New Mexico: Winter 2020–2021

Winter 2020–2021: 1 Dec–28 Feb

Matthew J. Baumann

Raymond L. VanBuskirk

Jodhan Fine

Recommended citation: 

Baumann, M. J., R.L. VanBuskirk, and J. Fine. 2021. Winter 2020–2021: New Mexico. <> North American Birds.

This season saw typical La Niña weather patterns for the region, characterized by above-normal temperatures and below-average precipitation, an unfortunate trend seen across the Southwest in recent years. The continued drought wreaked havoc on wintering passerines, especially sparrows, numbers of which were dramatically reduced statewide. The Arctic polar vortex extended into the Land of Enchantment in mid-February, bringing multiple days of sub-zero temperatures to many regions of the state. Still, birders enjoyed a slew of rarities this season, including lingering Ruddy Ground Doves and an American Woodcock that showed very well for nearly two months in the Corrales bosque. Rare gulls were numerous across the state, with multiple Black-legged Kittiwakes as well as Mew, Iceland, and Lesser Black-backed gulls reported this season. 


BdA (Bosque del Apache NWR, Socorro); EBL (Elephant Butte Lake, Sierra).

Waterfowl through Hummingbirds

A Brant was seen in Albuquerque, Bernalillo 2431 Jan (ph. J. Joseph, m. ob.). Subtle plumage differences between this Brant and another from the Albuquerque area in fall suggest there were two individuals in the area. Initially reported by an observer on iNaturalist, two Trumpeter Swans were refound in Fort Sumner, De Baca 31 Dec (ph. M. Baumann), but only one was seen after this date, and it was reported sporadically until the end of the season (ph. m. ob.). A White-winged Scoter was at Bluewater Lake, Cibola 9–13 Dec (ph. D. Tipton, J. Weinreich, J. Fine, J. Parmeter, J. Williamson). A Long-tailed Duck continued at the West Mesa WTP, Doña Ana through the season (ph. m. ob.), and another was in Carlsbad, Eddy 19–21 Feb (ph. B. Nieman, J. Parmeter, Z. Pohlen, C. Gesmundo). Continuing from fall, up to 23 Barrow’s Goldeneyes were routinely seen through the season along the Rio Grande in Española, Rio Arriba (ph. m. ob.), and up to four were along the Rio Grande in the Pilar area, Taos (ph. m. ob.).

Ruddy Ground Doves continued in the southern portion of the state. A high count of eleven lingered in Rodeo, Hidalgo on 6 Dec (ph. R. VanBuskirk, D. Tipton) and smaller numbers were reported there through the season (ph. m. ob.). Five appeared along the Gila River near Cliff, Grant 7 Dec (ph. J. Gorey); three continued there on 25 Dec (K. Dayer) and one remained on 2 Jan (ph. J. Gorey). Another lingered near Radium Springs, Doña Ana through 2 Jan (ph. M. Scott, J. Zabriskie). 

An early White-throated Swift was at Conchas Lake, San Miguel 21 Feb (ph. J. Fine). Wintering Anna’s Hummingbirds were widespread in Doña Ana, Grant, and Sierra in the southwestern portion of the state. A Costa’s Hummingbird was at a private residence in Silver City, Grant for an extended stay 12 Dec–11 Feb (ph. B. Dolton, ph. M. ob.). Continuing from fall, a female Broad-billed Hummingbird was seen until 29 Dec near Radium Springs, Doña Ana (M. Scott, J. Zabriskie). 

Shorebirds through Raptors

Multiple Snowy Plovers overwintered at Brantley Lake, Eddy 16 Dec–26 Feb (ph. J. Gilb, B. Nieman, D. Wallace, L. Wallace); a high count of five was tallied there 10 Feb (ph. D. Wallace, L. Wallace). Unusual in December, a Sanderling was at EBL 16–28 Dec (ph. D. Cleary). Exceptional for the season, a Baird’s Sandpiper was at EBL 12 Dec (ph. J. Williamson, E. Gyllenhaal, P. Chaon), and two were at Brantley Lake, Eddy 19 Dec (ph. B. Nieman). A high count of three Western Sandpipers was unusual at EBL 11 Dec (ph. D. Cleary); two of those lingered through the month, and a lone bird was last reported there on 1 Jan (ph. D. Cleary, J. Williamson, E. Gyllenhaal, P. Chaon, J. Fine, J. Williamson). Arguably the highlight of the season, an obliging American Woodcock was found on the Albuquerque Christmas Count along the low flow ditch in the Corrales bosque, Sandoval 20 Dec and was last reported on 1 Feb (ph. J. Parlapiano, O. Sinkus, J. Ruth, D. Krueper, ph. m. ob.). This was the first record of the species successfully overwintering in the state. Rare in the state at any time but especially in winter, a Red Phalarope was at EBL 12–21 Dec (ph. P. Chaon, J. Williamson, E. Gyllenhaal, ph. m. ob.). 

