Category Archives: New Mexico birds

A UFO Birding Festival in Roswell

Those of you who know me know that I am from Roswell, New Mexico. I grew up there, and it was a wonderful place in which to grow up. One of the best things about growing up in Roswell was that it is very close to Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. I have previously written about the refuge here and here.

When I learned that the United Field Ornithologists (UFO’s) of Roswell were to hold their very first birding festival, of course I made immediate plans to attend. I was excited about the opportunity to visit birding friends in Roswell and to visit a Lesser Prairie Chicken lek.

If you have ever visited a lek, you know that it involves getting up very early so that birders can be on the lek and well hidden before the birds come out onto the lek. True to form, we arose at 3:00 a.m. and left for the lek at 4:00 a.m. We were too excited to be tired, although that would be subject to change later on in the day.

We sat quietly, listening to the birds arriving on the lek. We could hear them, booming and dancing, long before we could see them clearly.

We strained to see the birds in the pre-dawn light, and I struggled to adjust my camera so that I could photograph them.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell birding festival

Lesser Prairie Chickens in the pre-dawn light

When the sun rose, we were able to get excellent looks at the prairie chickens.

United Field Ornitholgists of Roswell birding festival

Lesser Prairie Chicken at sunrise

We watched until the prairie chickens were finished with their display, and then we traveled to the Waldrop Park Rest Area, a birding oasis out in the very middle of nowhere. We had been there only a short time when we saw a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. This beautiful bird posed for us and allowed us all good looks at it.

Waldrop Park Rest Area

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher

We saw a number of other flycatchers, among them an Ash-throated Flycatcher.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell birding festival

Ash-throated Flycatcher

We saw many Swainson’s Hawks in the area.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell

Swainson’s Hawk

It seemed that wherever we went, we saw pretty Wilson’s Warbler’s flitting through the trees. This one was in the small town of Caprock.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell bird festival

Wilson’s Warbler

On our way back to Roswell, our sharp-eyed trip leader, Steve Smith, spotted a Barn Owl napping in a tree near the Pecos River. Of course we stopped to admire the beautiful bird.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Barn Owl

After a short break, we left for an afternoon trip to Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge. We spent a pleasant afternoon viewing shorebirds at the refuge.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell birding festival

Black-necked Stilt

United Field Ornithologists of New Mexico birding festival

American Avocet

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Flock of Western Sandpipers

That evening we were treated to a barbecue feast at Retreat at Enchanted Farms, the festival headquarters. Michael Richardson and Susan Alston-Richardson, Retreat owners, provided wonderful food in a beautiful atmosphere.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Delicious food in a beautiful setting.

Laney Wilkins from the Spring River Zoo in Roswell brought Frodo the Great Horned Owl for us to admire.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Laney Wilkins and Frodo

Finally it was time for the evening’s entertainment. Michael Richardson introduced Professor Avian Guano, Bir.D, one of the many aliases of wildlife educator Denny Olson, also known as Doc Wild.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Michael Richardson introduces the evening’s entertainment

Denny Olson entertained us with Professor Guano’s antics, and we learned a great deal about bird behavior during the evening.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Denny Olson as Professor Avian Guano, Bir.D.

Susan Alston-Richardson appears to be a bit dismayed at being labeled a Brown-headed Cowbird.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Susan Alston-Richardson is not really a Brown-headed Cowbird.

After the evening’s entertainment came to a close, we headed off to get a few hours of sleep before the next day’s activities, which would be a trip to Rattlesnake Springs and Washington Ranch.

I was very excited to go to Rattlesnake Springs the next morning, as there had been reports of Vermilion Flycatchers in the area. Rattlesnake Springs, part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, is an Important Bird Area and outstanding stopover site for land birds. The historic 80-acre New Mexico wetland features up-welling groundwater that draws Mexican vagrants as well as eastern and western birds, such as Painted Buntings, Vermilion Flycatchers, Summer Tanagers, and Yellow-billed Cuckoos.

We were led by Steve West, resident naturalist at Rattlesnake Springs, and surely enough, we saw a number of the little beauties. Although this image is backlit, I like the look of the sun shining through the bird’s wings.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Backlit Vermilion Flycatcher

We continued to see flashes of red throughout the morning.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Bird Festival

Vermilion Flycatcher

We saw flycatchers, warblers and tanagers at Rattlesnake Springs, but most of them were too deep in the branches of thick trees for me to get decent photos.

After a beautiful morning at Rattlesnake Springs, we had a lovely picnic lunch at the pond there. Everyone was much happier about the delicious lunch than this photo might suggest.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Delicious picnic lunch at Rattlesnake Springs

Our last stop of the day was at Washington Ranch, another site near Rattlesnake Springs, to look for a Lewis’s Woodpecker. We found the bird almost immediately, although unfortunately it was almost beyond the range of my lens. I did get a photo that was good enough to identify the bird.

