As Spring approaches and these species begin their long migrations North, their place is taken by American White Pelicans and by early March, hundreds of Tree and Violet-green Swallows will be arriving, bringing with them the first White-throated Swifts and eye-catching Vermilion Flycatchers.
These are but a small part of the wealth of birdlife on offer at Bosque del Apache and as many as 25 species of wildfowl use the wide ‘pans’ as their winter home including Cackling Geese, Canvasbacks, Redheads and Cinnamon Teal, while Northern Harriers float across the fields, eyeing their prey.
Just East of Albuquerque, Sandia Crest rises to 3,280m with its summit still encrusted with snow at this time of year. After briefly following the legendary Route 66, we enter the Cibola Forest where our quest is for all three species of North America’s spectacular Rosy Finches: Black, Brown-capped and Grey-crowned. These sought-after yet confiding birds can really steal the show but there should also be Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee and both White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatches to delight us around the feeders as we sip a warming hot chocolate.
Heading South, we explore the lovely landscapes of Water Canyon, set amidst the juniper and pine forests of the Magdalena Mountains which is an excellent area for Acorn Woodpecker, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit and the recently ‘split’ Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay.
Strung out like pearls along the Rio Grande are several highly productive State Parks, from the beautiful Percha Dam to the vast Caballo Reservoir, where Cactus and Rock Wrens, Crissal and Curve-billed Thrashers, Phainopepla and Pyrrhuloxia (as hard to spell as they are to say), Dark-eyed Juncos and Black Phoebe can all be found. While at Elephant Butte Lake, we have the chance to compare the ‘look-alike’ Clark’s and Western Grebes amidst an array of thousands of wildfowl.
Out on the plains, where American Kestrels and Loggerhead Shrikes perch on fence posts, we will search for Horned Larks and the exquisite Chestnut-collared Longspur, the males already richly coloured before they fly North to breed. We should also see all three species of bluebird: commonest is Western, but Eastern and Mountain also join the roving flocks, hovering above the landscape in search of prey.
With a mixture of winter birds, the first Spring migrants and plenty of special resident species, this tour offer a wonderfully rounded trip.
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