Early Fall Birding – Pena Blanca and Cochiti

A tree-full of Brewer’s Blackbirds attracted our attention as the caravan of Central New Mexico Thursday Birders pulled onto the loop road in Pena Blanca. We stopped to get a better look.

The morning was clear and cool and felt like fall had finally arrived. The birds were enjoying it also. Two American Kestrels were finding plenty of insects to keep them busy as they flew back and forth between the power lines.

A Bewick’s Wren called from some nearby trees.

“I just saw my first fall White-crowned Sparrow,” someone exclaimed. We would see several as we made the loop. As we traveled through the village, we spotted two other species of sparrows – Vesper and Chipping.

More Brewer’s Blackbirds crawled over a freshly-tilled field. Western Meadowlarks sang their bubbly melody and a Say’s Phoebe perched on a dried stalk between its forays to snag insects.

Black-billed Magpie

“There’s a Black-billed Magpie,” someone called out over the two-way radio. We pulled over again. There were two magpies, and they swooped back and forth as they chased and harassed several Northern (red-shafted) Flickers that were trying to share the field with them.

We headed towards Cochiti and paused briefly to check out the area below Cochiti Dam and were rewarded with an Osprey that was perched on a wire over the spillway outflow. It sat intently watching for fish in the water below.

We were headed to Dixon’s Apple Orchard, but discovered they had sold out of apples and were closed. We were rewarded with 12 different species of birds in the trees that over-looked their orchard and were glad we decided to drive to the orchard to double-check the situation . As we got out of the cars, we heard a melodic song.

Townsend\’s Solitaire

“The only fall singer that I know of is a Townsend’s Solitaire,” I stated. Pretty soon it popped into view. We watched its open mouth while the rich warble floated out.

A ponderosa was a hub of activity as Pine Siskins jockeyed for position, giving their distinctive vocalizations. A single Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitted among them.

We followed a small active bird with a yellowish belly. “It’s a vireo I stated,” when I caught a glimpse of its beak.

“It looks like a Cassin’s Vireo,” Karen replied.

Our next stop was the Cochiti Golf Course. Yellow-rumped Warblers ‘chipped’ as they moved through the branches of a conifer, along with Black-eyed (Gray-backed) Juncos. A Wilson’s Warbler kept them company.

Both Mountain and Western Bluebirds divided their time between foraging in the grass and popping back up in the junipers.

On the way back to the cars, two Canyon Towhees called as they explored the parking lot from under the parked cars.

Our last stop was Cochiti Lake. The lake was calm and at first appeared not to have any water birds. Then we spotted a trio of grebes about two-thirds of the way across. After studying them through the scopes, the consensus was that they were an aechmorphus – either a Western or Clark’s Grebe, too far away to make an accurate call. Further to the left was another grebe swimming by itself. It had more of a squat appearance and smaller bill – an Earned Grebe.

Ladder-backed Woopecker

Outside of the Visitor Center we were treated to a Ladder-backed Woodpecker that landed nearby and stayed there long enough so everyone got good looks. The white barring on its back stood out against its black back.

It had been a delightful day of early fall birding.

(All of these locations are included in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico.)

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