The first week in May I made a trip to Albuquerque and stopped to spend an hour at Valle de Oro, the wildlife refuge just a few minutes south of the city.
It was a perfect spring day, cottonwood trees with shiny, new leaves, puffy white clouds hanging above the distant mountains. The hay fields were flooded and birds were everywhere: perched on fenceposts, singing; floating in a puddle; soaring overhead.
I walked along a dirt road and flushed a cattle egret out of a ditch running with irrigation water. Through the barbed wire I could see Canada geese and mallards. A flock of dark birds, foraging with long, curved beaks were new to me. Back at the car I flipped through my field guide until I identified them—white-faced ibis.
The next day on the refuge’s Facebook page a birder posted her list of birds observed on a three-hour hike through the area. She had spotted fifty-three different species. Wow. I was excited to see ten or so different birds and to identify one new one—the difference between an expert and a novice.
I perused her list of warblers, swallows, and finches. Some I knew, many I didn’t and those I looked up in my Sibley guide until I found the one that I had taken a blurry photo of, but didn’t recognize. It was a killdeer, a member of the plover family—another new addition to my list, a coastal bird at an elevation of over 5000 feet and more than 800 miles away from the Pacific. With its white-banded throat, big eyes, and long legs allaboutbirds.org calls it “a shorebird you can see without going to the beach.”