Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Straddling the Continental Divide: Western New Mexico (May 2009) VII

Gila River at TNC's Gila River Preserve (View upstream toward Gila Wilderness)

A Banner Day for Birds

Wednesday morning, May 20, after breakfast we headed northwest from Silver City to explore The Nature Conservancy's Gila River Farm Preserve just outside the hamlet of Gila, NM, on a guided tour with Mike, TNC's premier birder in New Mexico. This section of the Gila is just outside the border of the Gila Wilderness, and by this point the river has emerged from the mountains and has begun to flow through low hills in a broad valley.

Gila Wilderness as viewed upstream from the Gila River at TNC's Gila River Farm Preserve

Once our caravan arrived at the preserve, Mike gave us an overview and orientation, and then walked us over to an irrigation canal to give us an introduction to water rights in New Mexico. He explained that water rights must be used or that they will be rescinded and reallocated. He also explained that The Nature Conservancy is in the forefront of making the case that maintenance and restoration of natural ecosystems is a legitimate use of water rights (cf., consumptive agricultural use), but that such use was not yet approved. Therefore, TNC partially uses the water rights that came along with the farm that it bought to create the preserve to encourage the development of wetland habitat at the low ends of existing agricultural fields and to recharge groundwater.

After the water rights primer, we spent most of the morning birding on the irrigation canal bank, in an artificial pond, and in the riparian corridor along the Gila River. This two-hour birding trip may have yielded more species per hour than any other birding venue I have ever enjoyed. What follows is a list of all the birds we encountered, including several new "life-listers" (indicated with an asterisk) for this Eastern birder.
  • Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
  • Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)
  • Common Black-Hawk (Buteogallus anthracinus)--rare, pair on a nest
  • Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
  • American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)
  • Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove (Streptopelia decaocto) *
  • Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus)
  • Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
  • Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker (Colaptes auratus)
  • Ladder-backed Woodpecker (Picoides scalaris) *
  • Western Wood-Pewee (Contopus sordidulus)
  • Cordilleran Flycatcher (Empidonax occidentalis) *
  • Black Phoebe (Sayornis nigricans)
  • Say's Phoebe (Sayornis saya)
  • Ash-throated Flycatcher (Myiarchus cinerascens)
  • Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis)
  • Cassin's Kingbird (Tyrannus vociferans)
  • Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus)
  • Common Raven (Corvus corax)
  • Chihuahuan Raven (Corvus cryptoleucus) *
  • Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Stelgidopteryx serripennis)
  • Violet-green Swallow (Tachycineta thalassina)
  • Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
  • Bewick's Wren (Thryomanes bewickii)
  • European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
  • Lucy's Warbler (Vermivora luciae) *
  • Yellow-breasted Chat (Icteria virens)
  • Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas)
  • Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)
  • Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
  • Blue Grosbeak (Guiraca caerulea) *
  • Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
  • Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus)
  • Great-tailed Grackle (Quiscalus mexicanus)
  • Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater)
  • Bullock's Oriole (Icterus bullockii)
One thing that truck me when we finished our walk was how much of the avifauna of the grasslands and shrublands of New Mexico is comprised of flycatchers. Of the 37 species we observed that morning, nearly a quarter (eight) were flycatchers.

Gila River flowing southwest from TNC's Gila River Farm Preserve

As we were driving out of the preserve after our walk, headed for the Catwalk National Recreation Trail, we came across a huge King Snake stretched across the road. The rest of the group, which was following in cars behind us, stopped to see the snake, and then gently encouraged it to move off the road.

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