By Cole Wolf
Photo Courtesy of Cole Wolf
Conchas Lake, a large reservoir located 75 miles east of Las Vegas in northeastern New Mexico, is approximately 25 miles long and is a New Mexico State Park. Conchas is most frequently visited by birders between September and May. The lake is known for producing rare loons, grebes, and ducks, and gulls during the winter months. The lake has hosted several New Mexico “megas”, including the state’s first confirmed Parasitic Jaeger, first Mew Gull, and second documented Little Gull.
On August 15, Bob Mumford of the Army Corps of Engineers discovered an immature Blue-footed Booby near Conchas Dam. Though not an avid birder, Mumford had seen the species in the Gulf of California and realized that it was an extraordinary sighting. He took several pictures and called Santa Fe birder Bill West that evening. I was one of about fifteen New Mexico birders who chased the bird the following morning. It was tough to stay optimistic after two hours of fruitless searching. We had spent the entire time scoping near the dam –it seemed like a good bet that the booby would return to one of the deepest areas of the lake to hunt. As a last ditch effort, we decided to drive further north and look along the Canadian River where we hoped to find the booby perched on one of the many rock cliffs. Several minutes after we arrived, John Parmeter spotted the bird flying in from upriver. It flew by us and landed on the river until a passing boat flushed it. The booby eventually made its way to the main lake and began foraging near the dam; we got some great looks as it soared close to the dam. To top it off, a Piping Plover (New Mexico’s eighth documented record), was discovered that morning on the southeast shore of Conchas.
Photo courtesy of Cole Wolf
Photo courtesy of Cole Wolf
Although not migratory, post-breeding dispersal by Blue-footed Boobies into southeastern California and western Arizona from the Gulf of California is well known, so a New Mexico record is not totally unexpected. A front from the southwest that came through New Mexico the day before discovery of the bird may have aided the bird’s extreme dispersion. Conchas Lake is on the Canadian River, which starts in Colorado and goes east through the Texas Panhandle, so it seems improbable that the booby could have followed a waterway to the lake. Boobies are occasionally discovered following highways in California and Arizona, so a more likely scenario suggests this bird followed I-40, which is only thirty miles south of Conchas. A small state highway runs between the interstate and the lake.
Blue-footed Boobies on reservoirs in California have been known to stay for up to seven months, and one on Lake Lyndon B. Johnson in Texas stayed for over sixteen months. It seems unlikely that the Conchas bird will stick around for that long – by October, nighttime temperatures will be in the 40’s (°F). The bird appeared very healthy and was able to feed, so hopefully it will stay for a few more weeks. If you get a chance to chase this bird, do it – seeing it plunge-diving into the lake is well worth the trip.
All of the information on Blue-footed Booby vagrancy came from:
McCaskie, Guy. The Occurrences of Four Species of Pelecaniformes in the
Southwestern United States. (Western Birds: Vol. 1, No. 4, 1970)
Like many ornithological publications (including North American Birds) it is available on