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Meghann Goes West


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August 18-22, I went to visit my dad at his new house in Raton, NM. My dad isn't a birder, but graciously agreed to take me birding most days I was there. At the end of our five days, he had put 1400 miles on his odometer! I'm going to do each day separately, so I can think through and remember and grab some photos.

Day 1:

Most of this day was spent flying to NM from Georgia. When I landed in Albuquerque, it was still a 3 hour drive to my dad's house. I spent most of the drive chatting with my dad and taking in the beautiful scenery. (and hoping to catch sight of a roadrunner. Believe it or not, I didn't see one the entire trip!) We did stop for a minute by Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, as it was on my wishlist, and my dad wanted to scope out where it was. We only stayed for a minute, because I was exhausted, and we still had a bit of a drive to his house. Did get life bird Swainson's Hawk during that brief stop! (Pic taken with my phone through the windshield.)

Swainsons Hawks

We got to his house, and I spent the evening eating dinner and watching the hummingbirds on my dad's porch. I know from my pics through the week there are Rufous, Broad-tailed, and Black-chinned at his feeders. Still going through the photos trying to find a Calliope, as they are common this time of year there, too.


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15 minutes ago, meghann said:

Still going through the photos trying to find a Calliope, as they are common this time of year there, too.

There's a Calliope in the video from 1:17 to 1:59, the very front one on the right. 

I wish my hummingbird feeders looked like that!

Edited by Aidan B
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Day 2:

We got up at the crack of dawn and headed to Maxwell NWR. There are multiple small lakes there. We first stopped at one called Lake 13. Lots of ducks way out where I couldn't really get a good handle on what they were. Some usual suspects: Ring-billed Gulls, Canada Geese, a White Pelican, etc. . . There were a few Avocets, which are always nice to see. First lifer of this day: Cinnamon Teal!

Cinnamon Teal

I also saw Western Meadowlark, which was another lifer. I was kind of bummed there wasn't more activity. Lots of ducks, Mallards, Teal, etc., but a lot of species that were reported there just the day before were lacking. My dad had been patiently waiting in his truck, taking in the scenery, while I gave up and trudged back to the car. Halfway there, I heard an unfamiliar noise. I turned and saw a bird flying over the dam, trained my binos on it, and LO AND BEHOLD, there was one of my arch nemesis birds. I have chased Curlews up and down the Georgia coast, and had yet to find one. At last!

Curlew (2)

I finished my walk back to the truck with much more pep in my step. Ebird list: https://ebird.org/checklist/S93661752

Next, we drove to other lakes that aren't officially on Maxwell property, but there is some agreement with the landowner for public use or something. Laguna Madre and Stubblefield Lake. Stubblefield was meh, so we went up to Laguna Madre.

LOTS of ducks. Gadwall, Ruddies, Teal, Redhead, a million coots, etc. Did see a pair of Eared Grebe, and lifer Western Grebe. We drove around to the other side, trying to get closer to the Western for a better pic. There were a bunch of LBJs hopping around. (Little Brown Jobs) Got a pic of a few. Some Vespers, but with Liam's ID help, some turned out to be Brewer's!

Brewer's Sparrows

We rounded the corner some more, and I saw more LBJs, but this time I was able to figure out what they were on my own: Lifer Lark Buntings!

Lark Bunting Female

THEN, further down the way, a truly beautiful sight. Another lifer. Yellow-headed Blackbirds!

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Not too shabby. Checklist here: https://ebird.org/checklist/S93661883

We decided to head out, as my dad had other places to show me. We drove from Maxwell into Cimarron Canyon. A beautiful drive, and along the way, we heard a weird bird sound. I went "What was THAT?", my dad slammed on the brakes, found a place to pull over, and lo and behold, lifer Stellar's Jays:

Stellar's Jay

We drove further up the canyon, and stopped at a trailhead that had a creek and some bird activity. It mostly seemed to be more Stellar's, but some smaller movement caught my eye, and it turned out to be a Warbling Vireo! Lifer.

Warbling Vireo

My dad then drove me up to a really fantastic spot called Eagle's Nest Lake State Park. Nice big lake nestled in a bowl between mountains. Just beautiful. There was a trail to the water, and we made it there after I tripped on a prairie dog hole and fell. Took me almost a week to get the spine from whatever plant my hand landed on out of my palm, but I digress. . .

