Thursday Birders explore area near Abiquiu and Rio Chama

“I hear a Pinyon Jay,” Rebecca reported as we were waiting for the rest of the Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birder group to assemble in the parking lot at the Abiquiu Visitor Center. We all gathered near the road to look for it. Pretty soon a single jay flapped across us to the other side of the Visitor Center.

“It’s a juvenile,” I stated. “The head wasn’t as dark and the breast was slightly streaky. I wonder if they had a second – or third brood, like the scrub jays in my neighborhood.”

We crossed the highway and drove down the zig-zagging road to the base of the dam and parked near the picnic area in the Rio Chama Recreation Area, one of the sites featured in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico.

“We’ll explore the area along the river and the hillside behind us,” I told the group.

A Belted Kingfisher skimmed low over the Chama River as it winged its way towards the dam. “It looks like male,” Michael observed.

A pair of Turkey Vultures tipped in the thermals over the multi-colored cliffs, including one section where the layers of rock were like Neapolitan ice cream.
Rio-Chama-Rec-Area-cliffs-8
All of a sudden the hillside got active as a trio of juvenile Blue Grosbeaks called and alternately perched briefly on the tops of shrubs before disappearing.

Blue Grosbeak juvenile

Blue Grosbeak juvenile

We started trying to identify some other birds, probably House Finches, when we were distracted by a Rock Wren that popped up on a lichen-covered boulder nearby.

Rock Wren - photo by Debbie Weissman

Rock Wren – photo by Debbie Weissman

Further along the river, we spotted Yellow and Orange-crowned Warblers.

A small flock of waterfowl flew up the river – “Common Mergansers,” Barbara called, identified by their long, slender bodies and large white wing patches.

We hated to leave, but needed to head to the Wild and Scenic River section of the Rio Chama, as described in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico.

While the grassland and Great Basin scrub habitat along Forest Road 151 has produced migrating sparrows at this time the past two years, it was very quiet as we drove along the dirt road and descended to the river.

We ate lunch along the river at the Big Eddy Take Out.
Chama-River-Big-Eddy-picnic
After lunch we continued caravanning along FR 151, stopping at the bridge where the Continental Divide Trail crosses the river.

Continental Divide Trail sign

Continental Divide Trail sign

A flock of twenty or more Violet-green Swallows swooped and darted back and forth over the river.

As we stood on the bridge, a Black Phoebe flew out to catch insects next to the river, then flew to a better perch on a rock in the currents.

The fields along the trail were covered with multi-colored wildflowers, and Lesser Goldfinches called from some nearby trees.

We were awed by the rock formations as we drove along the river.
Rio-Chama-Wild-and-Scenic-R
Our next stop was at one of the primitive camping areas, where Annamarie called us to see a Spotted Sandpiper wing its way along the river and into a cove where it remained out of sight.

Our final stop of the day was the Rio Chama Campground. Since it was mid-afternoon, several cars left at this point to begin the long drive back to Albuquerque. The rest of us canvassed the area. Michael and Debbie found a Plumbeous Vireo and Juniper Titmouse. In a grove of trees that hummed with the sound of unseen bees, some of the group located a White-breasted Nuthatch and a bright Wilson’s Warbler.

“Keep a look out as you return,” I suggested. “On one trip that Barbara and I made here, we saw completely different birds on our drive out.”

Our car stopped to watch a Western Bluebirds that one person claimed was ‘watching us.’

As we headed up out of Big Eddy, we paused to admire a Common Raven perched on top of the roadside cliff. The breeze flew its throat feathers exposing the gray skin.

Common Raven

Common Raven

Our final species of the day was Mountain Bluebirds that we stopped to watch along the fence line across from the Ghost Ranch property.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

It had been a delightful day of wonderful scenery and 33 species of birds. Most of the Thursday Birders had never visited those stretches of the Rio Chama and were glad to have learned about a new place to bird.

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