United Field Ornithologists of Roswell Birding Festival

Lewis’s Woodpecker

The Roswell birders were friendly and welcoming, and the birding festival was outstanding. It was difficult to believe that it was an inaugural event. Everything was beautifully organized, and we saw great birds. I am already looking forward to next year’s festival!

UFOHEADER

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Red Crossbills in the Sandia Mountains

As any birder in the US knows, the summer months are the doldrums of birding. We have hummingbirds and some year-round residents, but many birds are farther north during the summer breeding season. Capulin Springs in the Sandia Mountains is a place that is almost always a good place to see a variety of birds in the summer. The reason is water. At Capulin Springs the spring water has been directed through a hollowed-out log to create a lovely oasis for bird drinking and bathing.

The setting is really lovely.

Capulin Springs

The magic birding log at Capulin Springs.

Birders in the Albuquerque area have been excited to see the unusual numbers of Red Crossbills in the Sandias this summer. They flocked to the water in the hollowed-out log.

Capulin Springs

Red Crossbills flock to the water.

The Crossbills were in many different plumage phases. This male was really pretty.

Capulin Springs

Male Red Crossbill.

A few people reported that they had seen White-winged Crossbills among the Red Crossbills. I believe that this is a female White-winged Crossbill. Note the white wing stripe.

Capulin Springs

Female White-winged Crossbill.

Farther up the mountain we saw a group of crossbills around a puddle at the edge of a parking lot.

10K parking lot

Red Crossbills enjoying a rain puddle.

We had a lovely time watching the birds, chatting with other birders and taking photos. Here are a few of the photos that I took:

Here is a video of crossbills and other birds enjoying the water at Capulin Springs:

It has been an unusual treat for New Mexico birders to see so many crossbills at one time. We are hoping that they will stay in the Sandias for awhile.

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A Return to Bitter Lake

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a relatively unknown wildlife refuge located on the Pecos River near Roswell, New Mexico. Because I am from Roswell, I grew up going to Bitter Lake on a regular basis. Last weekend I went to Roswell to visit with some friends, and of course I couldn’t wait to make a trip out to the refuge. Bitter Lake is a winter home to many Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and other winter migrants. I posted earlier this year about my trip to Bitter Lake in February.

I was surprised by the number of Black-necked Stilts that were at the refuge this past weekend. It appeared that there were at least 100 of them in the ponds. I had a lovely time watching and photographing them.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

There were other birds present as well, although many of them were in areas that were too far away for photographs. I am accustomed to seeing White-faced Ibis there, and I love the way that the sun highlights their plumage.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

White-faced Ibis

There were lots of Killdeer running around, and I was disappointed that I did not see any little fluffy chicks.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Killdeer

Red-winged Blackbirds sang from the marshy edges of the ponds.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Red-winged Blackbird

Western Meadowlarks sang in the grass.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Western Meadowlark

I was interested to see Turkey Vultures walking around near one of the ponds.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Turkey Vulture

And it is always a delight to see Great Egrets.

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Great Egret

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a very different place in summer than it is in winter. It is a lovely place to visit any time of year.

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Wings on Wednesday

This would normally be a Wordless Wednesday post. However, several weeks ago Roberta Beyer, owner of The Fat Finch, asked me to lead a photo workshop as an event for her wonderful birding store. I happily agreed, and I wondered if anyone would attend. The event proved popular far beyond our expectations. I recruited favorite birding friend Bosque Bill to assist me, and Roberta recruited two more photographers. Our little group met at The Fat Finch early this past Saturday morning. After a basic “How to operate your camera” talk by Bosque Bill we set off to photograph birds. Everyone had a wonderful time, and most participants learned how to move their cameras off of the automatic settings.

Here are some photos of birds that I took during the workshop:

Sandhill Crane portrait, Rio Grande Nature Center

Sandhill Crane portrait

Sandhill Crane portrait, Rio Grande Nature Center

Sandhill Crane portrait, another view.

Sandhill Cranes, Rio Grande Nature Center

Sandhill Cranes fly into the Rio Grande Nature Center.

Sandhill Crane, Rio Grande Nature Center

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane, Rio Grande Nature Center

Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Cranes, Rio Grande Nature Center

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Crane, Rio Grande Nature Center

Sandhill Crane coming in for a landing.

Spotted Towhee, Rio Grande Nature Center

Spotted Towhee

Canada Goose portrait, Rio Grande Nature Center

Canada Goose portrait

Canada Goose enjoying the sun, Rio Grande Nature Center

Canada Goose enjoying the sun

It was a fine workshop put on by New Mexico’s best birding store. Be sure to visit The Fat Finch when you’re in the Albuquerque area!

