Early Spring at Cochiti and Pena Blanca

White-crowned Sparrows were busy in the bushes along the road as the caravan of Thursday Birders turned to drive through Pena Blanca. We parked and got out to peruse the area.

The sun caught the breast of an American Kestrel perched high in the bare branches of a cottonwood tree. A Western Meadowlark flew in and perched below it. Its yellow breast also caught the morning sun.

Along a side road, we spotted Great-tailed Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, European Starlings, and Eurasian-collared Doves.

Further down the road we stopped to watch some raptors. Two Red-tailed Hawks were circling. “It’s like synchronized flying,” commented Gale.

Everyone studied another raptor. “I see white on its underside,” reported Karen. After peering through Roger’s scope, it was clear we were watching an Osprey.

Two Common Ravens and two Turkey Vultures also soared on the thermals.

Several in the group bought fresh eggs from the farm adjacent to where we stopped.

“Brewer’s Blackbirds,” trip leader Rebecca announced through the walkie talkies. “They are just even with my car. Look in the dirt in front of the house as you pass.” Only one was there when our car approached the area. Its white eye stood out against its glossy black feathers.

As we looped back, we saw our only White-winged Dove for the day.



We headed west along Highway 16. Just past the cut-off road to La Bajada Hill, we pulled over to check out the osprey nesting platform. An osprey perched on the stick nest on top of the platform. “Hart says these nests are never successful,” Rebecca told us.

We slowed as we crossed the bridge over the outflow from Cochiti Dam. Two cormorants perched on the rocks on the west side of the outflow and a Great-blue Heron perched on the opposite side. A flock of Ring-billed Gulls swirled above the base of the spillway.

“One of them looks smaller,” said Marge. “From its markings, I am sure it is a Bonaparte’s Gull. I have seen them here before.”

After a brief stop at the Cochiti Lake Visitor’s Center, we headed down the hill to the lake. A Townsend’s Solitare was perched on a tree behind the Visitor’s Center. Just before reaching the lake, we stopped to watch a Northern Flicker on the top of a conifer. It turned its head from side to side – making sure it would not be caught off guard by a raptor.

Thursday Birders at Cochiti Lake

Thursday Birders at Cochiti Lake

We took a road that led down to a cove at the west end of the lake. The waterfowl looked like dots in the water until we checked them out through the scopes. There were American Coots, Mallards, Buffleheads, and Ruddy Ducks. At that distance, we could not determine which Aechmophorus grebe we saw.

“I am sure I see a Red-breasted Merganser,” Gale reported.

“I agree,” stated Sandra. “I can see the white on its throat.”

Ring-billed Gulls swam in a group, sometimes flying up and around.

An Osprey was perched on a bare snag on the far side of the lake. In the next cove we noticed another similarly shaped, but smaller raptor. Its back was to us, so we couldn’t make an ID. Some Canada Geese flew in and landed below it, and it flew off. However, it returned, still with its back to us.

“I’m sure it is a Peregrine Falcon,” Roger said.

While we were studying the raptor, Sei was checking out the rock outcropping behind the parking area, and discovered a Rock Wren.

We drove over to the boat launch area to get a better look. This time we got a profile view. It clearly was a peregrine.

Our final stop was in the town of Cochiti. A number of birds flitted and called from the small, wooded arroyo just east of the shopping area. The first bird that showed itself was a Canyon Towhee.

“I hear a Hermit Thrush calling,” Rebecca said. “I’m going to cross over to the other side of the arroyo and see if I can get a better look.”

While she traipsed through the shrubs, it flew into a bush near where the rest of us stood. When it popped down, we could see it clearly.

A Greater Roadrunner trotted by, and a Robin flew in. We could hear, but didn’t see, a Curve-billed Thrasher and a Bewick’s Wren.

We slowed down again crossing the outflow. We added Northern Shoveler to our list and four species of swallows: Northern Rough-wing, Violet-green, Barn, and Cliff.

When we tallied the list while waiting to be seated at The Range we came up with 50 species.


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