Birds and Botany at the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center

A large group of Thursday Birders gathered at the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center (SMNHC) to explore the area. We broke up into three groups, those who sat and watched the birds at the feeders adjacent to the education building, and two groups who hiked the trails. There are two self-guided hikes: the Meadow Trail, an easy 1.25 mile walk and a more moderate 1.5 mile hike along the Mud Spring Trail. Half of the hikers started at one end and half at the other.

The trail started with low Gambel Oaks, quickly emerging to a forest of Douglas and White Fir, and as we headed up the trail, we saw and heard Warbling and Plumbeous Vireos, Juniper Titmouse, Mountain Chickadee, Pine Siskin, Black-headed Grosbeak and Robin.

“Look there’s a bear,” someone exclaimed. We thought she was kidding, but looked where she was pointing to see a large brown bear ambling up the hillside. We hay have re-routed it from its visit to the stream we had just crossed.

We stopped to examine a large boulder that contained a number of fossils, including a fossilized shark’s tooth. It was hard to imagine that 300 million years ago an ocean covered this part of New Mexico.

The trail guide explained that the dead Ponderosa Pine adjacent to the trail was 300 years old when it was probably struck by lightening, but still plays a role in contributing to the ecosystem.
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It was interesting to observe the parasite that looked like an ear of corn emerging from beneath the oak trees known as Bear Corn. According to Julie, SMNHC’s botanist, “Bears as well as coyotes, fox and others seem to relish it when it’s mature because we see it in all of their scat.”
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The hill continued to climb to an elevation of 7.200 feet where we were in a Ponderosa forest. We noticed a warbler flitting around in the branches of one of the ponderosas. At first, it was sitting unusually quietly for a warbler and was obscured behind a clump of needles. When it finally moved, we were able to see that it was a Grace’s Warbler. Because it was feeding more deliberately, everyone was able to get good looks.

Bushtits flew into one of the conifers, and then quickly exited. A Broad-tailed Hummingbird could be heard buzzing. Spotted and Canyon Towhees were heard calling.

Heading back down the trail, we passed a pile of rocks that is the remains of a hunting cabin built by Native Americans about 500 years ago. Suddenly a Stellar’s Jay flew in and perched on top of one of the conifers.

When we reached the end of the trail, we enjoyed watching an Ash-throated Flycatcher fly into the nesting box to take food to the nestlings, and then peek out before taking off again.

The Sandia Mountain Natural History Center is a partnership between Albuquerque Public Schools and the Museum of Natural History. During the school-year fifth grade classes have the opportunity to study environmental education in this unique classroom. Between March and September the center provides programs on the first Saturdays that open to the public.

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