“Look,” someone called, “there’s a Juniper Titmouse in that tree over there.” It posed momentarily with its jaunty crested head cocked to one side. An American Robin perched on a wire over the arroyo and seemed to be talking to us. In addition to the titmouse and robin, we also spotted Western Bluebirds,White-breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flicker, Dark-eyed Juncos and a House Finch.
Twenty Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders had gathered at the Sandia District Ranger Station in Tijeras before carpooling to Sabino Canyon, one of Bernalillo County’s Open Spaces on the east side of the Manzanita Mountains.
We wound our way on several forest roads to reach the parking area of the 116 acre Open Space. We crossed the road and headed up the trail. It was a clear and crisp morning, and no wind – yet. Our first bird was a Townsend’s Solitaire. We would see several on our walk.
Both a Gray-headed and Oregon sub-species of Dark-eyed Junco foraged in the grass. “Notice how they walk around in the grass and then jump up to get seeds,” trip leader Karen pointed out. “The Gray-headed are year-round residents that nest in this area; however, the Oregon only is a winter resident.
As we started further up the trail, those in the back were fortunate to see a Cassin’s Finch.
At the crest of the hill, a number of abandoned buildings dotted the landscape. Rebecca had researched the history of the area and reported to us before we started out that the area was originally farmed for pinto beans and potatoes until the late 1800s. In the 1920’s the property was sold and converted into a fur farm – first silver foxes and later mink and then rabbits. The farm was abandoned in the late 1930’s.
There was a dilapidated caretaker’s cottage and several different types of animal pens scattered about.
We walked for a ways along a trail that eventually leads to Cedro Peak where we observed numerous Western Blue Birds, as well as a couple of Mountain Bluebirds. In addition to Scrub Jays we had seen walking up the trail, there were several Steller’s Jays.
“There are not many birds here,” Karen reported, “since there is no reliable water source.”
“When I came up here on a horse trail ride, the ride’s sponsors had to cart in water for the horses,” Donna shared.
Our next stop was the Cedro Peak Group Campground. It was closed for the season, so we birded from the area just outside the gate. Primarily we had the same assortment of birds we had seen at the Open Space – only more of them: Townsend’s Solitaire, juncos, robins, Western Bluebirds, and Stellar Jay.
Our attention was drawn to a strange call. When we investigated, we discovered a sapsucker ‘mewing’ as it drilled holes in an elm tree. It clearly was an adult male.
And then it was back. This time it stayed long enough for a definitive ID. We consulted a couple of different field guides and began clicking off field markings to determine whether it was a Red-naped or Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.
“There is none on the nape,” Dave noted.
Pat, visiting from Vermont, told us the mewing call was what she heard from Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers in the east.
Sei pulled out his iPod and played the calls of both the Red-naped and Yellow-bellied. That clinched it. Only the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker made the mewing call. It is an occasional visitor in the Manzanitas during fall migration. It was a life bird for me!
We proclaimed the sapsucker as the Bird of the Day.