Late Summer Birding – Sulphur Canyon and Cienega Picnic Areas

As the 29 Thursday Birders piled out of our cars at the Sulphur Canyon Picnic Area in the Sandia Mountains, the trees seemed to be alive with movement. We quickly gathered in groups and gravitated towards groups of trees, binoculars already at our eyes as we walked.

“Do you think that is a Black and White Warbler?” Lannois asked.

“Yes, that’s what I think it is,” Marge confirmed. Many of us had seen it on the eastern plains; however, for some it was a new bird for New Mexico.

“It’s one of our most regular warblers,” a couple from Houston told us. West of the mountains, it is a real rarity in New Mexico, so we were all ecstatic.

The birds, being warblers, were on the move constantly. It was a collaborative effort to glimpse all of the field marks for an ID. Wilson’s, Grace’s, Yellow-rumped, McGillivray’s, Black-throated Gray, Townsend’s. Some were seen by everyone and some only by one group.

“I think I see a vireo,” someone said. “It has a spectacle eye ring.” A Plumbeous Vireo, and pretty soon everyone had seen it.

Mountain Chickadees also were active in the trees. We started hearing a Red-breasted Nuthatch and before long it flew into the trees where we were looking. Before the morning was out, it would be our most prevalent nuthatch. There also were a few Pygmy and White-breasted Nuthatches.

A Western Wood Peewee flew brief sortees from a bare twig. Stellar’s Jays glided in and out of the conifers.

Pretty soon the activity settled down and we began walking further down the parking area.

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds buzzed in the trees, and someone saw a Rufous.

A couple of American Robins foraged silently in the underbrush and Lilli spotted a Hermit Thrush.

We drove down the road to the Cienega Picnic Area to the parking lot at the far end, and then started walking towards the meadow. A couple of Ravens perched silently and three Turkey Vultures circled overhead.

“Let’s see if we can make one into a Zone-tailed Hawk,” Lannois said hopefully. But no.

A Red Crossbill perched on the top of a fir tree for awhile and most got good looks. “Come look at its crossed beak through the scope,” Rebecca said.

In the same area an Olive-sided Flycatcher settled briefly on a bare snag, but was off before everyone could see it. Another flycatcher was perched further down – with its back towards us, so we had to rely on behavior clues.

“See, it’s looking from side to side,” I said. “That’s a characteristic of a Western Wood Peewee.

As we gathered around and tallied up the birds we had seen, we had 28. “We need to get one more,” someone said.

Just then, both a male and female Western Tanager cruised into a nearby tree.

Twenty-nine birds and twenty-nine birders.


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