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:
Five Audubon NM birders ventured back to Socorro County this year for the annual birdathon, using a tried and true route, but changing it up just a bit. Led by Christopher Rustay, Beth Bardwell, Ruth Burstrom, Carl Caves and Peter Venema started their 24-hour period at 2:20pm on Friday, May 5, in San Antonio, NM where a Phainopepla flew across the road. The group spent the next five hours birding around Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. We were hoping that by starting in the middle of the day we could stay till Lesser Nighthawks put in their evening appearance, which they finally did. We ended the day with 91 species but surprisingly few migrants, though a small flock of Franklin’s Gulls and Forster’s Terns greeted us at the Flight Deck pond. Our shorebird species count was a low 11 species, but we were able to grab a lesson on how to tell a Wilson’s from a Red-necked Phalarope. Breeding species that we detected included a heard-only Least Bittern doing its low, soft “pup-pup-pup” at the Boardwalk pond and sharp-eyed Carl Caves found a Glossy Ibis just after believing that leader Rustay was joking when he mentioned it as a possibility as a large flock of ibis settled right in front of the group.
The next morning started early at 4:30am, when the group went out owling to Water Canyon. There was no moon out but thankfully the wind was also almost non-existent. Four nightbirds were heard; Western Screech-Owl, Flammulated Owl, Great Horned Owl and Common Poorwill. The group headed back down into town started the day portion at the late hour of 6am! Riverine Park near Socorro and adjacent to a flooding Rio Grande produced eight new birds this morning including Summer Tanager which had obviously just arrived and bright red males were chasing each other around determining territories. However, the amount of bird activity in the area was low overall with almost no birds that were not regular breeders in the area. We headed up towards Water Canyon making a brief stop for a Loggerhead Shrike in the desert scrub and one at the rock-climbing area called “The Box” where we picked up every expected species except for Gray Vireo, that had been singing lustily just the day before.
Water Canyon works well for a Birdathon because the good 16-mile road passes through grasslands, and all the major forest types found in NM until reaching alpine grassland near the observatory at the top. Because a large migration did not seem to have occurred the night before, leader Rustay decided to focus on finding as many breeding birds as possible. Horned Larks in the grasslands, complemented the complete suite of Pinyon-Juniper birds found during just one stop, including Gray Flycatcher, Juniper Titmouse and Black-throated Gray Warbler. The perennially favorite Acorn Woodpeckers were at the picnic grounds, while further up in Ponderosa-oak forest we searched for the Red-faced Warbler. We needed have worried as we found the latter species at almost every forested stop further up the road. Slowly working our way up we continued picking up additional species; Dark-eyed Junco, Townsend’s Solitaire, Brown Creeper and Red-breasted Nuthatch. We ended our journey upslope when Beth Bardwell called out the Green-tailed Towhees that were chasing each other in the alpine shrublands near the top of the mountain.
Having just a bit more time and at 147 species we decided to stop for lunch where a Williamson’s Sapsucker promptly made an appearance. Only two species away from 150 we made our way back down to Socorro, but new species avoided us. Our final stop was at Turtle Bay Park on the NM Tech Campus, where to the group’s surprise not one, but two Northern Waterthrushes were skulking around the edges of the pond, but eventually allowed all of us to get good looks at them. We ended the day with a 2nd-best ever record for the Audubon NM birdathon of 149 species. Excellent work by all!
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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!