The Club at Las Campanas' seven ponds covering 15 acres have made the area home for many native birds as well as a nesting area for several species of migratory birds.
Bird watching enthusiasts enjoy monthly guided Bird Walks by our resident birding experts Tom and Wyatt Egelhoff. The following is an in-depth article on the migratory birds by Wyatt.
The Benefits of the Fall Migration
at The Club at Las Campanas
By: Wyatt Egelhoff
Spring is often viewed as the best time for bird observation because of the millions of neotropic migrants that flood into North America from their wintering grounds to the south. The density of these migrants allows for the relatively easy observation of many species with little effort depending on the location. It is important to understand that, while spring may pro-duce astounding diversity, the fall migration period can be just as, if not more rewarding in terms of rare or unusual species. This is especially true in the state of New Mexico, and more specifically Santa Fe County.
When birds are migrating north in the spring, the main goal (for the purposes of this article) is to reproduce. There is an evolutionary advantage to returning north first, especially among males. The first individuals back on the breeding grounds will have a wider range of territory choices, thus they will (conceivably) have better reproductive success. This understanding of avian psychology explains why the spring migration period is fairly short, starting in March and wrapping up around the first week in June. These birds only have about a month and a half to raise their young before they need to head south to avoid the threat of starvation. Contrary to what most people would think, the fall season (for birds anyway) begins in early July and ends in late November. This makes for a very long migratory period. The fall migration lasts longer because the competition for resources is not as fierce. One may argue that the cold will kill them if they do not mi-grate south fast enough. Cold does not directly influence birds to migrate. Feathers are the most insulating substances in nature. As a result, birds can survive surprisingly cold tem-peratures (in relation to body size). What forces birds south in reality is directly affected by temperature. When it gets too cold, food becomes unavailable and water freezes. The fall migration period lasts longer because the birds only have to travel as far south as available food and/or the closest open water to survive, thus allowing them to loiter for longer peri-ods of time at higher latitudes. Places where water and food are available are known as staging areas. These areas allow the birds to rest and feed before continuing south.
The ponds at The Club at Las Campanas mean that the migrating birds that use those ponds tend to have a strong association with water (ducks, shorebirds, gulls, and terns). One will start seeing fall shorebirds (the first water-birds to show up) around the third week in July. In New Mexico, the presence or absence of open water often means the difference between a good day for water-birds and a bad one. Because the ponds at The Club at Las Campanas stay at a fairly con-sistent level, the presence of water-birds remains consistent.
Santa Fe County itself does not entertain a very large amount of open water or suitable waterbird habitat which magnifies the number of water-birds that rely on The Club’s ponds as a staging area by many times. Some waterbirds to look for this fall at Las Campanas include: Green-winged, Blue-winged, Cinnamon Teal, American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Canvasback, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scuap, Bufflehead, Hooded and Common Merganser Great-blue Heron, Green Heron, American White Pelican , American Avocet, Willet, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs to name a few. The Club at Las Campanas is a less vital staging area for “non-water reliant” birds but they nevertheless are still present during fall migration, and often in good numbers.
This is just a sample of what the habitat at The Club at Las Campanas has to offer and has offered in terms of bird diversity. Birds have wings, and because of this they are often prone to being blown off course and appearing where they “shouldn’t.” This phenomenon (birds showing up outside of their “normal” species range) is called “vagrancy,” and the individuals that it happens to are called “vagrants.” During fall migration vagrants tend to stay in a given location longer than they typically would during spring migration. This leads to more vagrants being detected and more people actually seeing them. Las Campanas has hosted several first county record vagrants and there very well could be more on the way this fall. All that is left to do is find them.
Sandpiper moving through New Mexico during fall migration.
The Las Campanas Bluebird Trail began in 2008 and originally consisted of ten houses along Clubhouse Drive. The idea was simple, members of The Club could purchase Bluebird houses and proceeds of the sale would go to the Las Campanas Community Fund. The houses would be engraved and installed by volunteers and Club staff. In the years that have followed, the program has expanded to include the Las Campanas Home Owners Association and presently the trail consists of nearly 40 houses around the golf courses and another 20 on the home owner’s walking trails. In addition to the houses on the Bluebird Trail, another 20 houses have been installed on home owner’s lots.
The Bluebird Trail serves several purposes. The Western and Mountain Bluebirds are among 10 to 15 cavity nesting birds in New Mexico and the houses supply the birds with the cavity needed to build their nests. With the reduction of habitat, and recent die back of many native trees, these houses are vital in the long term success of the Bluebirds in our area. One other benefit of the program is that the proceeds from the sale of the houses go directly to the Las Campanas Community Fund. This fund supports many non-profit organizations in the Santa Fe area on a yearly basis.
Lastly, the Bluebird Trail is an important project in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf Courses. Over the past three seasons, the houses have been monitored on a weekly basis from April through July. Information collected includes: species type, nest, number of eggs and number of fledglings and cause of failure if it can be determined. Over the past four seasons the Las Campanas Bluebird Trail has introduced more than 400 new Bluebirds to the area. House Wrens, Juniper Titmouse and Ash-throated Flycatchers have also raised their young in our houses.
The program relies heavily on volunteers for box construction, ordering, engraving and installations. We are always looking for people that would like to volunteer their time to ensure the program continues to grow. This nesting season we would like to add another volunteer opportunity by having volunteers help with the monitoring process. A signup sheet will be available to anyone interested in volunteering a Sunday morning as we document the nesting activity from April thru July. This year’s information will be submitted to Cornell University’s Nest Watch Program. If you would like to participate in the program please contact Tom Egelhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Santa Fe Raptor Center takes in rescued and injured birds for rehabilitation and later release back into the wild. These birds are taken in starved, dehydrated, hypothermic, or occasionally habituated to human beings. It is the Raptor Center’s job to nurture them back to health and eventually back into the skies. When many of them come to the Center they are babies and cannot fly. It is the Center’s job to feed and hydrate them and make sure their caloric intake and calcium intake is sufficient to help them grow at the appropriate rate to be released.
Birds of prey go from babyhood to adulthood before winter, as they need to leave the nest and be self sufficient. The Center has a Great Horned Owl foster mom that helps to keep the babies wild until they can be released. Once they are flying they are moved to a 50' flight cage that is 12' high. Here they learn skilled flight and build strengthened muscles. Also at this time they attend hunting class in the evenings where they are provide with live rats to catch. This hunting class is their final test before being released and lasts up to two months. These birds are a benefit to have in any area as they keep the rodent population in check.
Photos from the September 2012 Horned Owl Release are featured below. Another Horned Owl Release is planned in the spring of 2013 from The Club at Las Campanas.
Two owls are released onto the 9th hole of the Sunset course.