Birding the Cochiti Area

“I hear a Townsend’s Solitaire,” Rebecca whispered. Several of us began walking down the drive towards the road at the Cochiti Lake Campground, following its call, a high-piched ‘tew.’

“I see it,” I announced. It was perched on the top of a small evergreen. It resembled a slightly smaller and plumper version of a Northern Mockingbird, with a white eye ring. It was enjoying the abundance of juniper berries – its favorite food.

In one gaze into our binoculars we could see two types of bluebirds. A male and female Western Bluebird perched on a post along the road. The female looked washed out next to the rusty breasted male. When the male took flight across the road, the deep blue feathers on his wings and back shone in the winter sun. As he landed, a Mountain Bluebird flushed from the juniper and landed in a nearby Pinon Pine. His blue feathers were almost fluorescent.

Over 20 members of the Central New Mexico Audubon’s Thursday Birders group were spending the morning in the Cochiti area.

Our six vehicles first had caravanned through the back roads of the farming community of Pena Blanca, where we spotted a number of fluffed up American Kestrels perched on bare branches, several Red-wing Blackbird laden Cottonwood trees, Western Meadowlarks pecking at grass through the snow and White-crowned Sparrows flitting in the underbrush. Numerous American Crows were canvassing the area, their jet black feathers glistening against the snow.

The cryptic message, “A magpie at three o’clock,” came over our two-way radio. Most of us missed that sighting, but later saw it fly across the road, its unmistakable long black tail pointing behind as it seemed to sail.

We stopped near the spillway below Cochiti Lake hoping to spot the Common Goldeneyes that had been reported there. As we gathered along the shoulder of the road, it was easy to see the male Buffleheads, their white ‘helmets’ bobbing on the Rio. The waterfowl had gathered on the river since Cochiti Lake was completely frozen over and covered with snow.

The Pueblo de Cochiti tribal police asked us not to bird from that location. Later I learned from a friend who is a member of the tribe that the hill right next to the spillway on the East side of the highway is very sacred to the Cochiti people. “The area was desecrated by the Army Corps of Engineers,” she explained. “They cut into half of the hill to make way for the dam and spillway. Just recently Cochiti received this land back and are trying to make it what it once was.”

It was time to head to Bernalillo for lunch. Our car explored a back road on the way.

“Look at that bird on the road,” Jean, our driver commented. “I wonder if it is hurt.” However, it soon flew up to a small post, then on to a tree.

“It’s a Downy Woodpecker,” I exclaimed.

Over lunch at The Range, our end of the table talked about our philosophy of travel. Today, as always, the conversation was as good as the birds.

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