The area was alive with a variety of birds as 17 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders wandered along the dirt road that bordered the irrigation channel in Pena Blanca. Pairs of Eurasian Collared Doves and American Robins chased each other as if they were playing tag. White-crowned Sparrows called and sang from dried shrubs. Matt drew our attention to a Lincoln’s Sparrow in a tree across the channel.
“An American Kestrel shot out of the hole in that tree,” Gary pointed. It must be its nest hole. The kestrel only went as far as a nearby power line, before landing. It kept watching us and seemed to want to draw attention to itself, rather than the hole we were gazing at.
“I didn’t realize that they were cavity nesters,” I commented, but couldn’t recall ever having seen them sitting on a nest.
A Great-tailed Grackle called from a nearby tree. “What is that?” inquired Jennifer, a birder visiting from Wisconsin with her mother. I walked with her to the tree where it was perched so she could get a photo.
A Say’s Phoebe sat obligingly on a nearby fence post for a few moments, then dashed into the air to snag a butterfly.
We returned to our cars and slowly caravanned down Arroyo Leyba and along Acequia Rd. The rich melodic song of Western Meadowlarks filled the air as we drove. We stopped to take a look at a flock of gulls – both Ring-billed and Franklin’s in a flooded field. They didn’t stick around long – rising up, circling around the field and then heading south. Some of the cars caught a glimpse of a Wilson’s Snipe flying low across the front of the field as the gulls took flight.
Further along, a lone Western Bluebird sat on the top of a slender snag.
Back on NM-22, we stopped to admire the Osprey sitting on the platform along the highway. They must have been in the nest-building phase, since the osprey took off after a few minutes.
We drove slowly across the bridge. There was a Great Blue Heron standing watch north of the bridge. I caught a glimpse of a White-throated Swift as it swooped by. South of the bridge were Buffleheads, Lesser Scaups and Mallards. While other cars waited their turn to check out the area, some saw a Belted Kingfisher and a Black-billed Magpie in the bosque along the river.
Our next stop was at the Cochiti Lake Visitor Center. Two Common Ravens were nest-building on the platform around the tower. A Cassin’s Finch was singing its heart out in a piñon pine. “Notice how its song goes on and on,” trip leader Rebecca pointed out. The female was a short distance away.
At the lake, we spotted a Double-crested Cormorant perched on the opposite shore. A Pied-billed Grebe kept diving near where two mergansers swam along the edge of the lake near the dam. Some of us walked to the end of the parking lot to get a better scoped view and make an ID – Common Mergansers.
And then, for those who had missed the Franklin’s Gulls in the field, they made an appearance over the edge of the lake near where we were standing.
“There are 45 of them,” Rebecca pronounced. “I counted them for eBird.” A Ruddy Duck trailed behind them at the end of the line.
Nearby a Rock Wren called from the rocks. A few were looking when it popped into view.
Our next stop was at the Town of Cochiti where Lesser Goldfinches called from a tree next to the parking lot. We walked towards the arroyo, flushing White-crowned Sparrows. A couple of folks caught a glimpse of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the scrub.
“A flock of Evening Grosbeaks flew over the houses on the opposite side of the street,” Matt exclaimed.
Our last stop was at the Cochiti Golf Course. As we were getting out our picnic lunches, a Townsend’s Solitaire flew in to have a drink from the water feature.
And then, the Evening Grosbeaks flew in. Throughout our lunch they alternated between kibitzing in the nearby juniper, making forays to the pond, and flying to another tree and back again. It was a delightful way to end our birding trip!
(All of these locations are featured in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico.)