Early Fall at Thompson Ridge Above Jemez

The sun was just peeking over the cliffs as the caravan of Thursday Birders wound our way through the Jemez Valley. The cottonwoods, just starting to turn yellow, shone in stark contrast against the rust-colored hills.

We turned off of NM 4 and headed up F.R. 106, a dirt road that wound up through the Carson National Forest to Thompson Ridge, where Lou Feltz hosted us at his cabin at an altitude of about 9,000 ft.

Band-tailed Pigeons, soon to be leaving for Mexico, flew low over the cars as we arrived. An occasional dark-eyed Junco foraged near by the cabin.

The air was cool and crisp as we set off on the access road behind Lou’s cabin in search of birds. The meadow grasses were still green and there was only a hint of fall color in the aspens. “It is so quiet,” Sarah commented.

“See the hole in that aspen,” Lou pointed. “Williamson’s Sapsuckers used it as a nest hole this past summer. I kept watching it and was astonished one day to see the head of a fledgling Northern Flicker pop out of the hole.” While brood parasitism is rare in flickers, it has been documented in ‘floater’ females.

As we walked along the road, we heard and saw Least Goldfinches, White-breasted Nuthatches and Mountain Chickadees. We stopped to watch a pair of Pygmy Nuthatches cavorting in a ponderosa.

After about half a mile, we reached a meadow. As the air and ground warmed, the grass was alive with mountain bees hovering low to the ground. While purportedly non-aggressive, it was unsettling for those of us who are insect magnets and react to stings.

Abby heard the song of a Plumbeous Vireo. It was perched on the top branch of a dead conifer, its breast shining in the morning sun.

A small flock of birds were active in a fir tree laden with cones. Rebecca walked closer to get a better look. “Pine Siskins,” she reported. “I can see the wing bars and streaking on the breast.”

A Stellar’s Jay flew into a ponderosa. Every time it moved, it let out its raucous call.

“Look,” I motioned to a cluster of low oaks in fall-foliage. “There are two birds foraging.” We studied them until one came into view. When it flew to the trunk of a nearby tree, we could see that it was a Red-naped Sapsucker.

We headed down the road, which wound through a ‘canyon’ of large boulders. “It looks like trolls should live here,” Dave commented.

We came out in a meadow. A flock of birds caught our attention on the far side of the mountain glade as they flew from one tree to another. “Probably more Siskins,” someone commented.

“No, they can’t be Siskins,” Karen told us. “They fly up into trees. These birds flew horizontal.” We never did identify the flock; however, in our explorations we saw Yellow-rumped Warblers and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. A chorus of Red-breasted Nuthatches echoed from the forest. Three different squirrels squeaked back and forth from the trees on opposite sides of the glen.

As we circled back around to the cabin, Rebecca heard the ‘yip yip’ call of Red Crossbills. We stopped to watch two Red-tailed Hawks circling.

As we sat on the deck enjoying our lunch, we laughed as an industrious squirrel leaped into the tray feeder, retrieved a peanut, and then bounded off to bury its prize – over and over again.

It was a delightful day in the mountains.


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