The morning sunlight sparked through the golden leaves of the cottonwood trees as the Central New Mexico Thursday Birders headed down the trail into the Perea Nature Trail just west of the turn-off to the Jemez Mountains.
“It’s never been very birdy there before,” trip leader, Rebecca, told the group before we headed out; “however, there is a ‘No Trespassing’ sign by the pond in Ponderosa and it is almost dried up. We might as well see what we can see. I had 11 species when I scouted it out a couple of weeks ago.”
The tinkly calls of White-crowned Sparrows greeted us almost immediately. We stood on the bridge over the riparian area to locate them. Two Spotted Towhees flew in and scolded each other with their mewing call. Some crows flew overhead.
More white-crowns and juncos flushed from the shrubs along the south edge of the preserve maintained by the BLM.
Rebecca heard a Song Sparrow calling. “I need to refresh myself on their non-breeding call,” I commented. “I have to do it each year.”
A little further along the trail a Mountain Chickadee called and then flew across the trail and started foraging in a juniper. It was followed by a 2nd one.We had heard two Northern Flickers calling back and forth across the preserve. As we came to a clearing, we could see one of them sitting in a bare tree.
A Canyon Towhee perched briefly in the lower limbs of a shrub, and then popped down in the grass.
As we headed up the other side of the preserve, a Common Raven called as it flew past.
Shortly after turning north on NM-4, we stopped to see if there was anything in the wetland ponds on the west side of the highway. Some Mallards rose out of the edge of the pond and flew off. Gary spotted a Black Phoebe.
“I am sure I saw a cormorant sitting on a branch near the pond,” Barb told us as we were driving off.
The road through Ponderosa produced Western Bluebirds juncos and a large flock of Starlings. We slowed down to peruse the area near the dried-up reservoir. An immature Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead and one of the cars saw a Townsend’s Solitaire.
Before heading into the Paliza Family Camp Ground, we checked out the bushes on either side of the creek running under the road. More juncos.
An eerie stillness enveloped the campground. Instead of the buzzing of Pygmy Nuthatches and tapping of woodpeckers, the only sound was the slight rustling of the pine needles and the crunch of our feet as we scouted the area.
“Let’s get our lunches and find some tables in the sun,” Rebecca suggested. “The last time we were here, a Clark’s Nutcracker flew in to check us out while we were eating.”
“We just need one great bird,” someone said. While we enjoyed each other’s company during lunch, no birds appeared.
As we were heading back to the cars, two Stellar’s Jays sailed in to check us out – finally!
Our car decided to stop back at the ponds near San Isidro – just in case the cormorant was still here. From the car, we scanned the edges of the wetlands, but the cormorant appeared to have left.
“There is a bird on the top of a bare shrub on this side of the pond,” Jean said. We decided to get out of the car and edge closer to get a better look. The bird was a puzzle.
Just then Rebecca and her car pulled up – also hoping to see the cormorant. “We’re trying to figure out what that bird is over there,” I gestured as I told Rebecca.
“Is it a female Yellow-headed Blackbird?” Barb ventured.
“Maybe we should scope it,” Rebecca suggested. We took turns looking at it through the scope, commenting on its rusty cap, the red tinges on the end of its wings, its steel gray rump and the dark line through the eye. Definitely not a Yellow-headed Blackbird.“I’m going to get a field guide,” Rebecca announced. She was flipping through the pages of her big Sibleys as she walked toward us. “Here it is,” she said. “I think it is a Rusty Blackbird.” Glancing from the bird to the field guide and back, there was no doubt.
Phil captured a photo of it before it finally flew down into the grass and disappeared.
The dearth of birds in Ponderosa quickly became unimportant as we savored our chance sighting of a rare bird in this part of New Mexico. All we needed was one great bird – and we certainly got it!