Eight members of our “Belen Marsh Task Force” gathered at the wetlands this past weekend, with Julia Dendinger, a reporter with the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
As we headed down the road towards the marsh, four Cattle Egrets rose up and flew away. At the edge of the first pond, we immediately spotted Kildeer and Cinnamon Teal in eclipse plumage.
The summer rains had created a thick carpet of grasses around the ponds, the seed heads were amber, and the cattails had grown tall. It was a pleasant late summer afternoon with a slight breeze.
“Let’s look and see what kind of sandpipers those are,” Rebecca commented as she set down her scope and peered through it. “They are Least Sandpipers. Come look. They brownish, have yellowish legs and a thin bill.”
“They are migrating,” I explained to Julie. “Areas such as the Belen Marsh are critical to the survival of shorebirds as they travel from Alaska and the northern Canadian provinces where they breed to their wintering grounds in Mexico and South America.”
Black-necked Stilts and American Avocets, which had nested at the marsh, foraged in the main pond, along with a migrating Western Sandpiper and a Semi-palmated Sandpiper. A Wilson’s Phalarope, also migrating through, spun in circles on the far side of the pond as it stirred up crustaceans. A Common Yellowthroat called from the reeds.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds danced around the grasses.
We trekked across south of the pond to the access road along the irrigation ditch. From this vantage point we could see Ruddy Ducks – and also some of the discarded junk that had been hefted on the back side of the pond.
By time we had completed the loop around the marsh, we had spotted 20 different species of birds.
The Belen Marsh Task Force, or ‘Marsher’s as we are affectionately referred to, is made up of a collaboration of a number of organizations, including the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, Audubon’s Thursday Birders, Our Tomorrow for Belen, Tierra Bonita of Valencia County, Dare to Dream, Albuquerque and New Mexico Wildlife Federations, local residents, and the family of Ryan Beaulieu. Through the group’s outreach, several other groups recently have agreed to sign on to support the initiative, including Hawks Aloft, the Xeriscape Club of Valencia County and Friends of the Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area in Belen.
Through the intervention of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, backfilling was stopped in accordance with the Migratory Bird Act that protects areas where migrating birds nest.
Advice has been sought from a number of state and federal agencies, information has been obtained on geologic reasons for the high water table, mosquito control methods – a concern to many of the neighbors and fair-goers – has been researched, local businesses and political leaders have been contacted, and initial conversations have begun with the fair association.
The fair association is busy until the end of September. At that time the group hopes to meet with them to develop a solution that will meet their needs and still preserve the unique wildlife habitat.
We continue to be hopeful that a positive outcome can be achieved.