New Mexico Winter Birding at Cochiti and Pena Blanca

“Mo Do,” the crackled message came over the two-way radio. It was a cold and overcast day as the six cars of Thursday Birders patrolled the seemingly barren farm road in Pena Blanca. We had seen a few White-crowned Sparrows and a flock of crows, but nothing else. Even a couple of Mourning Doves sounded exciting.

Further down the road, there were Brewer’s Blackbirds pecking in the fields alongside of the crows. Their yellow eyes glistened against their black bodies.

Back on the main road we stopped to watch a Northern Flicker perched on the top of a conifer. Its head continually perused the landscape, first looking one way and then the other.

As we passed the spillway below Cochiti Lake, several Buffleheads took advantage of the swirling current. “They look like little yachts,” Sarah commented.

A Belted Kingfisher perched vigilantly on a wire over the stream adjacent to the Cochiti Pueblo Bison range.

We pulled into the parking lot at the Cochiti Visitor’s Center. The frigid air permeated through my corduroy pants and heavy tights and I quickly pulled on my fleece gloves. An American Kestrel was perched on a roof vent. Its feathers were puffed up against the cold. Several American Robins squawked to each other in a nearby tree.

As we descended the hill, a Townsend’s Solitaire perched momentarily on a tree top, and then flew to another perch – but only for a moment before it was off again. The iridescent blue of two Mountain Bluebirds caught our attention as they flitted among the branches of a juniper.

At the entrance to the campground, we spotted a pair of Cassin’s Finches. A Scrub Jay sailed up from his perch and was off.

“Pine Siskins,” Donna exclaimed. “I can see the yellow on the edges of the wings.” They were in the bare branches of a deciduous tree, along with a couple of American Robins.

The water in Cochiti Lake was completely frozen over. A group of domestic waterfowl walked out onto the ice a few feet, then seemed to think better of the idea and retreated.

Along the edges of Cochiti Village we experienced the first burst of bird activity for the day. Juncos foraged on the ground and flew into the low branches of the conifers. A swirling flock of black birds landed in one of the trees. When they moved, we could see the red patch on their wings – Red-winged Blackbirds. House Finches and White-crowned Sparrows added to the activity. A Red-tailed Hawk watched solemnly from its perch on top of one of the conifers.

About 150 American Wigeons and a few American Coots swam in pairs in a small pond behind the club house at the Cochiti Golf Course. Both Mountain and Western Blue Birds were present. The group took time to look at the differences between the females.

“Notice the white eye ring, which is more prominent in the females,” Rebecca pointed out.

There were two Canyon Towhees scrounging for food in the rocks of a frozen water feature. The rusty-red under their tails seemed particularly bright against the drab landscape.

On our way back, our car decided to take the back road from Santa Domingo Pueblo to San Felipe Pueblo and then onto Algodones. We were rewarded with a wonderful look at a Cooper’s Hawk perched in a tree adjacent to the road.


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