Did you know that Birdathon is Audubon’s largest annual fundraiser, where teams from all over the country attempt to spot as many bird species as they can in a 24-hour period? It’s an endurance scavenger hunt challenge! Below is a snapshot, by Christopher Rustay, about how our team fared in exploring the southeastern part of New Mexico:
The intrepid birdathon team of Beth Bardwell, Ruth Burstrom, Mary Pat Day, Scot Pipkin, Peter Vennema, and Steve West were led by Christopher Rustay. This year the team headed to the southeast - a different area than last year. As usual, this Birdathon covered a 24-hour period but this time the group split up the period starting at 2pm on Friday the 6th and going till 2pm Saturday afternoon.
We met in Ruidoso for some montane birding, stopping first at Alto Reservoir for ponderosa pine birds. Blue-winged Teal had arrived on the pond and Violet-green Swallows were flying amongst the Barn Swallows overhead. Virginia's Warblers were singing below the dam and an Acorn Woodpecker, with its raucous call, graced us as we left. We then traveled upslope trying for higher mountain birds like Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper and Grace's Warblers among others. Because we were seven folks we traveled in two cars. Continuing, the rear car spotted Band-tailed Pigeons flying across the road. The next stop was in Pinyon-Juniper forest where the group picked up Plumbeous and Warbling Vireos and a Wilson's Warbler, however the wind, which had been blowing steadily all afternoon, prevented finding other P-J birds that are generally only found in that habitat such as Juniper Titmouse and Pinyon Jay. Passing through Fort Stanton the team ended the afternoon as the sun was setting, in the BLM's Fort Stanton - Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area - a recent and rarely birded area that is a jewel proven by the Common Black-Hawk nest that the team found when a female began screaming overhead! The group paused for dinner at the Dolan House in Lincoln and as they were leaving a Common Poorwill sounded off from the surrounding hills. The group wound its way to Roswell.
The next morning, bright and early, the group headed out to Bitter Lake NWR, an Audubon Global IBA, and the group discovered why. Even before the group made it to the refuge we spotted an Osprey roosting on power poles and a pair of Mississippi Kites at a residence immediately before the entrance. Stopping in the grasslands on the mesa overlooking the refuge, we were graced with the harsh "chick-chaw" of the Scaled Quail and the melancholy song and flight display of several Cassin's Sparrows. Once we were on the refuge proper the birds started appearing fast and furious: Snowy Plover, Wilson's Phalarope, Long-billed Curlew, a Sora called from the reeds along with a Common Yellowthroat. Knowing that there were other locations to visit and with the wind picking up again, we left after three hours but not before sharp-eyed Mary Pat found an American Bittern skulking in the pond outside the headquarters. A Least Tern and two Common Mergansers, the latter being rare for Bitter Lake in May, sent us on our way.
We traveled through town to the Kenneth Smith Bird Sanctuary, where the first and only Canada Geese on our journey were discovered. Because groupings of trees in the prairie pull migrant songbirds in for a day or two on their journey north, they are known as "migrant traps." The birdathon finished at just such a trap - the South Park Cemetery. Unfortunately, by this time the wind was blowing fairly steadily around 30 mph (It is a part of life in New Mexico in the Spring) and finding any migrant birds was a little tough. We did find a pair of roosting Great Horned Owls, a Blue Jay and the last species of the trip was one of the birds we were hoping for, a migrant Northern Waterthrush. All in all, a good, albeit wind-blown, birdathon. We managed a respectable 119 species.
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Our many thanks to Christopher, the Birdathon team, and YOU — your donation to Audubon New Mexico goes a long way to ensure that critical education and conservation work in our communities will continue. Thank you for your support!