Spring Birding at Pena Blanca and Cochiti Lake

A couple of Turkey Vultures were drying their wings on the top of a large deciduous tree that had already leafed-out behind a farm that bordered on Arroyo Leyba Road in Pena Blanca, an area featured in Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico. “There are nine of them,” I told the group as the Central New Mexico Audubon field trip participants piled out of the cars.

We spent the next 20 minutes enjoying the variety of species along the acequia, including Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch and Brown Creeper. When I returned the following week to lead the Thursday Birders, none of these species were present. Instead, we watched Black Phoebes in courtship displays.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

We drove to the end of the road and parked, making sure not to block access to private property. A pair of American Kestrels were actively courting,

American Kestrel pair

American Kestrel pair

at one point harassing a Red-tailed Hawk that had strayed too close to the tree where they planned to nest. A trio of Great Blue Herons flew across the bosque. In the nearby fields on both trips were Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

and all along the road the melodic song of Western Meadowlarks filled the air.

On the Thursday Birder trip, I made an additional stop at the intersection of Acequia and Abrevadero Roads. As soon as we opened our car doors we were bombarded with the clucking chatter of Red-winged Blackbirds in the tree next to the road and across the street.

“A Yellow-headed Blackbird,” someone gestured into the nearby tree.

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

When the flock took off, we could see white wing patches on several others.

At the osprey platform on both trips we watched the pair nest-building.

Osprey - female waiting for nesting material from male

Osprey – female waiting for nesting material from male

The male, responsible for retrieving the sticks flew off, retrieved a stick and presented it to its mate. At one point the female must have been dissatisfied with the stick and didn’t want it in the nest. The male was gone and she kept hurtling herself into the air – stick in her talons – and circled over the nest area calling. When he didn’t return, she kept repeating the process.  We didn’t stay to see what finally transpired.

The recreation area at Cochiti Lake was crowded on the Saturday trip with families enjoying the warm spring day, so the birds on the lake were clustered along the far shore. On the Thursday trip, it was relatively quiet and birds on the water were closer, but still required a scope to get good views.

“Let’s see what kind of aechmophorus grebe that is,” Rebecca commented as she peered through her scope. “It’s a Clark’s,” she indicated, “I can clearly see the eye.”

Clark's Grebe - photo by Joe Schelling

Clark’s Grebe – photo by Joe Schelling

There were two other grebes, both Westerns.

Western Grebe

Western Grebe

We ate our lunch at picnic tables along the lake, grateful that the predicted wind had not yet appeared.

Visiting the Cochiti Lake area in early spring is always delightful – and these trips were no exception.

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