Searching for Three-toed Woodpeckers in the Sandia Mountains

“Hear that distant drumming. It is different from the Hairy Woodpecker we have been hearing,” Mary Lou, our Thursday Birder trip leader, explained. “If you listen closely, you can hear the bark ripping off.” We were searching for Three-toed Woodpeckers near Kiwanis Meadows on Sandia Crest. Four of the group had previously scouted out and identified the bird and were trying to help the rest of us to find one.

Rather than poking holes, the Three-toed Woodpecker attacks the trunk at an angle, using its bill to peel away the bark. We could see evidence of the woodpeckers’ work on a number of trees. “These are fresh bark shavings,” Sei told us after scouting the base of one of the trees.

The group divided, heading with someone who had seen it in a certain spot. I stayed with the trip leader. We knew if we waited, we would hear drumming again. “There it is,” I exclaimed after awhile. Then it got closer. “Here it is in front of us,” I motioned. It was a female, so had no yellow on the crown. We watched it as it moved quickly from tree to tree.

We began our day’s outing by walking along a portion of the 10 K Trail. As we gathered in the trail-head parking lot, a flock of Red Crossbills flew in, landing on the tops of several conifers. As they flew, we could hear their kip kip call. Violet-green Swallows also danced over the parking lot.

The air was refreshingly cool for mid July, and was filled with the aromas of damp leaf mulch and needles. Wild flowers were blossoming along the trail. Almost immediately, we heard a House Wren in a brush pile. Mountain Chickadees, Brown Creepers and Red-breasted Nuthatches were busy working the trees along the trail. Further along, someone heard a Green-tailed Towhee. It made a brief appearance, and then disappeared.

“I hear a Golden-crowned Kinglet,” Rebecca said. We could see movement in the spruces above the trail. We had to crook our heads way back, until the kinglets moved to another tree. Even then, their constant movement made it difficult for an ID.

“I definitely see the eye stripe,” Donna said. We stood and watched while everyone got good looks – a life bird for some.

The liquid sound of the Hermit Thrush trilled in the under story, the musical warbling of the Warbling Vireo and the whistle of the Cordilleran Flycatcher accompanied us as we walked.

There were many examples of juvenile birds, with their muted field marks: Hermit Thrush, Dark-eyed Junco and Yellow-rumped Warbler.

As we ambled along, we saw a cinnamon bear scurrying away over the crest of the hill. I guess that 20 birders was too much for him.

As we headed back towards the parking lot, the Green-tailed Towhee announced itself again, and then popped into view. Its orange-red crest and metallic yellow-green wings and tail were easily visible. I finally was able to see it – a life bird for me!

As we sat eating lunch at the Crest House, we enjoyed watching the Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds at the feeder hanging next to the deck.

Life birds don’t happen very often any more. What a gift to see two in one day – in my own backyard.


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