Taco Bell Marsh
Last weekend I volunteered to help clean up the Belen “Taco Bell” Marsh. It is a smallish wetland right off of I-25 on the northern end of Belen. If you’ve never been there, it is literally right behind a Taco Bell and within sight of a Wal-mart, which makes for quite the juxtaposition, as you’ll see. I made my first trip down there on a Thursday Birder trip and got to see my first ever Black-Necked Stilts, American Avocets and Wilson’s Phalaropes. It was neat, but just another Thursday trip. But during the clean-up I learned that it was threatened by the local fairground owners. They want to fill it in and use it for parking for said fairgrounds. But through a small bit of luck, nobody is 100% sure of who the owners are, as it was bought as part of a community trust around 80 years ago. So far it has a stay of execution, if you will.
Well the day that I went to the clean-up I was without my long lens and just went with binoculars. I saw some of the same birds as last year, but got to list some towards my guide-book challenge. I also got to see long-billed dowitchers, which were life birds for me. But as I was squinting into the Sun trying to see the birds the thought of coming down in the evening popped into my head. The Sun would be setting at my back and the light should be awesome. So I arranged to get down there and invited some friends along for the ride. It would turn into an epic evening.
The first birds that people look for are some Burrowing Owls that live on the other side of the Taco Bell from the wetlands. We drove back using the van as a blind and sure easily spotted 2 owls in their burrow. One flew off in an attempt to distract us from their real home.
And here’s a pretty good example of how good they are at camouflage.
As we were watching the owls, one of the group spotted something large and white flying slowly overhead and on it’s way to the water. It was a Great Egret. Here’s a good shot showing it’s size.
There were lots of the typical inhabitants of the marsh on hand.
There were also many Great-Tailed Grackles, various Swallows and Red-Winged Blackbirds present. I was excited to see a White-Faced Ibis in the reeds, which would join the Egrets at what would become a very popular spot in the marsh.
But that solitary Ibis would soon be joined by even more.
And then more and more snowy Egrets would fly-in in groups of 1 or 2 until there was almost 20. They seemed to congregate with the Greater Egret and the Ibises in one part of the water.
And the one or 2 Wilson’s Phalaropes that I had seen the week before were now 19.
And then a nice sized group of Yellow-headed blackbirds flew in, with some other birds mixed in.
Then we noticed a Swainson’s Hawk circling by, which was pretty much ignored by everyone at the marsh.
And then even more Ibises would fly in to join the ones already there. I counted 74 in all at one point.
A Black-Crowned Night Heron fly over without stopping.
There weren’t many ducks, only 1 female Mallard; however, there were some Ruddy Ducks swimming around.
And I lucked out with some good shots of a Phalarope flying to another part of the marsh.
The Stilts and Avocets moved around to get away from the large congregation of Ibises and Egrets.
And some of the last birds that we would see were 300 or so Brown-headed Cowbirds that came in and landed on the wires above the road, another bird that I needed for my challenge.
It’s these small places that are becoming more important due to development. The trend of build, build, build is going to leave nothing for our kids. It’s sad to think that some people would rather use this land to park more big pick-up trucks and SUVs so that their owners can walk even less. And I didn’t even mention the 30 bags of litter that a few of us cleaned up one Saturday morning, and that’s just one stretch of road in a country covered in trash. But I’d like to think that there’s hope out there for the little gems hidden in all the crap.
Thanks to Judy and Erin and Tomas and Adya (especially for Tomas and Erin for the beer used during this post!)!