“Thirty-two,” I reported after counting the flock of crows heading south over our first stop just north of the freeway on the December 26 Sandia Christmas Bird Count. Andrew, team leader for our segment of the count, concurred. The others who were part of our count team were Gale and Barbara.The snow had been predicted to start by 7 a.m. that morning; however, when I saw the sunrise over the mountains on my drive to our meeting spot, I knew that the storm was delayed and Mother Nature had granted us a few hours of counting.
Rebecca, co-coordinator for the count had told each group, “If it starts snowing, feel free to head back. I will come back here to collect your counts.”
In addition to the crows, there were a few dark-eyed juncos.
Next we scouted a residential area across the highway. More crows – numbering over 30, a few more juncos, and two Northern Flickers.Our next stop was the open space behind the San Antonio de Padua church. When we got out of the car, more crows were coursing over the horizon. Thirty-four. This was getting eerie. Last year we only saw 9 crows at this location. “The crows seem to have made a come back from West Nile Virus,” I commented.
The open space was a winter wonderland; however, the dark clouds ahead of us signaled that the storm was quickly approaching. A mixed flock of American Robins and Cedar Waxwings flew overhead. When they landed, the Robins paused for awhile, while the waxwings soon flitted off again.
A raptor circled overhead – a Red-tailed Hawk. A Townsend’s Solitaire was perched on the top of a fir tree. Barbara heard a White-breasted Nuthatch.
We trekked up to fence line. Juncos flitted in and out of the bushes on the other side of the fence. A woodpecker called as it flew. “A Downy,” Andrew reported.
A Mountain Chickadee called, and as we descended, we heard a Juniper Titmouse in some low shrubs. A Western Scrub Jay announced its presence.
Back at the car, flashes of cobalt blue caught our attention. Western Blue Birds.
Things were fairly quiet in the old village of San Antonio – a few juncos and White-crowned Sparrows. Last year the sides of the road were hopping with juncos. The variations in diversity are what the count is all about.
“A Ladder-backed Woodpecker,” Barbara exclaimed. “It is working its way up that tree at the edge of the parking lot.” We had stopped at a mini-mart. “Parking lots are always good places to look for birds,” Barbara had advised me when I had first started birding.
We started perusing the neighborhoods on the east side of Highway 14. We added Spotted Towhee at our first stop. “It’s starting to spit snow,” I reported as we headed up the hill. By time we reached our next stop – where we normally eat our lunch – the wind had picked up and the snow was coming sideways, fast and furious. We decided to postpone lunch to maximize our birding opportunities. The birds clearly were laying low as we trudged up the street with our heads down to keep the blowing ice out of our eyes – and off our binoculars.
We stopped briefly at a small park. Andrew got out and scouted the park. I used the opportunity to put on my rain pants.
“Let’s drive through the RV park and then by Dr. Ligon’s house. I think that’s probably all we can do,” Andrew said.
By time we made it down to Highway 14, the snow was accumulating on the pavement. A pair of Canyon Towhees braved the snow by the side of the road as we drove into the RV park. Another flock of crows was foraging on the tall grass. “There’s seed on top of the shed for the birds,” Andrew commented, “but no one’s taking advantage of it.” Juncos and White-crowned Sparrows scrounged busily under the protection of a porch.
Our bonanza was a feeder under a large tree on a side street as we were looking for our last stop. Several sub-species of Dark-eyed Juncos were working the ground and the tray feeder. House Finches and Pine Siskins shared the area with them. We were able to do our counts without getting out of the car.
The snow was still coming sideways as we scouted out Dr. Ligon’s feeders. Not much activity.
Back at Dion’s over pizza, we tallied up our sightings and decided that 21 species was not too bad, given the weather. Last year we had 29. And, when we tallied our crow sightings, it was way over 200.