest of the trip home was pretty uneventful except that it warmed nicely as we descended in elevation and the scenery was fabulous!