Fall Birds at Rinconada Canyon

“Even if we don’t see any birds today, I can guarantee that we will see petroglyphs with bird designs in some of the rocks along the path,” Gale our Thursday Birder trip leader announced before we took off to explore Rinconada Canyon in the Petroglyphs National Monument.

Fifteen of us started trekking into the canyon. “Raptor,” someone exclaimed. As we focused our binoculars, one came in and landed on the top of a far power pole.

“It has a nice belly band,” Gale observed, which clinched its ID as a Red-tailed Hawk. Another raptor was circling overhead, chased by a Raven. Further down the trail we could see the raptor perched on another pole, with its back to us.

“Must be another Red-tailed,” Ray stated. “It is football-shaped.”

A Loggerhead Shrike was perched on a wire, its white breast glistening as the morning sunlight reflected on it.

Walking on the sandy trail that hugs the volcanic escarpment was like hiking on beach dunes. In fact, geologic information about the canyon describes the area as having sand dune “formed by alluvial sediments that eroded from nearby mountain ranges and were washed down into the valley by ancient streams.” Four-wing Salt Bush, Broom Snakeweed and Russian Thistle dotted the area on either side of the trail. Basalt Boulders were scattered across the escarpment, making it difficult for us to relay an accurate location to the others when saw a bird pop into view.

“It’s on top of that rock about a third of the way up the hill,” someone would say.

“Which one?” was the inevitable response. It was hard to differentiate between the piles of boulders.

Numerous Canyon Towhees were observed as we worked our way along the trail. The rust under the tail was a dead give-away as one headed down between a piles of boulders. Often we could hear its chatter before it came into view.

A Bewick’s Wren with a clear white eyebrow darted out from behind some rocks.

Another raptor cruised above us. It had a brown-streaked breast, a striped tail and its wings were straight as it flew. A Cooper’s Haw, we concluded.

Rock Wrens were clearly visible as their whitish breasts contrasted with the dark basalt. A few of the group spotted a Canyon Wren.

“There’s a Roadrunner,” someone proclaimed. “Oh, there are two of them.” We watched them cruising between the scrub, stopping from time to time to listen and peruse the area.

Our target bird for the day was one of the Sage Sparrows that had recently arrived to spend the winter. “Look for them on the ground. They hold their tails high when they run and flick it downwards when perched,” Gale shared before we set out from the parking area.

Movement in the scrub caught our attention and we focused our binoculars waiting for the bird to make an appearance. Up one popped – not a Sage Sparrow, but a Black-throated Sparrow. Its white eyebrow was clearly visible as it perched on the top of some Russian Thistle.

There was more movement. This time we saw the Sage Sparrow. It was a pale gray with a light breast, a white eye ring, and white in front of its eyes. As it scattered off I could hear the metallic tink of its call note.

Heading back, we watched as a covey of Scaled Quail made their way under the chaparral.

Not only did we see plenty of birds, we also were able to see the pictographs of birds etched into the basalt over 4,000 years ago.


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