Fall Migration at Cochiti Lake’s Tetilla Recreation Area

An accipiter careened above the Santa Fe River where it passes under Tetilla Peak Road as 21 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders crooked their necks to study it. I was the trip leader for the day and thought that perhaps the riparian vegetation along the water trickling in the river at this point might produce some birds.

“It’s a sharpie,” I reported. “Notice that its head barely sticks out in front of its wings.”

A pair of Northern (Red-shafted) Flickers played chase from one side of the road to the other and a pair of Common Ravens dove over the agricultural field. Other than that, it was quiet. Another Sharp-shinned Hawk dove into the trees nearby.

“No wonder it is quiet,” I laughed. “We might as well go now; we’re not going to see any more birds here.”

“Loggerhead Shrike,” I reported on the two-way radio. However, right after we drove past, it flew off and none of the other cars saw it.

We searched the fence line for migrating sparrows. When Barbara Hussey and I had scouted the area a few days earlier, we had seen migrating Vesper and White-crowned Sparrows.

The white tail feathers flashed as about six Western Meadowlarks dove off the fence and into the scrub. We all pulled over. While we could hear the meadowlarks calling softly to each other, they were difficult to spot in the dry grass. We watched a pair of Curve-billed Thrashers on a cholla cactus.

“Come and look at this thrasher,” Rebecca called. “See if it is a Sage.”

By time I got to her scope, it had hopped down and was walking in the grass. It flew up again, but we didn’t have a definitive ID. However, further along I spotted a Sage Thrasher sitting on top of a juniper. That was the type of bush that they seemed to have favored when I drove along this road a few days prior.

Sage Thrasher

A Yellow-rumped Warbler called as it bounced around in a nearby tree. Rebecca reported that her car had seen a Red-naped Sapsucker when it flew into the tree next to where they had parked.

We headed for the Overlook area when we arrived at the Tetilla Recreation Area, a featured site in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico. There was definitely less bird activity than there had been earlier in the week when we flushed a large flock of Scaled Quail and had a flock of 13 migrating Sage Thrashers.

The view down to the lake had hints of fall color.

A flock of about 9 Pinyon Jays flew in and landed in the top of a piñon pine where most folks were able to get a good look before they circled off again.

There were lots of House Finches. Our only other excitement was a Downy Woodpecker.

Downy Woodpecker

We headed down towards the boat ramp and then turned on the dirt road leading to the wind surfing area. “This area has a lot of mosquitoes,” I told the group. “If you don’t have repellent, I have some you can borrow.”

Two Song Sparrows flew from the willows next to the lake over to the woods, along with two Dark-eyed Juncos – identified from their white tail feathers.

Rebecca and I could hear two warblers chipping and identified one as a Wilson’s.

At the other end of the wind surfing area, two Spotted Towhees called from the shrubs. One flew out and the other one popped up on the end of a twig. I spotted a Ruby-crowned Kinglet hopping around in one of the cottonwood trees.

Our caravan proceeded to the picnic area with a floating dock. Gary pointed out a Western Grebe in a cove and before long we spotted two others in the middle of the lake.

Western Grebe

There was a large cover (group) of American Coots languishing on the far side of the cove. There were at least 130.

“Look,” someone said. “There are two Eared Grebes at the end of the coots.” Then Lou discovered that a gaggle of Eared Grebes were floating a short distance away. “I counted 13,” Rebecca stated.

Eared Grebe

A wren was scolding from the willows near the floating dock. By comparing calls, we decided it was a Marsh Wren.

“Look a gull,” someone called. It flew very close overhead allowing us to see the gray ‘scarf’ on the back of its head. Phil captured a good picture of it – clearly a Franklin’s Gull.

Later as we were eating our lunch, an Eared Grebe swam in close to the shore giving everyone good looks.

A flock of ducks flew overhead. As they turned, we could see their long necks and green speculums and determined they were female Northern Pintails.

After lunch we drove to the end of the road where we saw a Rock Wren fly in and land on a bolder next to the road – then bob in place.

The only new bird we spotted from the shore was a group of Northern Shovelers that flew in and landed.

“Be sure and look up on the hillside on the way out,” Bev told us. “There was an Osprey perched on a bare snag when we drove by. Luckily, it was still there when we left.


When we went over the checklist, we had 38 species for the day. Tetilla Recreation Area had lived up to its reputation of a great spot during fall migration.

5 thoughts on “Fall Migration at Cochiti Lake’s Tetilla Recreation Area

  1. Great that you guys are getting out to see the fall migrants. We haven’t seen Juncos yet here, north of Placitas village 3 miles, at 6,100 ft. elev. We have seen the Red-Naped Sapsucker just back for its first of season appearance two days ago. It is really attracted to our Globe Willow tree. I had to wrap cloth around the trunk to prevent the bird from girdling the bark with its forage pecking. The Robins arrived in a flock of a half dozen or so on the 15th of Sept. Our local year-’rounders, the Canyon Towhees, Thrashers, Scrub Jays, have been busy preparing for winter; and I dare say we have had a Wren, sounds like a Bewicks, most of the summer.
    Its great that you saw those wrens on your trip, that would have been the most exciting bird(s) for me!

  2. Judy, It was a wonderful trip. I’m so glad you suggested going to the east side of the lake. There was a nice variety of habitats there for birds.

  3. Another site to consider for fall migration: I’ve been visiting in Estancia, NM, for the past week, have been to the park in town almost every day. Arrived Sept. 29, leaving Oct. 6. Have seen: hundreds (seriously, hundreds) of yellow rump warblers, trees at the west end of the “lake”. Yellow warbler. Wilsons warbler. 5 or 6 other warblers I can’t identify. Juvenile Sora (east end of the lake in the reeds). Northern Flicker. Red Brested Nut Hatch. Don’t miss the little stream at the west side of the lake in the evenings, it’s very active with mostly yellow rumps, but others as well. Also this week, the usual suspects in Estancia: ravens, ducks, moorhen, sand hill cranes, hawks various, sparrows, vultures.

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