Huge flock of Canada Geese, some Mallards, a Spotted Sandpiper, more White Pelicans, and what's that? More Western Grebes. A whole group of them. I kept looking and then realized the sleeping ducks on the bank were something I hadn't been expecting. Common Mergansers! Another life bird.

Common Mergansers

We tooled around a while longer, but only found things like Robins and Grackles, so we decided to head to the next spot. Checklist: https://ebird.org/checklist/S93661653

We drove to a place not far from my dad's house. Sugarite Canyon State Park. (Pronounced Sugar-eet.) My dad wanted to take me hiking there the next day, but we decided to check out some spots by car. At the visitor center I got lifer Spotted Towhee. We stopped by Lake Maloya (where my dad was going to take me hiking the next day) and crossed the line into Colorado and peeked at Lake Dorothea. Got lifers Violet-green Swallows (never did get a pic of one), Lewis's Woodpecker, Lesser Goldfinch, and Western Bluebird. Then we headed back into Raton and had dinner. (I had some hatch green chile alfredo pasta, which was amazing. It is hatch chile season, after all!)

Lewis's Woodpecker (2) Western Bluebird (2) Lesser Goldfinch (2)


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47 minutes ago, Birding Boy said:

Can’t wait to see the rest of the trip report! Congrats on the lifers! 

#1 way to make an eastern birder jealous: post a video of a hummingbird feeder in the west ?


40 minutes ago, Aidan B said:

There's a Calliope in the video from 1:17 to 1:59, the very front one on the right. 

I wish my hummingbird feeders looked like that!


37 minutes ago, Quiscalus quiscula said:

I so agree with this! When you only have one hummer species on your life list- ruby-throated.

I got an amazing amount of lifers on the trip, but the hummers were the highlight! Thankfully, even though my dad isn't a birder, he's an animal lover. He's a good steward to his birds. The hummers have two feeders, and he keeps them clean and fills them every day!

And if that is a Calliope in the video, that bumps the lifer total to 33.

Edited by meghann
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Day 3:

Woke up at the crack of dawn (again) and headed to Sugarite for hiking. Saw some wild turkey along the road on the way into the park. Got to the trailhead at Lake Maloya and threw the packs on and got to it. Lots of Lewis's Woodpeckers this day. It's almost like they were mocking me. Even though there's a lake, not much on it. A Green-wing Teal and a Coot family, complete with babies! A good bit of birds we have at home, including Osprey, Heron, Kestrel, Crows, Robins, and Tree Swallows. TONS of flycatchers. Didn't even get pics of them all. Some were lifer Western Wood-pewee:

W Wood Pewee

Others were left as Flycatcher sp.

NM Empid


Got lifers Green-tailed Towhee, Red-naped Sapsucker, Western Tanager, and Virginia's Warbler. (No pics of the last one, unfortunately.)

Green-tailed Towhee Red-naped Sapsucker Western Tanager

A beautiful hike on a beautiful morning. Saw wildflowers and bear scat, too! Lake Maloya:

Lake Maloya

We then got back in the car and did the hike to the top of Little Horse Mesa. It was birdy, but everything was hiding, so I couldn't get a look at anything. Also, the last part of the hike to get to the top was STEEP, so I was more worried about falling down than looking for birds. This was the first time of the trip my lungs finally struggled a bit with the elevation, too. I forgot to get a real picture of what the top of the mesa looks like, so you'll have to settle for a snapchat:

Little Horse Mesa

This is the view back down the canyon from the top of the mesa:

Little Horse Mesa view

We then ate lunch at an amazing local taqueria, and then drove to another mesa. Johnson Mesa is a really surreal place that I highly recommend if you ever go to Raton. You can drive on the top, and it's over 8,000 feet up in elevation. It is a huge mesa, and is the strangest experience. You are in the the mountainous area of New Mexico, you turn a corner, and all of the sudden you can't see the mountains any more, and it's grassland as far as the eye can see. It feels like teleporting to Kansas. It's mostly just ranch land for cows, but there is a church in the middle of the mesa, even though no one actually lives up there. As far as birds, it was mostly crows, Mountain Bluebirds, and Vespers. My dad thinks this is one of the only places in existence where you can be in a different state looking DOWN on Colorado. (the plains in the distance)

Johnson Mesa

While driving around up there, we did catch a glimpse of Capulin Volcano, but I forgot to grab a pic. Here's a Vespie showing the terrain on the mesa:

Vesper Johnson Mesa


After that, we went to the house where I watched hummingbirds and yardbirds. Got lifer Black-headed Grosbeak and saw a bear.

