High Elevation Birds in the Jemez Mountains

The cool mountain air brushed against my face and invigorated me as I eased myself out of a fellow birder’s car in the Jemez Mountains. After a month’s hiatus while I was recovering from knee replacement surgery, I was excited to join the Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders.

As I was easing myself onto a comfortable chair on the Feltz’s deck, a Clark’s Nutcracker landed on the suet feeder. The length of the bill clearly identified it as a nutcracker rather than a Gray Jay.

Clark's Nutcracker - photo by Joe Schelling

Pine Siskins buzzed in the nearby trees and then flew in and mobbed the niger feeder. A couple of Steller’s Jays called back and forth and periodically flew in close to the feeders; however, they never stayed long.

“Look,” Terri exclaimed. A Broad-tailed Hummingbird was drinking where the water cascaded over the rocks at the edge of the pond. “It turns its head when it swallows.” The hummingbird then proceeded to take a bath in the mini-waterfall – something none of us had ever seen before.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - photo by Joe Schelling

We heard a rustle of wings as a Band-tailed Pigeon came in close. “They are very sensitive to sound and movement,” Lou explained. “They won’t come any closer with so many of us here. The slightest movement will scare them away.”

A Cordilleran Flycatcher called from a nearby tree, which Rebecca told us sounds like “we see.” After a few minutes it flew over to the pond where it preened for us after getting a drink.

A female Williamson’s Sapsucker foraged on the trunks of nearby conifers. While it was ‘handsome’ with its dark brown barred back, we also hoped we would have the opportunity to see the male, which is strikingly different.

A single Pygmy Nuthatch flew in, walked down a branch and then hopped onto the suet feeder. While they are often seen in small flocks or in mixed flocks with chickadees and other nuthatches, during breeding season they are in pair-units, sometimes with unmated male helpers.

Violet-green Swallows darted over the meadow.

A pair of Northern Flickers flew across the meadow that borders the woods next to the cabin. A Downy Woodpecker came into the suet feeder.

“There is a Red-naped Sapsucker in the conifer next to the aspens near the gate,” Rebecca signaled.

And then our fifth woodpecker of the day flew in – a Hairy. “Its breast doesn’t look as white as usual. I wonder if it is of the pacific northwest race that has a more grayish-white breast.” We quickly dubbed her ‘dirty harry.’ According to The Birds of North America Online, another possibility for its dingy coloration might be ash from the Arizona fires, since the “white marking of the Hairy Woodpecker is subject to discoloration due to soot from air pollution, natural fires…”

Most of the group left to explore the trails through the woods. While this was not possible with my walker, I was content to stay on the deck and watch the birds as they came into the feeders and the pond. I was joined by Jo and Gale.

We were not disappointed. No sooner had the others left than a pair of Red Crossbills flew in for a drink. It was wonderful to watch them from such close range and observe their unique crossed bill – which didn’t hinder their ability to get a drink.

Our next visitor was a male Black-headed Grosbeak.

“What is that bird on the end of the branch above the pond?” Jo asked. It was partially hidden by the foliage. What kept standing out was a chartreuse-colored bill against a grayish body. Finally it emerged and came down to the pond – a female Evening Grosbeak. In the open we could see the yellow wash at its neckline.

female Evening Grosbeak

While we had repeat visits from ‘dirty harry,’ Band-tailed Pigeons and the Clark’s Nutcracker, our biggest treat was a male Williamson’s Sapsucker that came to the pond to bathe and drink. Even though it didn’t stray much out of the protective shade, we could clearly see it yellow belly and red throat. Each time it dipped its head into the water it gave a call that sounded as if it was squealing with delight.

Williamson's Sapsucker

It was a wonderful morning with great birds and good friends. It was just what I needed to raise my spirits as I continue to recover.


3 thoughts on “High Elevation Birds in the Jemez Mountains

  1. Judy, It was great to have you back with the group and to have your report on a wonderful morning of birding. The photos you and Joe took are fantastic.

  2. Judy, it is so wonderful to hear that you are “back in the pack,” and I hope that each day will bring increased mobility. It sounds as if being “confined” to the porch was actually advantageous, as you had some great birds come to you. Just seeing the Williamson’s Sapsucker and the Evening Grosbeaks at such close range was such a treat!

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