Sage Sparrows and Crissal Thrasher at Rinconada Canyon

Dry grasses flanked the trail into Rinconada Canyon as 10 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders started onto the trail in the Petroglyph’s National Monument. The Rinconada Canyon Trail, on the south end of the national monument, traverses sand dunes, and winds through an eroded canyon at the edge of a basaltic lava flow originating from five extinct volcanoes.

Two American Ravens cruised above us.

“Our target bird is the Sage Sparrow.” trip leader Rebecca told us before we started out.

This is the only sure location for finding these wintering sparrows in Albuquerque.

“Look for them on the ground under bushes,” Rebecca advised.

“They often will pop up on top of a bush to check things out,” I stated. “But they appear only momentarily.”

There usually is quite a bit of bird activity along the tumbled rocks of the basalt outcropping. Today, we walked quite a ways before we heard and then spotted our first bird: a Canyon Towhee. It would pop into view and then drop down behind a rock and was fun to watch.

A little further on someone noticed a Rock Wren who obligingly sat on top of a large boulder for quite a while. “Definitely a Rock Wren,” Rebecca pronounced. “Watch how it bobs.”

It looked like a raven in flight.

A large flock of House Finches flushed from several four-wing salt bushes, and nearby we spotted a petroglyph of a bird.

The trail looped back, was further from the rocks and the area was more open.

“There’s a bird,” Marge called. It was foraging on the ground between some bushes.

“It’s a Crissal Thrasher,” I stated. “See the rusty under-tail coverts.”

We beckoned the rest to turn around and join us. Finally it cooperated and hopped up on top of a bush.

“Look at its nice long tail,” Sally stated.

A little further on, we spotted another one on the other side of the trail.

We were almost back before we encountered some Sage Sparrows. It was Larry, who was hurrying back to the parking lot, who spotted them and then waited for us to catch up with him and point them out before he went on his way.

True to form, two of them were foraging under some sand sage and we had a hard time catching a glimpse. With patience we all had a chance to see them when they came out into a clearing. Finally one popped up.

“It’s cleaning its beak,” Abby exclaimed.

Nearby we heard a Bewick’s Wren.

As we approached the trailhead, Donna noticed a Say’s Phoebe hovering. It would fly in place like a helicopter, and then darted down to capture an insect.

After a slow start, we were delighted that we saw both the Crissal Thrasher and the Sage Sparrow.

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