“I heard a Northern Pygmy Owl about half a mile back,” Boyd said when we arrived at the Fourth of July Campground in the Manzano Mountains. “We were driving with our windows open.”The caravan of 17 Thursday Birders had bumped along slowly for over seven miles on the dirt road west of Tajique. For several miles we looked somberly at the charred remains of the forest as a result of the Big Spring Fire last spring.
Fortunately, there was no damage to the Fourth of July Campground, famous for the brilliant red leaves of its Big Tooth Maple trees.Crimson and ocher leaves guided us like beacons onto the trail. Patches of cerulean sky peeked between the flaming trees and ponderosa pines. Even though we were at 7,500 feet, the day was temperate enough that we did not need our jackets.
Bonnie, our trip leader, led us along the Crimson Maple Trail. We walked about a quarter of a mile before we saw our first bird, a Hermit Thrush that flew down and out of view. Then the silence was interrupted by the hawk-like screams of two Stellar’s Jays.
Our bonanza was encountering a mixed flock in a feeding frenzy. Flitting amongst the leaves of a group of trees were Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Pine Siskins and Mountain Chickadees.
“I see a female Townsend’s Warbler,” Rebecca called. As we followed its darting, we encountered another Townsend’s – a brilliant male.
An Arizona Sister Butterfly floated through the shafts of light that fell across the trail.
Lesser Goldfinches and Red-breasted Nuthatches could be heard calling. A Northern Flicker flapped overhead while a Common Raven landed on the top of a conifer.
After enjoying lunch and celebrating 70th birthdays of two group members, we decided to see if the Northern Pygmy Owl was still hanging out down the road. Boyd, who was able to imitate the low whistles of the owl, attempted to call it out. It must have moved on; however, we were satisfied with a show of beautiful fall color and 27 species.