Black headed Grosbeak cropped

Then after dinner, I went to bed, because our next morning was the earliest yet. Stay tuned!

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Day 4:

We got up around 4:30 a.m. and hit the road. My dad wanted to get me up into some REAL elevation, and we were going up into Colorado to do it. We watched the sky get slowly lighter and lighter, and we talked about the cool geology along the way. We passed lots of dikes radiating out from the Spanish peaks. (Where the earth literally cracked as the peaks pushed up and magma came to the surface.) I had talked about only seeing magpies once, ever, and that I hadn't ever put it on ebird. My dad was incredulous that I hadn't seen tons of magpies, but as we rounded a corner, there was a whole flock of them.

Magpie small

We then drove up a very bumpy gravel road and topped out at the parking lot for Cordova Pass. Starting elevation 11,248 feet. Pretty high for a flat lander!

cordova pass sign

It was really cold, and foggy, so we put on warmer gear, packed up our packs, and hit the trail. My dad's main goal was just to get me above timberline, so I could say I did it. We quietly walked through the morning mist, and the first part of the hike was pretty smooth and easy. Suddenly my dad frantically motioned to me, and off to the side of the trail was a large bird. Dusky Grouse! It eyed us suspiciously and disappeared into the brush. Really cool. We kept going, and flushed some Northern Flickers, and some other things I could not get a good look at. (cause, FOG.)

The hike was still fairly easy, and at some point I finally got a look at some Mountain Chickadees. Lifer!

Mountain Chickadee (2)

Then the trail started getting steep, and it once again became less about birds, and more about keeping my body going. I started to struggle a good bit with the elevation and started getting a headache. Chugged a bunch of water, a fistful of advil, and another fistful of nuts, and then we were on our way again. I did have to stop more than I wanted to, but my dad said I did better than he thought I would. Heard lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, more of the chickadees, and some Yellow-rumped Warblers.

I had mentioned to my dad about wanting to see a raven. The whole trip there had been a bunch of crows, and I would say "How about that one?" My dad always answered "Nope, another crow. When it's a raven, you'll KNOW." Sure enough on one of our breaks, I looked up, and a black corvid with a beak so big it was shining in the sun soared by. No pic, but. . .a raven! Huzzah! We kept going, with my legs burning and my heart wanting to beat out of my chest, but two hours after we started, we were above timberline!

timberline west spanish peak

As we stood and I listened to the pika calling, and looked upward, I decided we could go just a little further. There were multiple little hills, and I figured I would just try to get to the next one. I knew I couldn't summit. It was SUPER windy, and I was pretty worn out already. (Also, what you see there at the top right of the photo isn't the summit, it's a false summit.) I aimed for the next rock cairn, which in the photo looks super close. Perspective is way off on mountains. It was not close at all.

West spanish peak looking up


I did make it to the next cairn, though, and a couple more after that. I finally realized I needed to be done. My legs were jello, and like my dad says "You also have to remember that you need to be able to get back DOWN." We hung out for a while, had snacks and hydrated and enjoyed the view before heading back down. Our next bird goal was Clark's Nutcracker. My dad swore it would be easy. He remembered seeing them all the time at campgrounds in the mountains, and there was a campground right where we parked the car. On the way down, the fog had lifted fully, and in a meadow, we were treated to a fantastic view of the mountain. I put an arrow at the highest point I got. Not bad for a flatlander who had just arrived three days before and had never hiked that high!

west spanish peak

We got back to the parking lot, and there were NO nutcrackers. Not one. We were however treated to TWO Canada Jays! What a surprise! (They pinged as rare on ebird, to boot.)

Canada Jay

We hiked around the campgrounds and found an old abandoned cabin. Mostly just more chickadees and a million yellow-rumped warblers. However, on the way back to the car something else caught my eye. Another bird I hadn't been looking for. Pine Grosbeak!

