Birds in Breeding Mode at Pena Blanca and Cochiti Lake

“Ladder-backed Woodpeckers in the tree across the highway,” one of the Central New Mexico Audubon field trip participants signaled. We all focused our binoculars on the tree.

“I think they just copulated,” someone said. Just then the male flew out of the tree and landed in a yard near where we were standing.

“As we drive south along Arroyo Leyba Road, scan the fields and weeds along the side of the road,” I told the group before we caravanned down the road. We hadn’t gone far when we stopped to check out a farmyard where domestic Guinea Hens were bouncing about. Scratching at their feet were about 35 female Red-winged Blackbirds and a few White-crowned Sparrows.

We parked at the end of the road and started searching the fields that backed up to a stand of cottonwood trees. There was a flash of black and white as a Black-billed Magpie sailed into a yard, followed by its mate.

A Red-tailed Hawk was perched on top of a tree, but took off when it was harassed by a couple of Common Ravens.

Western Meadowlarks seemed to be singing all around us. At the time, we could only see one of them – sitting on the top of a fence near where three men were cutting wood with a chainsaw. We were annoyed by the sound until one of the men stopped the motor and invited us to explore the back of his property along the acequia.

Two Dark-eyed (Pink-sided) Juncos sat motionless in adjacent trees.

We heard a loud drumming sound and started looking for a woodpecker. “It’s about ten o’clock in that tree,” I pointed. “Looks like a Hairy; let’s see if we can see its bill.” As it rounded the trunk we could see its long bill.

As we approached the acequia, a Belted Kingfisher flew into the bosque beyond. A bird was sitting on a branch a ways down the ditch – with its back to us.

“It looks like a Townsend’s Solitaire,” I suggested, “from its size and posture.”

“I can’t see an eye-ring,” Cheryl replied.

Someone was able to walk slowly towards where it was perched. It turned its head slightly – providing a glimpse of the eye-ring. And then it flew down, giving us a view of its buffy wing-stripe

“What’s the bird that sounds like running your finger down a comb?” Maureen asked. When they checked it out, it was a Chipping Sparrow.

We headed west along Acequia Road and paused to watch two American Kestrels on the top of a bare tree in breeding display.

The water was running through the irrigation channel and into the field. There were no birds yet in the wet field. “It should attract birds pretty soon,” I commented driving on – and then noticed there were no cars behind me.

“Long-billed Curlews,” Cheryl called through the two-way radio. We turned around and headed back. Everyone was out of their cars with scopes set up. Three curlews were walking through the dry grass at the back of the field, almost blending in. Behind them was a flock of about 25 American Crows.

Long-billed Curlew

Long-billed Curlew


“This is a life bird for me,” Kay exclaimed.

When we emerged from the Pena Blanca farm loop, and turned onto NM-22, there were three different Barn Swallows perched on power wires across the road.

We stopped at the Osprey platform. One was perched on the top calling keyew, keyew, keyew. “Watch from your cars,” I suggested to the others. By time the last car pulled up, the Osprey flew off across the field. We got out of the cars and set up the scopes to see if we could spot it in the trees.

Osprey

Osprey


“There is an Osprey eating a fish on a bare limb. This must be a different one, since the one that flew off the platform wasn’t carrying a fish,” Keith stated. “It’s in the scope,”

“Did you see the swallows overhead?” Beth asked. A large flock that looked like Northern Rough-winged Swallows was flying so high they almost blended in with the clouds. They appeared to be migrating.

Both the Visitor Center and the Overlook at Cochiti Recreation Area were closed, so we headed down to the boat ramp area. Two dark-headed gulls flew by as we were parking the cars, but we couldn’t tell whether they were Franklin’s or Bonaparte’s Gulls. They were out of sight when we got out of the cars.

Through the scopes we could identify a couple of Bufflehead, several American Coots, and a Western Grebe on the far side of the lake. The lake was getting choppy and we were hungry, so we headed to the Cochiti Golf Course.

While eating our lunches at the picnic tables, we watched a couple of Townsend’s Solitaires and some Dark-eyed (Pink-sided) Juncos, while a Turkey Vulture wafted on the thermals. When we returned to our vehicles, Beth found – what else – two Canyon Towhees near her car.

Townsend's Solitaire

Townsend’s Solitaire


As we drove back by the Osprey platform, one of the raptors was bringing a long twig to the platform.

Spring had definitely been in the air. It had been a day of pairs, pairing and breeding displays.

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One thought on “Birds in Breeding Mode at Pena Blanca and Cochiti Lake

  1. Thanks so much for your continued “jottings”, these observations are really valuable to us who are learning, not only bird identification, but habits and behaviors as well. The natural history and current story of birds is very telling of subtle and not so subtle changes from year to year and within each biome.

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