Single first-cycle Black-legged Kittiwakes were seen over the Aragonne Mesa, Guadalupe 9 Dec (ph. J. Bosler) and on the Rio Grande south of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, Santa Fe 12 Dec (ph. A. Dial); both constituted first county records. First-cycle Iceland (Thayer’s) Gulls made a good showing across the region: one was on the Rio Grande at the Alameda Bridge, Bernalillo 2–3 Dec (ph. D. Buckley, J. Fine, E. Gyllenhaal, P. Chaon); one was at Farmington Lake, San Juan 9 Dec–1 Jan (ph. D. Tipton, S. Tarnowski, E. Helton); and another was at Navajo Lake, San Juan 29 Dec (ph. P. Chaon, J. Williamson). Mew Gulls were numerous in the middle Rio Grande Valley this season: up to four separate individuals were spread out between EBL and Caballo Lake, Sierra (ph. P. Chaon, N. Pederson, J. Fine, A. Theus, D. Tipton, J. Williamson, E. Gyllenhaal, ph. m. ob.), and an adult at the Alameda Bridge in the Albuquerque area, Bernalillo was seen by many 23–28 Feb (H. Taliaferro, ph. N. Pederson, D. Wallace, L. Wallace, ph. m. ob.). Recently removed from the review list, Lesser Black-backed Gulls continued their steady increase in the state, with a minimum of thirteen individuals across Bernalillo, Curry, Doña Ana, Sandoval, San Juan, and Sierra counties, with five seen on the same day at EBL 29 Jan (J. Parmeter). 

The only Pacific Loon of the season was at Conchas Lake, San Miguel 12–14 Jan (P. Chaon, G. Beauprez). An exceptional find for winter, a Least Bittern was at EBL-Paseo del Rio SP, Sierra 12 Dec (ph. P. Chaon, E. Gyllenhaal, J. Williamson). Snowy Egrets were recorded in Chaves, Doña Ana, Eddy, and Valencia through the season. Continuing from the fall, a Reddish Egret was at Brantley Lake, Eddy 11–19 Dec (ph. B. Nieman). A White-tailed Kite hung around Columbus, Luna from 29 Dec until the end of the season (A. Weaks, ph. m. ob.), and another was in the southern Animas Valley, Hidalgo 18 Jan (B. Dolton). A Common Black Hawk overwintered at the Glenwood Fish Hatchery, Catron, where it was reported 22 Dec through the end of the season (ph. J. Conway, R.Modica, J. Parmeter). This individual has likely overwintered at this site in previous years. 

Flycatchers through Finches

Three species of Empidonax flycatcher wintered in the state. A total of nine Hammond’s Flycatchers included up to three in Guadalupe Canyon, Hidalgo 6–28 Dec (R. VanBuskirk, D. Tipton, ph. P. Chaon, E. Gyllenhaal, J. Williamson). Elsewhere, singles were at Algodones, Sandoval 4 Dec (C. Chappell ); Percha Recreation Area, Sierra 5 Dec–30 Jan (J. Parmeter, ph. J. Fine, J. Weinreich); Leasburg Dam SP, Doña Ana 12 Dec–30 Jan (J. Wilbur, ph. J. Gilb, D. Wallace, L. Wallace); Gila Bird Area, Grant 13 Dec–2 Feb (ph. J. Gorey, J. Swackhamer); River Ranch WMA, Luna 14 Dec (J. Gilb); and along the Gila River near the confluence of Mogollon Creek, Grant 15 Dec (J. Swackhamer). The lone Gray Flycatcher report of the season was from the UNM Campus, Bernalillo 8 Feb (M. Andersen). Dusky Flycatchers were less numerous, with four singles reported from BdA, Socorro 19 Dec (ph. and rec. M. Baumann, N. Pederson, D. Hawksworth); Albuquerque bosque 19 Dec (ph. R. VanBuskirk, J. McCullough, N. Vinciguerra); University of New Mexico Campus, Bernalillo 20 Dec–1 Jan (ph. D. Nichols, N. Hetrick, C. Rustay, ph. m. ob.); and the Gila Bird Area, Grant 1 Feb (J. Swackhamer). A Vermilion Flycatcher was unusually far north at the Isleta Fishing Lakes in Albuquerque, Bernalillo 11 Feb (P. Rogers and I. Rogers). It may have overwintered in the area, as one was reported from this location until the end of November 2020. 

