Following up on last week’s amazing display of glowing aspens up in the Sandias, the next Thursday Birder outing was to Fourth of July Campground in the Manzano Mountains for a look at about the only place in the state that one can find maples blazing red each autumn.
Although we saw few birds that day, the weather was fabulous for a stroll through the woods, and the maples were something to see even in they weren’t quite at their peak.
After lunch, those who hadn’t yet headed back to town noticed a patch of some kind of mint in the parking area that proved quite entertaining for the several varieties of butterflies, bugs, and caterpillars it contained. Among them was this Convergent Lady Beetle
and this cool caterpillar.
The most magical moment of the trip, however, was shortly after leaving to head back home when we spotted a coyote in a field busy ‘mousing’ – stalking and pouncing on whatever looked tasty. While I didn’t manage to get a picture of this guy actually pouncing on its prey despite several demonstrations, the coyote basically ignored us while on the hunt and let me get a couple of pretty good pictures of the general technique.
The next couple of days were a bit off weather-wise with rain and even snow on the mountains causing some disruption to the annual Balloon Fiesta – rare opportunity for a couple of pictures of dew coating flowers and cactus in the neighborhood and catching the aspen in a winter wonderland – before improving in time for the final day of the Fiesta and just in time for a road trip to the Melrose migrant trap and Clovis in the eastern part of the state with my two co-conspirators, Matt and Rebecca. I’d read about these places for years, but never quite got motivated to go and check them out before.
Over the course of about 30 hours, we hit several birding spots at Sumner Lake, the Melrose migrant trap, the Clovis sewage plant ponds, and Ned Houk Park in Clovis. Matt’s trip list resulted in an amazing total of 103 bird species for the trip and a number of butterflies, dragon and damselflies, and other cool critters. At a rest stop near Santa Rosa, among others we spotted a Red-naped Sapsucker, a surprising number of butterflies, and another interesting caterpillar.
Early the next morning, it was off to the Melrose migrant trap under an unexpectedly cool and breezy bank of clouds. Despite the weather, which did improve considerably as the day wore on, we spotted a variety of good birds, including a Pyrrhuloxia, several kinds of sparrows and warblers, and the yellow-shafted form of Northern Flicker.
A highlight of the morning, however, was tracking down Bell’s Vireo, which is rather uncommon in eastern New Mexico, but allowed us several minutes to observe as it worked its way through the dense foliage.
Later in the morning, we spent quite a bit of time cruising the ponds at Clovis sewage plant, which had quite a variety of ducks and other shorebirds, but with the wind and lighting wasn’t that great for photographs. Highlight of that stop, especially for Matt, was his spotting of a single Chimney or Vaux’s Swift, both of which are quite unusual for New Mexico but nearly identical in appearance especially when zooming about at fairly distant range.
My favorite picture of the trip was this Great Horned Owl that Rebecca spotted hiding in a tree at Ned Houk Park just outside of Clovis where we went to look (unsuccessfully) for a recently reported Blue-headed Vireo.
I almost never use a flash for my pictures, preferring to rely on natural light, but just couldn’t help myself this time, and was thrilled the picture came out so well.
Later in the afternoon, we returned to Sumner Lake State Park where we’d stopped briefly the previous afternoon, and this time checked out the riparian area below the dam before heading back to check out some of the shorebirds. Not too surprisingly, birds were pretty quiet that afternoon, but we did see a few butterflies and several different species of dragonflies and damselflies including this guy.
As the sun was setting, we headed for the lake shore where we saw a flock of American White Pelicans, a large number of White-faced Ibis that took off en masse for parts unknown, several Killdeer, Great Blue Herons, and several other birds including a Forster’s Tern and a Common Tern. As we walked out to the water, we kept scaring up a small mixed flock of Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs that would flush from undetected hiding spots just feet in front of us and settle back down a distance away. After several unsuccessful attempts, on the way back we did spot a Chestnut-collared in its hiding spot and managed to sneak up close enough for a few pictures without disturbing the bird. Here’s one of the pictures I managed to get before we backed off to let that bird get on with whatever it was doing.