It was snowing lightly as I headed out to the Embudo Canyon Open Space where I was supposed to lead the Central New Mexico Audubon’s Thursday Birder walk. I didn’t expect anyone to show up. As I turned east on Indian School Road and headed up the hill, the snow became deeper, although the road was drivable. By time I reached the border of the Open Space, the road into the parking area was covered with snow.
I saw a man trudging up the hill and slowed. It was Larry, one of the Thursday Birders. “Want a ride?” I queried.
“My binoculars are back in the car,” he replied. “I wanted to see if anyone was there.”
“I’m not sure anyone else will show up,” I responded.
There were 2 other cars in the snow-covered parking lot. A man was getting out of one to walk his dog. No sign of birders.
Pretty soon Roger pulled up, followed by Larry who had retrieved his bins. And then Gary, a recent transplant from Pennsylvania, arrived.
“I’m willing to lead the walk, if you are game to go,” I told them. They all were eager to explore the area and see what birds might be out in the snow.
We headed north out of the parking area on Trail #401. Within minutes two Dark-eyed (Oregon) Juncos flew in and perched on the scrub by the trail. A hopeful sign.
We headed down the arroyo towards the location where I had encountered Curve-billed and Crissal Thrashers singing on territory when I was scouting the area two days earlier. Footprints showed us that we weren’t the first folks out in the Open Space this morning.
It continued to snow lightly and the area was hushed. Roger spotted three Morning Doves on a small barren tree with their feathers puffed up for warmth.
A couple of Western Scrub Jays flew across the trail from the adjacent residential area.
“There’s a coyote,” I signaled.
“And there’s another one against the side of the hill,” Gary reported.
After about a quarter of a mile with no other sightings, we backtracked, crossed #401 and then headed north towards the water tank. Finally, our first bird call – a Curve-billed Thrasher. Roger spotted it some ways a way. Then we began to hear House Finches singing and a Western Scrub Jay sailed between two junipers.
This trail was untouched and the snow covered the trail like mounds of icing.
When we joined the main trail, we watched three Common Ravens wafting over the hills to the south.
By time we reached the parking area, the snow had finally stopped. “I’m going to head down to Haines and see if there are any birds at the block feeder,” I told the others.
“I think I’ll stick around here for awhile,” Roger replied.
I drove Larry to his car as Roger and Gary chatted. An American Kestrel perched briefly on a boulder on the crest of the south hill.
I parked on the north end of Haines and walked down the street towards the block feeder. The Open Space was finally coming alive!Curve-billed Thrashers were singing, Canyon Towhees were chirping and Western Scrub Jays were bouncing. I could hear a Gambel’s Quail calling from up on the hill.
Then I heard the loud scraping call of a Cactus Wren. I was disappointed that I had not seen or heard any when I was scouting. Then the wren popped up and bounced on the end of a cholla in the same manner as a Western Scrub Jay. As I peered through my bins, I could clearly see white eye brow and dark chin and upper chest patch.
Below it, I noticed Scaled Quail scurrying between the underbrush. They were headed in the same direction I was going, sometimes scooting between bushes and at other times flying in pairs, one after the other. From time to time one would call, and another one would respond.
Just before I reached the feeder, six Scaled Quail waddled quickly across the street and disappeared over a resident’s wall.
Only Mourning Doves and White-crowned Sparrows were at the feeder.
By time I returned to my car, Roger and Gary drove up. “We saw a Rufous-crowned Sparrow next to the parking lot – a life bird for Gary,” Roger reported. “We also saw a Northern Flicker and a couple of Say’s Phoebes as we visited.”
If I had not been the trip leader, I might still be in my jammies snuggled on the couch reading, I realized as I drove away. I’m grateful for the excuse to explore the Sandia foothills in fresh snow.