Everyone was clustered around Rebecca’s scope. I had lagged behind taking a photo of a golden-leafed cottonwood nestled like a beacon in the hillside.
Fourteen Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders were heading back on the Embudo Canyon trail. While clouds still shrouded the mountains and the day started out cold for an October morning, it was now clearing and beginning to warm.
Some of the Chamisa still had their riotously deep yellow blossoms and we could see where some type of animal had been eating the dried, red prickly pear fruit.
“What are you looking at?” I asked as I approached the group.
“Some type of falcon,” John replied. “It is either a kestrel or a Merlin.” He looked at it again with his binoculars.I checked it out through my bins. It sat compactly on the top of a power pole some distance away.
Rebecca peered through her scope again. “It has a banded tail,” she said.
I took my turn looking through the scope.
“It’s not a kestrel,” I commented. “It has turned and I can see streaking or barring on its flanks.”
And then it flew off. We wandered further down the trail. A while later it returned over the canyon. We could clearly see its pointed wing-tips.
The birding had been slow. The most prevalent bird was House Finch. We saw several small flocks fly overhead, as well as occasional pairs busily gleaning apache plume seeds. We spotted White-crowned Sparrows here and there all along the trail. Dark-eyed Juncos called their dry ‘tic’ and Lesser Goldfinches buzzed as they foraged.
From time to time a Western Scrub Jay called as it sailed from juniper to juniper. A lone Raven flew across the canyon, and the red under-wings flashed as two Northern Flickers flew by.
Rebecca heard a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher and a couple of Townsend’s Solitaires. Not only does Rebecca have a keen ear for bird calls, several of us had our ears covered with fleece or wool caps. I did hear a couple of Curve-billed Thrashers calling.
When we returned to the parking lot, the Merlin was perched on top of one of the power poles. “He’s eating,” someone commented. “I can see feathers scattering.”
After the walk ended, a few of us headed north to see if we could spot a Cactus Wren.
“I can hear one,” Rebecca commented after we had walked a short distance. We inched closer to the sound.“There it is,” someone said. “It just popped up in that cholla over there.”
“It has what looks like nest-building material in its mouth,” I stated.
“Cactus Wrens build nests specifically for roosting that will protect them from bad weather,” Gale explained.
The recent cold weather may have prompted the wren to add more insulation to its nest.
Even though we enjoyed watching the diligent Cactus Wren, we decided that the Merlin was still the ‘Bird of the Day.’