Pinyon Jays Highlight Sandia Christmas Bird Count

The birds were up and active as our Sandia Christmas Bird Count team turned into Paa Ko Village off of NM-14- north of the count circle’s center point at the intersection of Frost Road and the Sandia Crest Road. The air was cold and crisp, but the roads were snow-free, perfect for count day.

As we wound our way through the side streets and loops of the development, we counted dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos, most flushing so fast we could not determine their ‘race.’ Scores of American Robins perched like tree toppers.

“Are Pinyon Jays found in this type of piñon-juniper habitat?” Kate asked? “I’ve never seen one before.”

Almost as if her fairy godmother granted her wish, a flock of about 40 Pinyon Jays flew in and landed in nearby trees. We stopped to count them – and to give her a chance to see them better.

There were other surprises in the trees – Cedar Waxwings and Evening Grosbeaks busied themselves feasting on juniper berries.

Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeak


Further along, Barb drew our attention to the only Red-naped Sapsucker seen on the count.

After counting the birds in that development we returned to the count circle and headed east on Frost Road to Broken Arrow Rd., the furthermost point on our count route. Turning south, we scanned the ‘cholla jungle’ on the east for any sign of thrashers.

“The density of cholla is caused by over-grazing,” Mike said. “I removed hundreds of cholla from my ranch when we bought it.”

The bird activity was all on the other side of the road – primarily Mountain Bluebirds. We tallied 26 in that area.

We headed north and into a small development off of Broken Arrow, where there were both Western and Mountain Bluebirds.

“I hope the residence on the corner has their feeders filled,” I stated. “Last year, there was a lot of bird activity there.”

We stopped to get out the scopes and get a better look at a bird sitting on a corral along San Pedro Rd. – a Sage Thrasher.

“We’re going to have to write this one up,” I told the group.

As we were standing there, a large flock of Pinyon Jays flew in – which we estimated at about 200. At first they settled into two or three trees at the end of the block.

Flock of Pinyon Jays

Flock of Pinyon Jays


After determining that all was safe, they began flying into nearby trees – and then headed to the house on the corner, which did have its feeders up.

I walked slowly down the road towards them to get a better look.

One of them perched on the top of a fence post to eat.

Pinyon Jay

Pinyon Jay


After rounding the corner, we spotted another Sage Thrasher.

In addition to the Pinyon Jays, a flock of European Starlings also had feeder lust. They waited patiently along the top of a fence border the yard, hoping that there would be seed left for them. When the jays didn’t dissipate, they decided to move it, lifting en-masse and flying off.

We drove through some nearby neighborhood hoping for Horned Larks, which Barbara and I had seen on our scouting trip. Unfortunately, they were foraging elsewhere.

We turned along Mountain Valley Road and drove to the end, hoping to spot a shrike. A Northern Shrike had been spotted along this road earlier in December. At one point I spotted a shrike on a wire, but it flew off before we could get good looks.

As we drove along Entranosa, we counted dozens more Western

Western Bluebird

Western Bluebird


and Mountain Bluebirds
Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird


before turning down Tumblewood and making our way to Mike’s ranch where we ate our lunch while watching the birds at his feeders and ice-free pond.

In the afternoon we drove through other developments off of Frost Road, counting each bird as we went. In one neighborhood, we spied a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on a fence intently watching a yard.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk


We also were lucky enough to see five different Red-tailed Hawks.

We finished our route by 4:00. Just time to head back to Albuquerque, tally all of our sightings on the official count form, and meet the other teams at O’Neill’s Pub for the compilation party.

After Nick Pederson went down the list to determine which species had been seen, we ended the evening with 79 species – a record for this count. Perhaps more were added before midnight, as Raymond VanBuskirk and some other hearty birders were heading back up the mountains to try for some additional owl species.

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