Prairie Falcon – Bird of the Day at Rinconada Canyon

Almost as soon as we started up the trail at Rinconada Canyon in Petroglyph National Monument, we heard our first Rock Wren calling. There were two of them that seemed to be playing chase in the rocks. By time we finished the loop, we spotted at least ten of them.

The Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders were blest with a brisk, clear morning as trip leader, “Lefty,” led us in search of the monument’s specialties. Even though the cold snap had turned the chamisa and sand sage brown, the morning sun cast a golden hue on the dried seed pods of the four-winged salt bush.

“There’s a raptor on the top of that power pole up ahead,” someone signaled. Out came the scopes.

“It’s a kestrel,” Gary stated.

“I think it looks too dark – maybe it’s a Merlin,” said Rebecca, ever hopeful. “It must have just eaten, since it is sitting there so long.”

It was too far in the distance for a definitive ID. We proceeded up the trail, hoping that it wouldn’t soar off before we could get a closer look.

A Say’s Phoebe helicoptered over an insect, then snagged it and returned to its perch on top of a vertical twig.

Crissal Thrasher

White-crowned Sparrows called – and then a Crissal Thrasher. The thrasher was perched on top of a large shrub, giving us good looks at its long, curved beak and rusty-colored Crissal.

As we watched a Rock Wren pop up onto a bush, we were treated to a covey of Scaled Quail waddling underneath.

macro view of mammal print

The trail followed dune-like sand; it was like walking across a beach. I was fascinated by the myriad of bird and small mammal footprints in the sand adjacent to the trail.

“Do jack rabbits count?” Larry asked, laughing. “They are everywhere.”

The falcon was still sitting on top of the power pole and we were close enough to get a good look. “It’s a Prairie Falcon,” Dwayne announced. As I looked through someone’s scope, I could see the dark streaking on its sides.

A short time later, it flew over and landed on the rocks on the far side of the canyon. As it moved from rock to rock, we could see its dark ‘arm pits.’

“Look, there’s also a Northern Harrier flying low over the rocks in the same area,” Pauline stated.

Black-throated Sparrows flushed from the bushes, and one landed on top of a shrub giving everyone god looks.

“I hear a Canyon Wren calling,” Rebecca stated. It was in the same area as two Rock Wrens were frolicking. Not all of us zeroed in on the Canyon Wren.

Canyon Towhees also were prevalent in the rocks. As we searched for wrens and towhees, we admired the many rock drawings of birds made by the earliest inhabitants of the canyon.

We had hoped to see a Sage Sparrow, but hadn’t found one yet, even though Lefty had found four of them when he had scouted for the trip. It is one of the few places to find them in Bernalillo County in the winter. It will have to be something to look forward to on another trip.

As we went over the list, we all agreed that the Prairie Falcon was the ‘Bird of the Day.”

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3 thoughts on “Prairie Falcon – Bird of the Day at Rinconada Canyon

  1. The breast of the Crissal Thrasher is plain; whereas the Curve-billed has light spots. The bill of the Crissal is longer and more curved, although often it is difficult to see the difference when you only see the Crissal alone. The rust-colored crissum is the easiest identifier – and it usually shows itself. In the Petroglyph NM, you only see the C-B during the warmer months when it might wander through. It does not nest there.

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