Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Birding Sawmill Well

Water is essential for life and this is no less true than for wildlife and flora living in arid environments.  In the Southwest, where water is a rare commodity much of the year, artificial sources (tanks, troughs, ponds) that ranchers provide for livestock on the range also become oases for a diversity of wildlife, including deer, elk, mountain lion, bats, small mammals, and birds.  This past September during one of our annual visits to New Mexico I had the pleasure to stake out a local livestock watering tank (Sawmill Well) and view first hand a variety of birds attracted to the sight and sound of running water.

Sawmill Well (34.147333 N; 107.908425 W) is in Crosby Canyon which is located in northeastern Catron County in west-central New Mexico.  The canyon originates just east of the Crosby Mountains and extends about six miles east-northeastward before merging with White House Canyon near the small community of Datil at the intersection of US Route 60 and NM Route 12.  Lower elevations within Crosby Canyon is a grassland biotic community with Pinyon-Juniper Woodland dominating the surrounding slopes.  Deeper into the canyon the biome type becomes Ponderosa Pine Forest interspersed with Gambel Oak and junipers.

Sawmill Well & East Sugarloaf Mountain

The well is located on U. S. Forest Service land and flanked on the north by East Sugarloaf Mountain and to the south by Anderson Mountain, both with elevations greater than 8,700 feet.  At first sight the well is not a particularly impressive facility but is a critical water supply for free-ranging cattle and opportunistic wildlife.  One of my brief visits to the well produced the following bird species flying in for a drink or to bathe: Mourning Dove, Red-naped Sapsucker, Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Western Scrub-Jay, Pinyon Jay, Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Yellow-rumped (Audubon's ) Warbler, Canyon Towhee, Chipping Sparrow, Cassin's Finch, House Finch, Pine Siskin and Lesser Goldfinch.  Being that most local neotropical species (flycatchers, warblers, tanagers, orioles, buntings) had already departed for their winter habitats, imagine what might be seen spring through summer before the monsoon rains arrive.  The following photos were taken at the well.

Red-naped Sapsucker, male

Western Bluebird, male

Northern "Red-shafted" Flicker, male

Mountain Bluebird, male

Canyon Towhee

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Yesterday, a small group of Windsor County birders located a Dickcissel in Woodstock, Vermont at essentially the same spot one was sighted almost to the date two years ago (October 29, 2013).  The habitat is a hedgerow within a power line right-of-way separating two corn fields off Maxham Meadow Way.  This morning hoping the bird was still present and to see it myself  I arrived at the location and encountered Kent McFarland of Vermont Center for Ecostudies (VCE), who had the same objective. Shortly before he heard from Chris Rimmer, also of VCE, that the Dickcissel was seen about an hour ago. Together we walked the edge of the hedgerow checking out the numerous sparrows (American Tree, Song and Savannah) flitting about and skulking in the thick undercover and at times feeding on corn scrap at the edge of the field.  As we approached the end of the hedgerow we both heard a single distinctive short, sharp insect-like buzz note, that neither one of us recognized. Soon we saw that Chris was still present but had to leave. Spending another 45 minutes or so, our quest was found perched in brush at the hedgerow terminus in the vicinity of where it was first discovered. Both of us managed getting photos of it, three of mine posted below.

Once at home, I checked out Sibley (2000) and National Geographic Society (2011) guides for descriptions of Dickcissel vocalizations.  Both references give renditions of the call often given in flight as "fpppt" (Sibley) and "bzrrrrt" (NGS). The website Xeno-Canto has an extensive library of bird sound recordings from all over the world and is the source for this Dickcissel flight call recording which is spot on what we heard.