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The West Mesa

09/30/2013

We live in Rio Rancho, which is Northwest of Albuquerque proper.  South of us, and West of Albuquerque, is the West Mesa.  It’s home to Petroglyph National Monument, a serial killer and Shooting Range Park.  The mesa was formed by a series of small volcanoes which erupted along a line and can easily be seen to the West from almost anywhere in Albuquerque.  It’s a fairly sparse place with lots of cholla, yucca, sagebrush and grass covering the dry land; which is what the area around my house is like, but with a bit less Juniper.  I was told to go out towards the shooting range to try and see Sage Thrashers, which are passing through now in migration.  I decided to head out Sunday morning before meeting a friend to watch the Steeler game.
I got off to a late start because of an unwanted house-guest.  My wife and kids were standing around in the living room when my wife jumped and said that she saw a bug crawl under our daughter’s dance bag.  I was expecting a cricket, maybe a spider.  But I moved the bag and a scorpion ran off across the floor.  I grabbed our bug-catching jar and managed to corral it. It was really exciting, and scary at the same time.  This was the first scorpion that I have seen in New Mexico, and the biggest bug that we’ve seen in the house.

Bark Scorpion, Rio Rancho NM

Bark Scorpion, Rio Rancho NM

Someone mentioned that it was a Bark Scorpion, which appears to be a pretty common type found out here.  My wife wouldn’t let me let it go in the yard, so I dumped it over our back wall and into the empty scrub between our plan and the main road.  After this episode I headed out to the West Mesa to find some of the Sage Thrashers.

The first bird that I saw was a Hawk sitting on a radio tower near the small airport that is west of the volcanoes.  It was really dark, and I didn’t get a quick ID on it until it flew off towards the runways.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Double Eagle Airport NM

Red-Tailed Hawk, Double Eagle Airport NM

I continued on my way and followed the signs for the shooting ranges to the West.  I’d never been out this far before and wasn’t too certain what was ahead of me. But I shortly saw some more birds flying around.  I stopped and ID’d a couple of Barn Swallows doing their thing.  And then some sparrow-looking birds sitting on a wire fence.  They ended up being some Horned Larks.

Horned Lark, West Mesa ABQ NM

Horned Lark, West Mesa ABQ NM

Horned Lark, West Mesa ABQ, NM

Horned Lark, West Mesa ABQ, NM

I kept going and the sounds of gunfire, and the number of too-big pick-up trucks passing me, continued to increase. The road turned to the north when I saw my first Thrasher sitting on a cholla.

Curve-Billed Thrasher, West Mesa ABQ, NM

Curve-Billed Thrasher, West Mesa ABQ, NM

After much deliberation (the light was really bad, I had gotten away too late), I decided that this was too big, and the bill too curved, to be a Sage Thrasher.  It was a Curve-Billed Thrasher.  I continued on  and drove by the shooting ranges.  I saw some other sparrow type birds around the ranges, but didn’t want to linger around with my big lens.  So I kept driving.  The road was coming to another curve to the South and I parked to get out and walk around for a bit.  And what did I see in front of me but some shrubs full of birds.  I got a pretty good look at smallish birds with streaked breasts and straight bills.  Sage Thrashers!

Sage Thrashers, West Mesa ABQ, NM

Five Sage Thrashers, West Mesa ABQ, NM

Sage Thrasher, West Mesa ABQ, NM

Sage Thrasher, West Mesa ABQ, NM

Another bird to go towards my guidebook challenge, which I’ve given up completing, and a lifer, and the 2nd one in 2 days (I’ll get to that at the end, I just remembered it).
They were really skittish and flew off into the thicker brush.  I walked back to my car triumphant when I noticed a nice yellow butterfly on a thistle.

Butterfly and Thistle, West Mesa ABQ, NM

Butterfly and Thistle, West Mesa ABQ, NM

I stopped a few more times on the way off of the Mesa and into town for some disappointing football.  I somehow noticed this Northern Shrike way off on a juniper.

Northern Shrike, West Mesa ABQ, NM

Northern Shrike, West Mesa ABQ, NM

And this bird that I’m not 100% sure of, but called it a Quail.  It was a bit of a ways off and never turned around in the minute that I was watching it.  I can’t tell if it was a Scaled or a Gambels, but Scaled would fit the area better.

? Quail, West Mesa ABQ, NM

? Quail, West Mesa ABQ, NM

And finally  as I was passing the area where I saw my first thrasher of the day, there it was again, but almost right out of my window.

Curve-Billed Thrasher, West Mesa ABQ, NM

Curve-Billed Thrasher, West Mesa ABQ, NM

 

But I can’t believe that I forgot about the lifer that I got on Saturday.  A friend of mine posted on Facebook that they had an interesting yard bird.  A Lewis’ Woodpecker was hanging out in a tree across the street from her.  I contemplated going to see it for a half hour, but finally decided to go for it, it was too easy to pass up.  So I took my daughter along and drove over to the other side of town.  We saw plenty of Scrub-Jays at first, but no Woodpecker.  But after walking back and looking at the tree again, we finally saw it!  What a neat bird.  It looked like a crow, but a closer look showed the pink belly and when it flew it definitely had long woodpecker wings.  We watched it fly-catch for a bit and then fly into a pin-oak after acorns.  What a neat bird!  We never get anything this cool over on the West-side (no offense Green-Tailed Towhee).

Lewis' Woodpecker, Northeast Heights ABQ, NM

Lewis’ Woodpecker, Northeast Heights ABQ, NM

And here is another shot of it pecking holes in another tree.

Lewis' Woodpecker, Northeast Heights ABQ, NM

Lewis’ Woodpecker, Northeast Heights ABQ, NM

These photos are cropped severely so that I could get some detail out of them.  But it was a nice bird to watch.  We also a Northern Flicker on the same block.

Northern Flicker, Northeast Heights ABQ, NM

Northern Flicker, Northeast Heights ABQ, NM

So two lifers, and two challenge birds, in one weekend.  As far as that challenge goes, the closures in the Summer and some bad luck, really shot my chances on seeing all the birds right to hell.  I have 21 left to see in New Mexico, but some of them are gone for the season.  Some I saw out of New Mexico, so if I take that caveat, the list goes down to 15.  Some of them I can still see this year, but I’m certain that Lazuli Buntings, Scott’s Buntings and Painted Restarts are gone for the year.  And they won’t be back before we leave for Portland and Ireland.  But it was still a fun thing to work towards, and I have some complaints for the author.  But so far it’s been an okay year for birding, and my first year keeping track and having limited availability to get out.  I’m currently at 218 birds for the year and 184 in New Mexico.  I’d be happy getting 200 New Mexico birds before I move, and I could do it with a bit of luck.

Well, thanks for making it this far,

Cheers!

 

 

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