Riding the Rail Runner for Birding in Santa Fe

Thursday Birders on Rail Runner

Thursday Birders on Rail Runner

“Oh, look, Western Kingbirds,” exclaimed Wendy and Gail, visiting birders from the San Francisco Bay area. The Rail Runner was stopped at the Bernalillo station.

Seventeen Thursday Birders boarded the train at various stops from Los Lunas to Bernalillo to join the group that was headed for Santa Fe – a trip designed to minimize our carbon footprint.

Railrunner---Briley As we rolled along, we saw Barn Swallows, Cattle Egrets, and Mourning Doves. Phil spotted a Turkey Vulture and Beth saw a Red-tailed Hawk soaring.

When we alighted from the train, we made our way to the shuttles that circle the main part of Santa Fe, and found seats on two different shuttles. We got off at the first stop, across from the Round House, where staff from the Randall Davey Audubon Center was waiting for us. It took two trips to get us all up there. Sandra, who lives in Santa Fe, joined us there.

It was a much easier trip than the ‘dry run’ that I had made the prior week, when I didn’t realize that the Santa Fe Trails bus traveled to the top of Lower Canyon Rd., so walked almost 5 miles to reach the center. It had not seemed that far when I traveled there by car.

When we had all assembled, Linda Newberry, Randall Davey Center Manager greeted us and told us about recent bird sightings. She recommended that we start by walking through their gardens, which are dotted with both seed and hummingbird feeders, and then exploring the trail in the Santa Fe Preserve, owned by the Nature Conservancy.

“We are very excited,” Linda told us, “that Beavers have returned to the canyon in the preserve and have constructed dams and lodges.”

“I am going to have to leave you in about an hour,” I told the group. I was the trip leader for the day. “I have to catch an early train to return to Albuquerque to attend a funeral of a dear friend. You are all great birders and can help each other to finish the day.”

As we walked through the Secret Garden behind the staff offices, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds buzzed us as we walked. I saw what might have been an early Rufous Hummingbird as it flashed its rusty side when a Broad-tailed took chase. Spotted Towhees called from the bushes on the hillside above the garden.

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush

Once we entered the preserve, the green foliage was broken occasionally by clumps of Indian paintbrush. We began to be treated to a number of juveniles: American Robins, Spotted Towhees, and Black-headed Grosbeaks.

“That Black-headed Grosbeak looks rather scruffy,” someone said behind me. “It has white blotches on its side.”

It flew into a nearby tree, and before long, three flew out – clearly juveniles, not only from their plumage, but from their jubilant demeanor, as if they were so excited to be out exploring the world.

“I see a Hermit Thrush,” Sandra mentioned.

Bushtits buzzed in a number of trees.

“There’s a bird perched on that snag over there,” someone said.

“It looks like a Western Wood Peewee,” I responded. “See how it constantly turns its head to look from side to side,”

The trail descended into a stand of willows, which bordered the Santa Fe River. We paused at an overlook, where the water tumbled over the rocks. It was so peaceful.

“I hear a Virginia’s Warbler,” Beth said.

“Please tell me about it when you find it,” I asked Beth. “I have to leave now.”

Santa-Fe-Preserve As I scurried along the trail with Cheri and Mary Lou, who were leaving with me, we stopped to watch American Coots displaying in the large pond by flashing their white tail feathers. “There are Pied-billed Grebes,” Cheri said. There also were Mallards swimming and Red-winged Blackbirds calling from the reeds.

Several of the group e-mailed me the next day to tell me that one of the highlights of the walk through the Preserve was seeing two Black-billed Magpies soaring along the opposite ridge. They were life birds for Wendy and Gail who had only seen the Yellow-billed Magpies in California.

Beth did see the Virginia’s Warbler and a Bullock’s Oriole. “There were two birds that I heard, Warbling Vireo and Song Sparrow,” Rebecca told me. They are not included in the 31 species seen by the whole group.

Steve shared his highlight, “I tend to lag behind birding groups, often alone. After crossing the street alone and traversing a small meadow I saw a fly catcher high up in a snag. It was silhouetted against a deep blue sky, with scudding puffy white cumulus clouds passing by, providing infinite sets of lighting conditions. Yet the variety of lighting conditions would not reveal the identity of this bird. Finally, it revealed itself with its call. Later in the day Rebecca confirmed it was a Western Wood Pewee. It was interesting because I hadn’t seen or heard one for a quite a while. It was a birder’s reunion of sorts.”

After lunch, the group started the walk up the canyon where they saw and heard a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. And then it started to lightly sprinkle, so they came back down before it started raining harder. They really didn’t have a chance to explore the upper canyon.

Maybe next time.

After hanging around the center for awhile and checking out the Nature Store, the Randall Davey staff drove them back to the depot, providing time to explore nearby.

“I ended up having coffee with Wendy and Gail and found out that they are distantly related to Sei,” she told me later.

It was a long, but fulfilling day of birding and exploring the delights of riding the Rail Runner.



One thought on “Riding the Rail Runner for Birding in Santa Fe

  1. Hello Judy,

    I happened to find your blog when looking for information about the old settlement on Bonaventure Island, Quebec, Canada. I just came back from there and thought you might be interested in the latest news from the colony.

    Four of my recent posts on my own blog have Bonaventure gannet images.

    I’m going to have lots of fun reading about all your adventures!



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