Back in the Mountains After a Month’s Closure

“When I scouted earlier in the week,” trip leader Gale shared with ten Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders at Sandia Crest, one of the sites featured in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico, “I found the usual high mountain suspects. I also caught a glimpse of a three-toed along the trail to Kiwanis Meadow. I hope we will have a chance to see it today, but I can’t promise.”

A Broad-tailed Hummingbird buzzed us as she talked. The cool air at 10,600 feet was a cool respite from the heat Albuquerque had been experiencing the past few days.

We had parked in the lot level with the nature trail along the rim. “We’ll walk along the top for a while, and then head to the lower level,” Gale explained.

While the rest walked along the rim, Rebecca drove me to the lower level since the descent would be difficult for me.

As we got out of the car, we heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch calling from nearby.

“I’ll use this opportunity to examine some butterflies,” Rebecca said as she focused on a dancing orange fritillary while I began scouting the trees for birds.

A Hermit Thrush hopped silently onto a nearby boulder. With closure of the national forest for a month, we had missed much of its singing. It is always glorious to drive up the Crest Highway with the windows open and hear the melodic song of the Hermit Thrushes and White-breasted Nuthatches wafting out of the woods.

“Our highlight was an Orange-crowned Warbler,” someone said when the rest of the group joined us.

As we picked our way down the rocky road towards Kiwanis Meadow, we stopped to watch and listen to a mixed flock of Pine Siskins, Yellow-rumped Warblers and Mountain Chickadees.

“Brown Creeper,” someone announced. Its decurved bill gave it a jaunty appearance as it inched its way up a trunk, and then flew down and over to another tree – and started over again.

Recently cut beetle-infested trees lay in jumbles in either side of the trail – part of the forest services clearing efforts.

We next stopped to watch a flock of Red-breasted Nuthatches. They seemed to be flying in and out of a tree cavity. We wondered if it held a nest, although many of the nuthatches appeared to be juveniles.

We all froze at once at the sound of a woodpecker tapping in the woods. It appeared more subtle than the nail-pounding drumming sound of a Hairy Woodpecker – and we were hopeful.

It came from the uphill side of the trail and we started scouring the woods. “There it is,” Leah announced softly, and we all gathered where she was standing. Even though it was about 20 feet away, we could see it scrounging on the trunk of a conifer, before it worked its way around to the back, and then flew off.

“I can see the barring on its side,” Lefty said before it flew. There was no yellow spot on its crown, so it must have been a female.

Since the trail appeared to be more rocky and uneven ahead, I told the group I was going to sit on a rock while they walked on ahead.

American Three-toed Woodpecker - Photo by Bonnie Long

Within a few minutes, Bonnie, Sylvia and Mary Lou walked up. As I was regaling them with the woodpecker sighting, Mary Lou pointed to the woods. It was tapping again nearby. They walked up the embankment and into the woods. When they returned, they told me they had seen both the female and the male. Bonnie promised to send me some pictures.

While I waited, I heard the raspy buzz of a House Wren as it popped into view. An American Robin glided in.

As I began to walk back towards the car, Rebecca joined me. When we were almost back to the car, we stopped to watch a flock of Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) Juncos.

When the rest of the group arrived back at the trailhead, they were treated to an immature Cooper’s Hawk that flew in right next to where we had been parked. And, then it took off.

Cooper's Hawk - Photo by Bonnie Long

Even though we experienced several days of torrential rains in the past week, the effects of the drought were still apparent – such as in the dry grass mixed with sprigs of new growth behind the hawk. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to be able to visit the mountains again and enjoy the high elevation birds.


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