Being our first spring in the mountains east of Santa Fe, I was quite curious to see who would show up. In late April, despite uncharacteristic spring rains and cold, many migrants began to show up including Black-headed Grosbeak, Grace's Warbler, and the intrepid Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. As May progressed. we were blessed with arrivals of southern Rockies regulars such as Western Tanager, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Black-throated Gray Warbler. By mid month, a Flammulated Owl was calling repeatedly despite the cool/cold night time temps. I wonder how an insectivore such as this tiny owl can survive in such conditions.
The second half of the month brought more new arrivals such as Warbling and Plumbeous Vireos, Orange-crowned Warbler, and Violet-green Swallow. Turning the corner into June, we now have been blessed with nightly choruses of Common Poorwill, seemingly out of place in these Ponderosa Pine forests, and Common Nighthawk. I always marvel at the herculean journeys of the latter from their winter haunts in South America.
I love being up early this time of year to hear the sequence of the dawn chorus. American Robins starting before 5 am, followed by Mountain Chickadee, Spotted Towhee, Common Raven, Mourning Dove, Black-headed Grosbeak, Cordilleran Flycatcher, and Grace's Warbler. All that before I even get out the door to drive to work. What a blessed life!
Southeast New Mexico has a great diversity of landscapes, from the Chihuahuan Desert Oasis of Rattlesnake Springs near Carlsbad, to the shorebird stop-over at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the Pecos River, to the varied foothill and mountain landscapes of Lincoln County near Ruidoso. An uncharacteristic violent rain front came through that changed our plans mid-trip but we persevered and got to see an impressive mix of birds.
The Guadalupe Mountain range west of Carlsbad is a limestone "reef" that was once an ancient sea bed. The Elf Owls calling at our campsite reminded us of how far south in New Mexico we were. At Slaughter Canyon we heard typical desert canyon dwellers such as Common Poorwill, Lesser Nighthawk and Scott's Oriole. In addition, favorites such as Gray Vireo and Varied Bunting had just returned. At Rattlesnake Springs we found the entertaining regulars such as Vermilion Flycatcher, Orchard Oriole, and the stunning Painted Bunting. as well as migrants such as Clay-colored Sparrow and a rare encounter with a Yellow-throated Vireo.
The desert east of Carlsbad is home to southeast NM specialties such as Harris' Hawk and Scissor-tailed Flycatcher. We saw both, including a Harris' Hawk nest where the adult birds were being pummeled by the local Western Kingbirds. Downtown Carlsbad hosted both Chimney Swift and Mississippi Kites and a straggling holdover from winter-a Long-tailed Duck. Certainly an odd sight in early May that far south.
Heading north we stopped at Lake Avalon and were surprised to hear a Least Bittern calling at mid day, a new location for me for that species. Further north at Brantley Lake, where the water was the highest I have ever seen, we found a group of Franklin's Gulls and a very early Common Nighthawk. Enroute to Roswell to the north we were treated to a savannah-like scene with a small roadside group of Cattle Egrets perched on the backs of some local cattle.
At Bitter Lake Refuge, we caught the last of the shorebird migration including Willet, Marbled Godwit, Stilt Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Sandpiper. The breeding Snowy Plovers had returned and one pair was even leading a chick over the salt flats. A pair of Least Terns had found this remote inland breeding area as well.
Our time at higher elevations in Lincoln County to the west was productive as well. In the foothill pinyon/juniper habitat we heard several Montezuma Quail and had the good fortune to observe an impressive male at close range. The same area hosted breeding Black-chinned Sparrow and Black-throated Gray Warbler-both at the extreme eastern edge of their ranges. Further west along the Rio Hondo, the annual pair of Common Black Hawks had taken up residence in their nest of many years. Being right next to a major highway, these birds showed remarkable indifference to the semis roaring by.
Higher up towards Sierra Blanca peak, we enjoyed many resident and newly returned species such as Acorn Woodpecker, Pygmy Nuthatch, Virginia's Warbler, Indigo Bunting, and Band-tailed Pigeon. At a local high altitude lake we were fortunate to see an overwintering Pacific Loon in mid molt as well as a very late Horned Grebe. Night birding was rewarding with encounters with Mexican Whip-poor-will, Flammulated Owl (despite the cold temps), and a very vocal Northern Saw-whet Owl. Once again, the bird diversity of the Land of Enchantment continues to reveal itself.
This, the 7th Ladder Ranch CBC, had the best coverage so far, as reflected in our new high total of 105 species. New high counts were set for several species including Gambel's Quail (513), Western Bluebird (191), Hermit Thrush (26), Spotted Towhee (105), and White-crowned Sparrow (1174). Apparently, there is a lot of food on Ladder this winter. We also keep adding new species to the count with Northern Goshawk, Northern Shoveler, Lark Sparrow, Killdeer, Rusty Blackbird, Cassin's Finch all being tallied (the latter two species first time ever on the ranch). Historic low counts were American Coot (2), Juniper Titmouse (1), Vesper Sparrow (1) and Eastern Meadowlark (2). First time misses, both head scratchers, were Canada Goose and Cactus Wren. Many thanks to all who drove the long distance to participate.