Delightful End of Summer Birding in Sandia Mountains

“Brewer’s Blackbirds,” someone shared as the Thursday Birders gathered at the Four Hills Shopping Center. A flock of about 25 were busy scrounging the edge of the parking area.

“We have seen them here almost every September,” I commented. “They must be migrating.”

Band-tailed Pigeon

“Band-tailed Pigeon,” I announced as Rebecca and I headed up the Crest Highway. “It’s the first one I have seen all season. I think that all of the dead-tree clearing made them continue north this summer. They must be migrating south.”

We stopped to check out a raptor perched on a bare snag next to the highway – just in case in might be a Goshawk, since they nest in the canyon below. Sadly, no white eye brow.

The clouds were swirling over the Ellis Trailhead when we reached the other Thursday Birders. There was no way we were going to see birds from that location. Rebecca, pinch-hitting as trip leader, suggested we retreat to the 10K Trailhead. Everyone agreed.

The clouds followed us, but were not enveloping the area, so we started out on the north trail. Almost immediately, we heard and then saw, a MacGillivray’s Warbler – and then a Wilson’s.

As we headed into the trees, we heard the tin-horn call of a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and then almost immediately it popped into view. After extricating insects along a branch, it flew across the trail to the forest floor. Two more nuthatches appeared.

“I got buzzed,” someone exclaimed when the nuthatch barely cleared the person’s head.

We began to get worried when the wind picked up and the trees started creaking. The dead trees hadn’t been cleared in this area. We decided to turn around. Back at the parking lot, we watched a Chipping Sparrow and more warbler activity.

“Well,” Rebecca stated, “shall we go to Plan C?” We decided to drive down to the Doc Long Picnic Area and hike along the Bill Spring Trail.

We enjoyed watching a Townsend’s Warbler in a Gambel’s Oak next to the parking area, before heading to the Bill Spring Trail. Stellar’s Jays called as they sailed back and forth between the ponderosas, and Mountain Chickadees called as they worked the trees. Some of the group that lingered were excited to see an Olive-sided Woodpecker.

The trees along the trail were starting to be tinged with shades of yellow, giving us hope that fall would soon arrive.

We heard a Plumbeous Viero singing as we headed up the trail. We kept trying to find it, but it remained secretive. Further along, we heard the sing-song call again – along with movement in the tree ahead of us. When we saw a flash of yellow, Rebecca encouraged us to be diligent about getting a good look. “It might be a Cassin’s,” she stated. We finally were rewarded with good looks. Indeed, it was a Cassin’s Vireo, whose song is almost identical to the Plumbeous.

Further along, we encountered a wave of warblers –primarily Audubon’s Yellow-rumped, but also some MacGillivray’s and Wilson’s. Robert pointed out a Black-headed Grosbeak.

As we headed back, we saw a female Western Tanager.

Despite the changes of venue, it had been a delightful morning of birding.

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