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Wordless Wednesday-Wings on Wednesday

Mountain Chickadee, Sandia Crest

Mountain Chickadee, Sandia Crest, New Mexico

Mountain Chickadee, Sandia Crest, New Mexico

Mountain Chickadee, Sandia Crest,

Mountain Chickadee, Sandia Crest, New Mexico


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Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Entrance sign, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

I grew up in Roswell, New Mexico. One of the places where we often went for family activities and school functions was Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, located along the Pecos River just outside of Roswell. I had not visited the refuge since the 1970’s, and so I recently decided to take a trip to Roswell to visit friends and take some photos at Bitter Lake.

I arrived at the refuge on Friday afternoon in time to take advantage of the beautiful late afternoon light. The first thing that I noticed was the new (to me) Joseph R. Skeen Visitor’s Center, which was completed in August 2006. The visitor’s center is located on a bluff that overlooks the refuge, and it has large windows and a deck that are designed to take advantage of the views.

Joseph R. Skeen Visitor's Center, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Joseph R. Skeen Visitor's Center

The view from the deck is lovely!

View from the Visitor's Center deck, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

View from the Visitor's Center deck.

I drove around to familiarize myself with the surroundings. The red bluffs to the west of the refuge are really beautiful.

Snow Geese and Northern Harrier, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Snow Geese and a Northern Harrier fly over Bitter Lake.

There were hundred of Red-winged Blackbirds singing in the reeds and cattails at the edge of the lake.

Red-winged Blackbirds, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge,

Red-winged Blackbirds

Here is a short video of the birds:

As I listened to the Red-winged Blackbirds, I watched the sun setting over the lake.

Sunset over Bitter Lake

Sunset over Bitter Lake

The next morning I arrived at the refuge before sunrise to watch the fly-out. When I arrived, Snow Geese were flying over the visitor’s center.

Snow Geese, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Snow Geese fly over the visitor's center.

I watched as waves of Snow Geese flew out to graze in the surrounding fields.

Snow Geese, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Snow Geese fly out.

The Sandhill Cranes waited until a bit later to fly out.

Sandhill Cranes, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Sandhill Cranes

I was able to get a few photos as they flew overhead.

Sandhill Cranes, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Sandhill Crane fly-out

Sandhill Crane fly-out, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Sandhill Crane fly-out, a closer view.

I looked across the lake at the visitor’s center. From this angle you can really appreciate the lovely view from the large windows out over the lake.

Joseph R. Skeen Visitor's Center, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

View across the lake toward the Joseph R. Skeen Visitor's Center.

There were many Buffleheads on the lake. I enjoyed watching them “run” along the lake surface as they took to the air.

Bufflehead, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Bufflehead takeoff.

A Northern Harrier hunted over a marshy area.

Northern Harrier, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Northern Harrier

The weather, which had been lovely, began to get chilly, and I went into Roswell to meet friends for lunch. The weather improved later in the afternoon, and I returned to watch the evening fly-in. I was too early for the Sandhill Cranes, but large numbers of Snow Geese began to fly in.

Snow Geese fly-in, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Snow Geese fly-in

As it grew darker, White-faced Ibis flew in as well.

White-faced Ibis, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

White-faced Ibis

This is a short video of the fly-in:

As I left Bitter Lake to have dinner with friends I stopped to watch the beautiful sunset. I have always thought that the sunsets in Roswell are extraordinary.

Sunset, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Sunset, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Although Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is not nearly as well known as Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico, it is a lovely area, and well worth visiting.

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Wordless Wednesday-Wings on Wednesday

Ferruginous Hawk, Capitan, New Mexico.

Ferruginous Hawk, Capitan, New Mexico

Ferruginous Hawk, Capitan, New Mexico

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Wordless Wednesday-Wings on Wednesday

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Sandia Crest, New Mexico

Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, Sandia Crest, New Mexico

Black Rosy-Finch, Sandia Crest, New Mexico

Black Rosy-Finch, Sandia Crest, New Mexico

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Wordless Wednesday-Wings on Wednesday

White-breasted Nuthatch, Sandia Crest, New Mexico.

White-breasted Nuthatch, Sandia Crest New Mexico

White-breasted Nuthatch, Sandia Crest New Mexico

White-breasted Nuthatch, Sandia Crest New Mexico

White-breasted Nuthatch, Sandia Crest New Mexico

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Wordless Wednesday-Wings on Wednesday

Steller's Jay, Sandia Crest New Mexico

Steller's Jay, Sandia Crest New Mexico

Steller's Jay, Sandia Crest New Mexico

Steller's Jay, Sandia Crest New Mexico

Steller's Jay, Sandia Crest New Mexico

Steller's Jay, Sandia Crest New Mexico

Steller's Jay, Sandia Crest New Mexico

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