Notable for Socorro, a Northern Shrike was seen at BdA throughout the season by many; another in Los Alamos, Los Alamos 3 Dec–18 Jan (ph. T. Miller, ph. M. Ob) was unusual for the area. Rare in winter anywhere in the state, a Plumbeous Vireo was photographed in Santa Teresa, Doña Ana 15 Jan (G. Beauprez). Clark’s Nutcrackers made an impressive showing this winter in the northern mountains: a single-day high count in the Sandia Mountains of over 100 was certainly impressive 19 Jan (P. Rogers). A lingering Tree Swallow was at BdA 12 Dec (O. Sinkus), and an early returning bird was near Williamsburg along the Rio Grande, Doña Ana 11 Jan (ph. D. Cleary). Early returning Violet-green Swallows were in Hidalgo 27 Feb (M. Baumann, A. Johnson), Grant 27 Feb (K. Blisard), and Otero 28 Feb (J. Joseph). A Verdin continued from fall at the San Antonio Oxbow Open Space, Bernalillo 5 Dec–1 Jan (m. ob.). Single Pacific Wrens were reported from upper Water Canyon, Los Alamos 5–19 Dec (rec. A. Theus, R. Latuchie, M. Brown), and along the Rio Grande at La Mesilla, Rio Arriba 28 Dec (rec. R. Gurule), the latter representing a first county record. Winter Wrens were spread across the central part of the state this winter, with singles recorded along Windsor Creek, San Miguel 6 Dec (rec. E. Gyllenhaal, P. Chaon); the Albuquerque bosque, Bernalillo 6–20 Dec (D. Mehlman); Corrales bosque, Sandoval 11 Dec–24 Jan (ph., rec. O. Sinkus, J. Parlapiano, M. ob.); and Española, Rio Arriba 23–24 Jan (J. Parmeter, rec. R. Gurule, L. Farrington). 

The lone Black-capped Gnatcatcher report of the season was from Dunagan Crossing, Hidalgo 27 Dec (P. Chaon, E. Gyllenhaal, J. Williamson), a locality far from Guadalupe Canyon, where the species is often encountered. A male and female Purple Finch were found at Percha Recreation Area, Sierra 25 Dec–2 Jan (ph. P. Chaon, E. Gyllenhaal, D. Tipton, M. Montoya, J. Williamson, N. Hetrick). Both birds appeared to represent the eastern subspecies, records of which far outnumber those of western Purple Finches in the state. The Lawrence’s Goldfinch invasion slowed considerably in New Mexico this season; however, a flock of up to 26 birds was seen in Santa Teresa, Doña Ana from 11 Jan to the end of the season (ph. P. Russell, J. Groves, ph m. ob.). 

Longspurs through Grosbeaks

Unusual in Eddy, a Lapland Longspur was at Brantley Lake 14 Jan (ph. B. Nieman). Rufous-winged Sparrows continued their year-round presence in Guadalupe Canyon, Hidalgo, with high counts of four on 28 Dec (ph. P. Chaon, E. Gyllenhaal, J. Williamson) and three on 6 Dec (ph. R. VanBuskirk, D. Tipton). Notable for Bernalillo, American Tree Sparrows were in Albuquerque at two separate locations 18 Dec–5 Feb; up to four were reported near the San Antonio Oxbow (ph. M. Shoop). Two “White-winged” Dark-eyed Juncos visited a private residence in Angel Fire, Colfax 22 Dec–25 Feb (ph. S. Nagy). A long-staying Yellow-eyed Junco continued from fall at a private residence in Silver City, Grant through the season, and another was found elsewhere in the county in the Black Range 20 Dec–16 Jan (ph. J. Wilbur, ph. m. ob.). Continuing from the fall, a single Golden-crowned Sparrow was in the Corrales bosque, Sandoval through the entire season (ph. m. ob.), while another was seen near Cliff, Grant 2 Jan (ph. J. Gorey). Harris’s Sparrows were widespread across the state this season, with a total of eight reported from Bernalillo, Doña Ana, Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and Santa Fe. 

Likely returning for a second winter, a male Scott’s Oriole visited an Albuquerque feeder on 24 Dec and was seen again 20 Jan (ph. D. Wells). Single Pine Warblers were in Albuquerque, Bernalillo 7–19 Dec (ph. J. Parmeter, ph. D. Tipton, P. Chaon, P. Bartley) and Tularosa, Otero 1 Dec–6 Jan (ph. J. Calderara, ph. M. Ostrander). The Albuquerque individual continued from fall. A Wilson’s Warbler continued into the beginning of the season in Las Cruces, Doña Ana 3 Dec (ph. J. Gilb). A late Western Tanager was at Percha Recreation Area, Sierra 5 Dec (J. Parmeter). Notable for Torrance, a Pyrrhuloxia was in Estancia 15–19 Dec (ph. P. Chaon, ph. A. Theus, H. Taliaferro). A Black-headed Grosbeak lingered around Santa Fe, Santa Fe to 2 Dec (ph. K. Spangle). 

Report processed by Amy Davis, 9 Sep 2021.

Photos–New Mexico: Winter 2020–2021

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