Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Muleshoe NWR, TX to Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

November 11 - 13, 2008

When I got to Muleshoe it was fairly late afternoon, but before closing hours. Unless of course it's Veteran's Day. So I couldn't get a checklist or anybody to quiz about sightings. I wandered around, drove to each lake and playa, found some usual suspect ducks, and maybe thirty Sandhill Cranes at one place and about fifty at another, but nothing really exciting. Well, anyway, I could look at the campground which I remembered as a treeless barren place, but fortunately my memory was missing some stuff. There was a nice brushy dry creek bottom along one edge, there was a bit of bottomland Cottonwoods, big enough to support some territories. Beyond that was a trail along an arroyo that had a different feel from the campground creek. The three together ended up being some great birding. The whole zone was packed, lots of White-crowned Sparrows, others including Clay-colored and Fox, both good TX tics, Roadrunner, Great-horned Owl, two kinds of Thrashers, a flock of Eastern Bluebirds, and in the morning, my first TX Eurasian Collared Dove. Four new tics in a place where I'd hardly expected to see a bird.

The night was the first cold one of the trip, heavy frost in the morning, and saturation moonlight as it approached full, a high winter moon. Up early trying for any dawn chorus action. Tried the office again at 8, but nobody was there. I headed north and a little west to Grulla NWR. The TX/NM border is it's eastern fence. It's the biggest playa lake I've ever seen, but it was almost dry and any birds were well overa mile away, and me not inclined to walk down in. It's a geological puzzle, almost exactly round, with high sides in a mostly flat country. I later started wondering if it might be a meteor crater, or maybe a collapsed salt dome, but haven't had time to follow the question. Anyway, it wasn't a very birdy start on New Mexico.

From there it's about a hundred fast straight miles to Bitter Lake NWR outside Roswell. I ran the tour loop there, fairly good waterfowl variety, but no outstanding numbers. Did nail a Ross's Goose for NM. I needed gas, and was grossed out by the $2.47 in town, finally drove into a station and when I reached the pump it was $2.29. They had just changed it on their computer. That lifted my spirits some. From there it's about three hours driving to the Rio Grande valley and Bosque del Apache NWR, one of my focal goals. The drive is a lot of old bumpy two lane blacktop, but you do get to go through Lincoln County where Billy the Kid has become a local industry. They have a pageant dedicated to a psychopathic killer. Tourism at its best.

It was still a couple of hours to sundown when I got to BdA, and I was able to drive the tour loop. Good numbers of Cranes and Snow Geese, but nothing like my first visit years ago in February. The elevation drop had let things warm up nicely. I had hoped there might still be some shorebirds, but my departure from AR had been delayed enough to lose that possibility. As it got dark, I headed into town, Socorro, for overpriced fast food (a misnomer on two counts), and then went west up the mountains to Water Canyon, about twenty miles, and stayed there. I read through the New Mexico bird finder, and it turns out to be a very good place in spring and early summer, especially for night birds. Maybe I'll try next spring.

Back down in the dark next morning, after another cold bright night. I got to the refuge about sunup and got to see some of the big flights taking off. I was more interested in passerines, which were really weak on my NM list, so headed to the south end of the loop where there are a couple of trails through wetlands and dessert. Had an excellent morning. Several new Sparrows, a Marsh Wren, a Verdin which was only my second ever, and sharing it's bush with a Brewer's Sparrow, a late Ash-throated Flycatcher, and several other satisfying sightings, quails and hawks, thrashers and Western Grebes. The best section was a piece of dirt road below a small bluff along the south edge of the pool that the trail circled, which had a great combination of cover, perches, and water edge. Great morning. I was still intersted in getting on toward Silver City, and hit the road a little after noon.


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