Birding Sangre de Cristo Mountains Above Santa Fe, New Mexico

A high pitched whistle, “peet” greeted the 16 Thursday birders as we stopped at the Little Tesuque Picnic Area on the road to the Santa Fe Ski area, featured sites in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico. 

“Cordilleran Flycatcher,” Rebecca, our trip leader, announced. We began to follow the whistle until it flew out and landed in another tree. “Let’s look under the roof of the picnic shelter,” Rebecca encouraged us, “since they often nest in that type of location.” However, we did not find the nest.

We hurried to cross the highway when we heard what sounded like baby woodpeckers chattering. We saw an adult fly into one of the aspens; however, it disappeared around the back side of the trunk.

Several American Ravens soared overhead, and Robins were active in the woods.

As we continued up State Highway 475, our car drove with the windows down so we could listen for bird song and were rewarded with Warbling Vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Hermit Thrushes.

At the Aspen Overlook at about 9,200 feet, we set out in search of Dusky Grouse, hoping to flush one in the woods. We never found one, but had the opportunity to see a variety of alpine birds. Red-naped and Hairy Woodpeckers were active in the aspens next to the parking lot. We could hear the trilling of the wings of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds as they buzzed by.

A Gray-headed Junco seemed unperturbed as he foraged on the trail nearby. Rebecca heard a MacGillivray’s Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warblers singing. We stepped over fallen aspen trunks as we followed the trail into the woods. Two Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warblers did somersaults as chased each other into one of the conifers. While we were trying to locate them, a small brown bird flew in. After closer examination, we determined it was a young Pygmy Nuthatch. Initially it was perched uncharacteristically on a small aspen twig, undoubtedly startled by the warbler chase. Then it flew into a nearby Ponderosa where it began walking along the branches.

“Western Tanager,” I exclaimed as the colorful bird flew in close.

A variety of alpine wildflowers were poking up amongst the blanket of needles alongside the trail, catching the attention of the plant lovers and photographers in the group. “I kept noticing how many of the aspens were growing in similar trunk and branch patterns,” Sandra commented. “They reproduce by cloning themselves,” she added.

When we retraced our steps back to the parking area, we heard a Green-tail Towhee, but couldn’t flush it. Several species of butterflies fluttered in the sunlight in areas where there were few or no trees. The Tiger Swallowtail Butterflies, about the size of a warbler, kept catching my attention. Aspen leaves are a food of choice for swallowtail larvae.

Thursday Birders a Aspen Overlook

Thursday Birders a Aspen Overlook

As we were ready to load up into the cars to head further up the road, a small flock of Pine Siskins flew into one of the trees across the road.

By 11 a.m. we were at the Santa Fe Ski Area. We walked a short ways along the Windsor Trail. It was wonderful hiking in cool air at almost 12,000 feet. A small warbler attracted our attention as it busied itself eating insects from the branches of some bare twigs. It was backlit, which made it hard to ID. The consensus of the group was that it was an Orange-crowned Warbler.

In the open meadow further down the trail, we were successful in seeing the Green-tailed Towhee. Chipping Sparrows were active in the fir trees bordering the open grassy area. Larry reported seeing Lesser Goldfinches fluttering over the meadow. Violet-green Swallows darted over the base of the ski run.

As we drove back down to the Little Tesuque Picnic Area to eat our lunch, I spotted a Northern Flicker perched in a tree next to the highway.

While we only saw 24 species, we enjoyed birding in the cool mountain air.

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