Townsend’s Solitaires at Ponderosa

As the Thursday Birders gathered at the entrance of the reservoir just north on Ponderosa, we were greeted with the high flute-like call note of a Townsend’s Solitaire. We easily located him perched on top of a conifer on the nearby hill. “They just go on and on,” Charlotte commented.

As we looked behind us, the early morning sunlight filtering through the cottonwood leaves shimmered with golden luminescence. The air was cool and crisp – a perfect fall day.

The shrubs on either side of the path into the reservoir area were alive with bird activity. Mountain Chickadees actively foraged. Occasionally one would fly out of a juniper and land on a spent sunflower. Other birds in the bushes included Spotted Towhees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Dark-eyed Junco, American Goldfinch, Pine Siskins and Cassin’s Finches. A few heard the melodic song of a Canyon Wren.

From time to time a Northern Flicker zoomed from tree to tree. A flock of blackbirds circled overhead and dropped into the dried wild flowers. Later they rose up en masse and were off. While most were Red-winged Blackbirds, there was at least one Yellow-headed Blackbird in the flock.

As we headed around the reservoir, more Townsend’s Solitaires called from the tree tops – definitely the ‘Bird of the Day.’

“A Rock Wren,” Ray announced. It popped up on top of a large boulder, and then disappeared inside a crevice.

As we reversed our steps back around the reservoir, two Western Blue Birds could be seen sunning themselves on the rise west of the trail. Sei clarified the distinctions between Western and Eastern Blue Birds. “I always look first on the belly. If it is not white, then I look at its throat, which should be blue, to know that it is a Western Blue Bird. Easterns have white bellies and rusty-colored throats,” he explained.

A raptor soared over the hills. “It is an accipeter,” someone said. “It has short round-tipped wings.”

“It must be a Cooper’s Hawk,” Gale said. “It has white flanks.”

When we were almost back to our starting point, we stopped to check out movement in some junipers. Several Hermit Thrushes were busy scarfing down juniper berries.

A lingering Clouded Sulphur butterfly wafted lazily amongst the dried wild flowers.

Next we headed up to the Ponderosa Campground at 7,600 feet. Our first bird was a Downy Woodpecker working its way up the trunk of a Ponderosa Pine – unusual at this elevation.

The deep croak of a Common Raven echoed through the empty campground. Two Stellar’s Jays sailed quietly between trees.

The tapping of another woodpecker attracted our attention. This time it was a Hairy. “If you can see the beak,” Sei shared, “you can be sure it is a Hairy. The beak on the Downy is so small that it is almost impossible to see while it drums.”

Pygmy Nuthatches were busy moving from tree to tree. We hoped we would see them, since they are a favorite of many in the group.

It was a great fall day to be birding in the Jemez Mountains.


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