Pine Grosbeak

We headed down the bumpy mountain rode and enjoyed the scenery and headed to Trinidad to scope out the lake and get dinner. Never did get a nutcracker. Oh well. The lake was mostly a bust, but did get lifers scrub jay (no pic), and Bushtits!

Bushtit cropped

We ate dinner and saw a beautiful sunset from the restaurant parking lot that seemed to have the Loch Ness Monster in the clouds. Then back to dad's to pack and get ready for the final morning!

Trinidad sunset


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27 minutes ago, Quiscalus quiscula said:

You know it's not great for privacy, right? Anyway, it's your choice where you are on, just saying.

. . . . yes. On both counts. I'm 41 years old, and my dad is in the computer industry and raised me to be paranoid. I've also been on the internet since 1994, so I know some things, kiddo.

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Final day: got up early, but not nearly as early as the other days. Had a three hour drive back to the airport, but decided to hit Maxwell again on the way out, just to see if I could get any last minute things.

At the visitor center (which was locked up, but we pulled over nearby) I noticed a kingbird that looked different than the westerns I had been seeing. Could it be? A Cassin's! Waaaaay out in a field. Got a kingbird hat trick that day with three species, since I had Eastern, as well.

Cassins Kingbird

On the lake wasn't anything new. Avocets, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-billed Gulls, etc. Did get my first of the year Black Terns, though. (and I had never seen one in breeding plumage before.)

Black Terns cropped (2)

Pointed out a Northern Harrier to my dad, and then we drove to find some spots with trees.

After a while, we finally found some with activity. Yellow Warbler, Blue Grosbeak, Red-winged Blackbirds, sparrows, including FOY Lark, and a Blue Grosbeak. There were lots more flitting things, but then my dad pulled me away as I had a flight to catch. Sad panda.

We drove back down to Albuquerque, with me looking out the window hoping to see a Roadrunner, which I never did. Lots of Pronghorn, though.

Final trip count: over 70 species, with at least 33 of them being life birds. Not a bad five days at all! Full life list:

322. Cassin's Kingbird
321. Bushtit
320. Canada Jay
319. Pine Grosbeak
318. Dusky Grouse
317. Common Raven
316. Mountain Chickadee
315. Rufous Hummingbird
314. Broad-tailed Hummingbird
313. Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay
312. Black-headed Grosbeak
311. Red-naped Sapsucker
310. Western Wood-Pewee
309. Western Bluebird
308. Green-tailed Towhee
307. Virginia's Warbler
306. Western Tanager
305. Lesser Goldfinch
304. Lewis's Woodpecker
303. Violet-green Swallow
302. Spotted Towhee
301. Common Merganser300. California Gull
299. Warbling Vireo
298. Steller's Jay
297. Western Grebe
296. Brewer's Sparrow
295. Lark Bunting
294. Yellow-headed Blackbird
293. Cinnamon Teal
292. Long-billed Curlew
291. Swainson's Hawk
290. Western Meadowlark


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  • 3 weeks later...

One of the things I really miss is green chili! It seems only to be a thing in Colorado and New Mexico. I actually have a pot cooking on the stove right now. Had to order the Hatch Green Chilies to make it with online delivered still frozen. Very pricey this way so we don't get it often. I have never had them with pasta though. Generally make green chili and use it smoother burritos or chili rellenos. You can find canned green chilies here but it not the same as fresh roasted or frozen.  

On 9/3/2021 at 12:55 PM, meghann said:

I had some hatch green chile alfredo pasta, which was amazing. It is hatch chile season, after all!)


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8 hours ago, Clip said:

One of the things I really miss is green chili! It seems only to be a thing in Colorado and New Mexico. I actually have a pot cooking on the stove right now. Had to order the Hatch Green Chilies to make it with online delivered still frozen. Very pricey this way so we don't get it often. I have never had them with pasta though. Generally make green chili and use it smoother burritos or chili rellenos. You can find canned green chilies here but it not the same as fresh roasted or frozen.  


It was UH-mazing in the pasta. I would never have thought to use it that way, but it really worked! It was more cheesy than regular alfredo, which was also super good.

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