Spring Birds in Otero Canyon

“Our target bird this morning is the Gray Flycatcher,” relayed Karen, our trip leader for the Central New Mexico Audubon’s Thursday Birders. “I saw one here, as well as one at Otero Canyon two days ago.”

The large group began to fan out into the area surrounding the Sandia District Ranger Station in Tijeras and began ticking off species: Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Spotted Towhee, Robin, Chipping Sparrow, and then began wandering along the trail towards the old pueblo in search of the flycatcher. The only birds in the small arroyo where Karen had seen the flycatcher were a pair of House Finches. A Say’s Phoebe flew in on our way back.

Ash-throated Flycatcher

The most productive birds were around the building and parking lot. An Ash-throated Flycatcher called from a wire and then flew into a small tree. I thought I heard a Cassin’s Kingbird, but discovered it was just the Ash-throated Flycatcher, which sounds similar.

“The Cassin’s call is more insistent,” Rebecca explained. “However, I did hear one earlier.”

A Wilson’s Warbler flitted in a small juniper.

Behind the parking lot, several birders were watching a woodpecker that kept disappearing behind the trunk of a small tree. As it worked its way to the side, we could see the baring on its back. At first we thought it was a Ladderback.

“It’s not acting like a Ladderback,” I commented.

“It has a pale yellow breast,” someone observed.

It’s a sapsucker – female Williamson’s,” Cindy confirmed.

Three birds flew in – Black-headed Grosbeaks, two males and a female, followed by a Western Scrub Jay and Canyon Towhee.

We piled into our cars and headed for Otero Canyon.

One of the first things we noticed as we headed down the trail was the sound of water flowing in the stream.

Yellow-rumped (Audubon’s) Warbler and Ash-throated Flycatcher pairs were chasing each other from tree to tree.

A flash of yellow-gold signaled the presence of a migrating American Goldfinch. In the same tree was a pair of Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Indian Paint Brush

“Oh, look,” Karen pointed. “First of season Indian Paintbrush.”

The birders gravitated into groups of three or four along the ‘old road.’ Cindy had spotted a Gray Flycatcher; however, it disappeared up the rocky cliff by time the others arrived at her location. A Virginia’s Warbler foraged in the same area.

“Western Tanagers,” Donna called as two males perched momentarily on the top of a conifer before they took off again.

Black-headed Grosbeak

A pair of Black-headed Grosbeaks gleaned insects in one of the trees along the trail.

Part of the group headed along the Cedro Nature Trail, some headed south into Otero Canyon, while a few remained on the paved part of the trail. I joined those who scanned the arroyos and hillsides along the Otero Canyon Trail.

Pine Siskins buzzed from the piñon pines on the hillside above us and Spotted Towhees sang, with one giving its catbird-like mew.

A flycatcher silently perched on the opposite bank of the arroyo, flicking its tail down – a Gray Flycatcher.

Further along several Virginia’s Warblers bounced from low branches to the ground and then back up again. “See their eye-ring and the yellow under the tail,” Karen pointed out to a newer birder in our group.

A pair of Violet-green Swallows sailed back and forth over the canyon and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds seemed to be everywhere.

A Mountain Chickadee called nearby, and further on a pair of Juniper Titmice both sang and called to each other as they foraged in a piñon pine.

As we headed back, a Plumbeous Vireo flew across the trail, and then paused briefly on a limb providing us with good looks at its ‘spectacles.’

While we waited for the group that explored the nature trail to return, we watched a busy Wilson’s Warbler in a small juniper. The tail of a Red-tailed Hawk flashed in the morning sun as it road the canyon’s thermals.

As Karen was going over the list, she was about to remark that we should have seen a Brown-headed Cowbird, when a pair of them flew overhead.

After the rest of them left, I headed back down the trail and further into Otero Canyon in hopes of finding a Black-throated Gray Warbler and finally was rewarded by a pair that flew into a tree just before the intersection with the Tunnel Trail, as well as three more Gray Flycatchers.

It was a glorious morning to explore the canyon.


2 thoughts on “Spring Birds in Otero Canyon

  1. It is particularly beautiful this year with all of the rain. I don’t think I have seen it so lush and green in the spring. The wildflowers should be wonderful this summer.

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