Seasonal Transitions in Fourth of July Canyon

“That’s a Golden Eagle winging its way toward us,” Gary exclaimed. We all focused our binoculars towards the Manzano Mountains to watch the flappy wing beats of the large raptor as it passed over us.

“It’s heading towards Estancia,” Bonnie, our trip leader, stated hopefully. “I hope it’s the one we enjoy viewing each winter.” 17 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders were gathered in the pull-off at the intersection of NM-337 and NM-55.

There wasn’t much other avian activity, so we piled in our cars and headed towards Tajique Canyon. We were on our way towards Fourth of July Canyon, one of the sites in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico.

The charred trunks of the ponderosa pines, burned in the Big Spring fire in 2008 and standing alongside the road and nearby hillsides, looked like rows of soldiers standing at attention. The sunflowers that provided an aura of rebirth to the landscape in late summer were now brown stalks. However, it was now possible to appreciate the mat of understory shrubs beginning to cover the area between the burned trees.
Despite the bleak vista, bird life continues to thrive. A small flock of Pine Siskins rested in the top branches of a bare conifer. Two Northern Flickers clung to the upper limbs of another barren tree. As one took off, the salmon-pink of its under-wings stood out against the blackened landscape. Further on, a Cooper’s Hawk soared over the canyon.

Big Tooth Maple

As we wound our way further into the canyon, the burned landscape gradually changed to colorful deciduous woodland. The fingers of the oak leaves looked like thousands of polished pennies lacing the branches. While some of the maples were just beginning to turn, others were crimson.

Throngs of cars clogged the free parking area outside of the camp grounds. We decided to pull on through and pay the day fee to park in the camping area next to the trailhead into Fourth of July Canyon.

Fourth of July Trail

“It looks like a tapestry,” Sarah commented as we gazed at the patch-work of colors.

Mountain Chickadees and Red-breasted Nuthatches were calling from deep within the forest. We never saw them, but enjoyed their chorus.

We headed up the trail, content to watch the lingering butterflies and admire the glorious fall colors, which seemed to be most brilliant at the tops of the trees and then trickle down.

Red Crossbill

“I hear crossbills,” Sylvia stated as we emerged from the woods. The sound was coming from deep within the uppermost branches of a ponderosa. Pretty soon, one hopped out to the end of a limb and started feasting on a large cone. A male Red Crosssbill!

Conversation flowed easily as we soaked up the sun while we ate our lunches.

As we were preparing to leave, one of the birders came up with a tiny green snake wrapped around her hand. “I almost stepped on it when I went to put my gear in the back of the car,” she stated. Its tiny black eye seemed to take us all in.

Autumn is a time of transition for all types of plants and animals and the quantity of birds always is unpredictable; however, Mother Nature definitely provided us with a show. It made me think of an Albert Camus quote, “A second spring when every leaf’s a flower.”

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