Migrating Warblers in the Sandia Mountains

“I hear a Plumbeous Vireo,” someone exclaimed as 24 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders piled out of our cars. “There it is.”

The vireo was busy gleaning insects as moved quickly and stealthily in the Gambel oak, sometimes obscured behind a leaf. It continued calling as it moved.

“Its call sounds like a question,” Gale observed.

The mountain air was cool and the sky was the deep cobalt blue of late summer. It was a great morning to be birding.

White-breasted Nuthatches were calling from the picnic area.

Soon we were watching the movements of another small bird. We caught a glimpse of a buttery yellow throat, and then finally saw yellow under the tail – a Virginia’s Warbler! It was the first of several we would see, and it finally popped up in plain view.

“Nice eye-ring,” trip leader Sally commented.

The group began dispersing into smaller clusters. One group was watching the bird activity in the wet area adjacent to the parking lot, where they spotted a Hermit Thrush and several chippies.

Another group headed up the road, while a third continued to hover around the oaks near the car.

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds seemed to be everywhere.

Steller’s Jays chattered as they flew from tree to tree.

Four Turkey Vultures circled overhead and then were chased by a group of Common Ravens. I guess they thought they had spotted the road-kill first!

Western Wood Peewee

Western Wood Peewee

Western Wood Peewee had set up a feeding territory further up the road. It was constantly turning its head from side to side, and then would dart off in pursuit of an insect.

“Williamson’s Sapsucker,” someone said as they pointed to a ponderosa trunk. I just caught a quick look at it before it flew across the road and disappeared into the trees.

I walked further up the road to see if I could see where it went. As several of us gathered near a group of trees, a Hairy Woodpecker came into view. Its bill was noticeably longer than the width of its head. It quickly worked its way up near the top of the tree, and then dropped back down and started over again.

“I can always tell whether it is a Hairy or a Downy because I think that the Downy has a cute beak,” Jo told us.

As if on cue, a Downy Woodpecker flew in. It was followed by an eager juvenile that trailed it up the tree.

A flock of Mountain Chickadees chattered nearby, but weren’t visible.

“Oh, look,” someone said, “a Townsend’s.”

There were two Townsend’s Warblers, a bright male and either a female or a juvenile.

After watching them working the nearby fir trees, our attention was diverted by a flycatcher.

Robert got it in his scope. “It’s a Hammond’s,” he said. “We had another one up the road.”

“It definitely has a short tail,” someone observed.

“And, its eye-ring is not as distinct as a Cordilleran,” someone else stated.

“I hear a flock of Pygmy Nuthatches,” Lannois said, but they didn’t show themselves.

When we shared the birds that we had seen thus far, the group that had stayed back near the cars had seen a fly-over flock of Pinyon Jays and three more warblers: Yellow, Wilson’s and Grace’s.

We drove down the road a ways to Cienega Canyon Picnic Area where the habitat is more open. The leaves of the deciduous trees were a faded yellow green – a sure sign that summer is winding down.

Since it was late morning, the bird activity was not as intense as we had the past two hours.

As we started up the Cienega Canyon Trail, two Hairy Woodpeckers flew in.

While some of the group continued up the trail, I turned back with some of the others, thinking that there would be more birds in the trees around the meadow.

As we headed towards the meadow, we stopped to look at a bird crouched on the top of a dead ponderosa. Unfortunately, we did not have a scope. Two of us thought it was a Band-tailed Pigeon because of its size and shape.

“I don’t see any yellow on its bill,” Gale said. “However, it definitely looks more portly than a Mourning Dove, and I don’t see any white on its wings.”

And then it flew off. We’ll never know for sure its identity.

A short ways down the road, two Mourning Doves were perched on another tree top. Did the bird we saw previously join another one? They clearly were slimmer and had pointed tails.

As we approached the reservation area, we heard another group of Pygmy Nuthatches.

“I have been listening to them and keep hoping one will show itself,” Lannois said.

“I really need it for my year list,” Marge said.

Meanwhile, there was bird activity in the bushes growing along the small stream. A House Wren popped into view. An Orange-crowned Warbler made a brief appearance – and then a Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Wilson’s Warblers seemed to be everywhere and appeared to be dancing in the edges of the meadow as they moved along.

As we headed back to the parking lot, we stopped to look at two Turkey Vultures circling overhead.

“Look at them carefully,” Rebecca said. “A Zone-tailed Hawk was spotted in this location once as it circled with the vultures.”

No Zone-tailed Hawk; however an accipiter came into view. While we wished it were a Northern Goshawk, it clearly was a Cooper’s Hawk.

The Sandia Mountains always is always productive at the end of August – and we had been lucky to have seen seven species of migrating western warblers.


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