A stand of Showy Goldeneye and Cutleeaf Coneflowers clustered around the entrance to the service road leading down to the ‘Bird Log’ at the Capulin Picnic area, one of the featured sites in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico, on Labor Day Saturday.
There were a few cars in the parking lot – probably those who arrived early to reserve a picnic spot for a Labor Day picnic. There were no other cars in the spots where birders usually parked, and selfishly I hoped I would be able to enjoy the birds in solitude.
A muffler-less racing motorcycle emitted an irritating whine as it sped down the Crest Highway, and I could hear the sounds of other vehicles on the highway as I started walking down the blocked-off road. I focused on the tcheck of Yellow-rumped Warblers on either side of the path, and my mind began to settle down. By time I had walked about .25 mile, the sounds of traffic and laughter had faded away.
As I turned into the viewing area for the ‘Log,’ I stopped to watch a Green-tailed towhee bathe enthusiastically in the log’s puddle and then hop out and rest on the ledge of the Log – over and over. I stood still to watch it, not wanting any movement to spoil its pleasure.
When the old leaky log had been replaced late last summer,
some birders were worried that the birds would not take to its newly-hewn appearance. Clearly, there was nothing to fret about.
I settled on one of the flat stones that forms a retaining wall base for the fence around the spring’s pump.
Initially, the most prevalent visitors were Yellow-rumped Warblers in their muted non-breeding plumages. They were in, quickly drank or bathed, and quickly left.
Numerous Mountain Chickadees also visited while I was there.
A larger bird caught my eye – a juvenile or female Western Tanager appeared in the foliage nearest the Log, gradually hopping closer, until it deemed it safe to pop down for a drink.
A couple of Dark-eyed (gray-headed) Juncos came into drink and bathe.
After an hour, I left my viewing spot and wandered further down the path. While the foliage is still lush and green from the summer rains, the dried seed heads on the grasses, hinted at fall,
and the tops of many of the deciduous trees were starting to turn.
At the bottom of the loop, I was surprised to hear the question-answer song of a Plumbeous Vireo, since most birds stop singing and only use contact or alarm calls once the breeding season is over. The Plumbeous Vireo, I learned later, sings at all times of the year. I was finally able to locate the small, dark-gray bird with a stubby bill and prominent spectacles.
On my way back I stopped to watch a female Wilson’s Warbler, one of the most prevalent migrants right now.
Slowly I made my way back up the hill. As I neared the top, smoke from searing meat rose in plumes from the picnic grate nearest the path and I began to near the music of the car’s stereo system. Labor Day was now in full swing.
Most of the picnic spots appeared to be full of gatherings of friends and family enjoying the Sandia Mountains.
I was glad to have the opportunity to escape and enjoy nature in solitude on the cusp of fall.