Waves of Warblers at Sulphur and Cienega

Steller’s Jays squawked and flew back and forth between the ponderosa pines near the Sulphur Canyon Picnic Area’s (featured site in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico) entrance. It was almost as if they were playing a game. At first it seemed as though they were the only birds up and about on this clear, but chilly August morning.

A scruffy Hermit Thrush flew into the tops of a conifer. “That’s an unusual location to see one,” someone commented.

“Maybe it’s migrating and just dropped by,” I suggested.

Then we heard the tin horn call of a Red-breasted Nuthatch and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds buzzed by. Half of the Central New Mexico Audubon’s Thursday Birder group started heading up the trail. The others checked out the willows near the road leading to Cienega Spring Picnic Area.

After a short ways we hit a minor warbler fall-out. A Wilson’s Warbler, flitted high in one of the trees, then a couple of Townsend’s Warblers, an Audubon’s Yellow-rumped and three Grace’s. Someone spotted a Black-throated Gray. We were getting stiff necks walking around with our heads crooked back.

A vireo popped up in some foliage. “I can see its spectacles,” someone commented. We had been hearing its sing-song call. A Plumbeous Vireo.

Then our attention was diverted to two Ruby-crowned Kinglets. One of them was scampering after the other one through the leaves. “I think the one that is chasing is a juvenile that still wants to be fed,” Karen laughed. “Look how it tried to get the adult’s attention with its wing flapping.”

Western Wood-Pewee

We stopped to watch the first of a couple of Western Wood-Pewees fly out and back from a tiny twig to snag insects. A Cordilleran Flycatcher flew into just below it – and then went on.

As we headed back towards the entrance, we met a few who had stayed back at the willows. “We had a wave of warblers come by,” Gary said. They hadn’t seen a Grace’s, but did spot a Virginia’s.

After an hour and a half at Sulphur, we drove down the road to Cienega Canyon Picnic Area – also a featured site in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico, parking at the very end and then walking towards the meadow. As we approached the sunflower-strewn cienega (meadow), we heard the plaintive call of a Lesser Goldfinch. Then several small birds flew out of a box elder and started feasting on sunflower seeds. “Those aren’t goldfinches,” Karen exclaimed. “They are Wilson’s Warblers.”

In the group reservation picnic area, we encountered another wave of warblers. Both male and female alternatively Townsend’s flew down to the ground from a ponderosa, giving those who had not seen one at Sulphur a good opportunity to view their striking plumage.

Mountain Chickadees actively darted in and out of the conifers and two Hermit Thrushes foraged on the ground beneath them.

We followed the Nature Trail, checking out movement in the willows. More Wilson’s Warblers. Someone spotted an Orange-crowned.

Abert's Squirrel

Abert’s Squirrels scampered up and down in the trees.

When we reached a vantage point that overlooked the meadow, we studied a plethora of avian activity in a box elder on the other side of the meadow. Thanks to several spotting scopes, we were able to identify Warbling Vireo and Chipping Sparrow, as well as a Western Wood-Pewee.

We called a morning at 11:45 – delighted with the variety of birds, including 8 different warblers.


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