A Northern Flicker flew over the trail and landed on top of a conifer, as the group of 16 Thursday Birders headed into the Four Hills Open Space in the foothills of the Manzano Mountains. “It looks like it is posing for us,” Jean exclaimed.
It was the kind of morning that made us all grateful we live in New Mexico. The air was crystal clear and the city landscape sparkled in the valley below. At times the dried grasses resembled strands of ‘dishwater blonde’ hair in the early morning light.
Before the group set out, Cindy, who lives in the Four Hills neighborhood, shared the homeowners association’s struggles to maintain the pristine quality of the open space.
A ‘fluffed up’ bird hovering on a nearby branch in the 30 degree morning caught our attention. Its curved beak clearly marked it as a thrasher. “It has got to be a Curve-billed,” Sei told us, “its bill is not curved enough to be a Crissal, and there is no rust coloring under the tail.”
As we followed the trail that hugged the perimeter of the open space, Scrub Jays were the most plentiful birds we encountered. They perched atop Pinon Pines and swooped between trees with their self-confident shek-shek-shek call. Flocks of Bushtits would invade a juniper bush, popping up between the branches as they gleaned insects and bits of plant matter. When they emerged to move to the next bush, they exited single file.
A group of Western Bluebirds delighted us as they flew out of the bushes and perched on a utility wire. The blue feathers of the males matched the color of the sky as they sailed off.
A Cooper’s Hawk flew over, but didn’t seem to interrupt the bird activity.
“Did everyone see the Townsend’s Solitaire?” queried Melissa the trip leader. As its name implies, it is never seen in flocks. It landed momentarily atop a conifer, its white eye ring clearly noticeable.
When we were almost back, Allison spotted movement in a Three Leaf Sumac Bush. As we watched, a Juniper Titmouse popped into view so we could see its tufted crest. It then flew to a nearby juniper, with another one following behind. When we gathered back at the parking area, most proclaimed it the Bird of the Day.
As I drove home I commented to myself that walking through this wilderness area was like a morning meditation.