Spring migration means color and song invades the Middle Rio Grande – and what better place to partake of this than at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Let me take you along on a visit I did in May 2021 with my birding friend and co-author, Barbara Hussey.
Our first stop is always the Visitor Center where we check the feeders outside the building, even if it means peering over the viewing area between the new restrooms and the entrance. If the building is open, I like to sit next to the viewing window to watch the action. The feeders often provide good opportunities to easily see colorful Bullock’s Oriole.
Bullock’s Oriole | Photo by Judith Liddell
“Let’s start on the South Loop,” I tell Barb as I steer my car south after entering the main part of the refuge. “Keep your eyes peeled for Great and Snowy Egrets in the fields while I drive and let me know when I need to stop.”
It was a beautiful spring day and we drove with the windows partially down to listen for birds singing. We watched the slow gentle wingbeats of a Great-Blue heron gliding over the field near the Egrets
Great Egret | Photo by Judith Liddell
While we didn’t stop at the boardwalk last year when there was no water, I was delighted to learn that water is again back. I like to stop and walk out onto the boardwalk, taking time to enjoy the Red-winged Blackbird males singing to defend their territories. Neotropic Cormorants are often perched on dead branches in the lagoon.
Neotropic Cormorants | Photo by Judith Liddell
As we headed further along the South Loop, we turned north at the first road and continued along this shaded road, again listening for singing birds. At the Old Rookery, we turned left until we reached the Seasonal Road.
Early May has long been a favorite time to visit, especially along the Seasonal Road.
I inched my car onto the road just east of the Eagle Scout Deck and was glad that there weren’t yet any mosquitos so we could continue to leave our windows part way down.
“I hope we can hear either the kiddick, kiddick of a Virginia Rail or the whinny of a Sora” I tell Barb. These elusive summer residents lurk in marshy areas with cattails, reeds and other grasses – and are usually heard rather than seen.
In open spots between the trees, we look out over the main pond to get better views of Black-necked Stilts and Avocets feeding nearby. The road then passes through a couple of grassy areas with lingering water where the gurgles and whistles alert us to Yellow-breasted Chats, their golden breasts gleaming in the tops of the willows.
Yellow-breasted Chat | Photo by Judith Liddell
As the road turns east, I find a spot to park. As we ambled along the road we began listening for the melodies of warblers and songbirds. We hadn’t gone far when we heard the high, sweet tweeting of a Lucy’s Warbler, one of the first summering warbler to arrive. Further along we heard the “sweet, sweet, weetasweet” of some Yellow Warblers and the whichity, whitchity, whitchity of a Common Yellowthroat. It is also possible to see other warblers on the move. In the high trees a flash of red alerted us to a Summer Tanager who will nest at the refuge. We were delighted when we heard the sharp sing-song call of a migrating Western Tanager – and then its bright red, yellow and black body appeared.
I returned to get my car while Barb continued to enjoy the bounty. I stop once more just as the road turns north again and we get out to join some other birders who have just seen their first Vermilion Flycatchers. I stopped again when we heard the ‘police whistle’ alerting us to an Ash-throated Flycatcher.
Vermilion Flycatcher | Photo by Judith Liddell
As the seasonal road emerges onto the North Loop, we began scanning for Blue Grosbeaks and Western Kingbirds, as well as Swainson’s Hawks.
“Oh look,” Barb points to a shaded areas along the edge of the field along the North Loop, “Wild Turkeys are dancing to try and impress the hens.”
As we approach the Flight Deck, I stop again and we scan the shallow water for American Avocets, White-faced Ibis, Long-billed Dowitchers and Marbled Godwits.
White-faced Ibis | Photo by Judith Liddell
We walked out onto the Flight Deck in the hopes of seeing migrating terns and gulls. “Oh look,” I pointed. Barb set up the scope and focused on the resting flock – Caspian Terns.
Before exiting the refuge, we check the water in the main pond for Blue-winged Teal, the gleaming bodies of Cinnamon Teal and the blue beaks of summering Ruddy Ducks.
I wish we had time to linger until dusk for the possibility of catching a glance at Common and even Lesser Nighthawks.
As we headed back to Albuquerque we relished our glorious day of spring birding at Bosque del Apache NWR.