Saturday, 22 November 2014

New Mexico - Heading South to Bosque del Apache

With heavy snowfall overnight we decided to head south and the hour long journey to Albuquerque was an adventure in itself as the road was covered in the white stuff. So slow going indeed but not much traffic on the road at 7am and with the temperature at a cool 18°F I was a little worried there would be ice on the road. But it was fine and we ploughed on, stopping at our favourite little spot on the back road to Albuquerque where the snow clung to the juniper bushes making the wintry scene look very splendid indeed. We had a nice male Cassin’s Finch perched on top of one of the nearby bushes, along with Townsend’s Solitaire and some Western Bluebirds making for great photographic opportunities. Moving on, a Canyon Towhee flew across the road in front of us and we had it in the back of our minds to go up to Sandia Crest and get another species of rosy-finch, but the weather was getting worse by the time we reached the turn off into the Sandia Mountains.

Some great birds here today - but rather chilly...!

The road back to Albuquerque

Female Cassin's Finch

Male Cassin's Finch

Western Bluebirds

Townsend's Solitaire

So instead we drove down I-25 for just over an hour to Socorro and on up into the Magdalena Mountains. The road went up onto a vast open prairie/grassland with views of snow-capped mountains in the distance before we turned up into Water Canyon. There was a strong cold wind blowing which kept the temperature down to about 48°F for most of the day. But once in the canyon, which was bounded by tall cliffs and covered in pine and juniper we had a great time as there were lots of birds. Our first stop to check out a flock of birds produced (apart from a rush of blood!) a female Williamson’s Sapsucker pecking away at a spruce tree. Wow! 

Williamson's Sapsucker - female

Finally we’d managed to find one of the scarcer peckers after all of that searching in the north and in lovely sunshine and blue skies we spent a while watching and photographing this little beauty. There was also White-breasted Nuthatch, our first Curve-billed Thrasher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a flock of Pine Siskins, Oregon and numerous Pink-sided and Grey-headed Junco’s. I wanted to check out the camping sites just a little further up the road but it was quiet, apart from Acorn Woodpecker, some Mountain Chickadees and loads more junco’s. So we drove back down to the first site and duly scored with our first Juniper Titmouse, quickly followed by a cracking Red-naped Sapsucker

Juniper Titmouse

I was over the moon with this latter species, as not only was it a lifer but a simply stunning bird. In fact, there were lots of birds moving through the trees below us and we had further views of solitaires and bluebirds, Hairy Woodpecker, and a few Woodhouse’s Scrub Jays that posed nicely. Elated with our findings here we drove up through the valley, in a half-hearted search for Pygmy Nuthatch – a species I know is here but have seen plenty of times before over the years.

Woodhouse's Scrub Jay

By now it was 3.15pm and we decided to head down to Bosque del Apache, arriving at 4pm. We had the bonus sighting of several Pronghorn Antelopes in the grassland before reaching the highway. Heading into the reserve we drove to the parking area known as the Flight Deck where there were hundreds of common ducks out on the water, but we were more interested in the Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes. It has been an ambition of mine for many years to visit this place and must admit, I was very excited to be here! So we took a few photos of the geese and then I noticed a much smaller white goose which was (of course) a superb Ross’s Goose. The small rounded head and tiny bill were very noticeable and it posed nicely next to a Snow Goose so you could see the size difference easily. 

Ross's Goose (left) and Snow Goose (right) at Bosque del Apache

The light was superb and it was very enjoyable watching the geese flying around with the late afternoon sunshine making the backdrop of trees and bushes literally glow a wonderful golden colour. There were lots of other birds here with hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds flocking in the marshes and a couple of Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Common Grackles were in amongst them as well. Several Northern Harriers quartered the marshes, a Red-tailed Hawk was perched in a dead tree and a Cooper’s Hawk flew over us.

Beautiful evening light at Bosque del Apache.

A quick drive around the Loop Trail failed to give us anything new so we headed back up the main road to some pools where hundreds of Sandhill Cranes were flying in to roost. The cacophony of noise as they bugled their presence high overhead as they flew down in skeins to land noisily in front of us was fantastic. Several of them lowered their ‘undercarriages’ and almost seemed to hang in the air with the backdrop of mountains making a lovely scene. It really is difficult to describe how evocative the sound of cranes is until you’ve experienced it yourself and this definitely ranks as one of those never-to-be-forgotten moments I will mentally file away forever.

Sandhill Cranes arriving to roost

With the light almost gone we drove 30 minutes back to our motel in Socorro and prepared for an early departure tomorrow.

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