Birding earlier in the week

This post will be brief as I’ve got to catch up!

Last Monday, I went in search of some birds west of the city. Sage Sparrows had been reported from Rinconada Cañon at Petroglyphs National Monument over the weekend and Chestnut-collared Longspurs and a Sprauge’s Pipit were seen on the mesa grasslands to the west. I also wanted to check some bodies of water to the north for migrating waterbirds like loons, mergansers, and scoters.

Rinconado Canyon was a nice hike. The first part of the trail goes along the basalt boulder slopes where hundreds of petroglyphs can be seen. I spent part of my time looking at the petroglyphs and the rest listening and looking for birds.

Obligatory bad photo of a Crissal Thrasher

I first found a Crissal Thrasher running from bush to bush and succeeding at hiding from me.

Bad picture of a Loggerhead Shrike

Further along, a Loggerhead Shrike (Bernalillo bird 158) caught my eye on the slopes as some Canyon Towhees flew nearby.

I noticed some birds flying overhead. Some were definitely Horned Larks, but a few looked similar to the Chestnut-collared Longspurs that Raymond had pointed out on the previous crane survey. Their calls were very similar and I felt much more confident about placing this species on my list (US and Canada bird 530, NM bird 222, Bernalillo bird 159). Many birds were flying around on top of the mesa and I hoped to find them when I drove up along Paseo del Volcan (that would be a cool address!).

By far the most abundant bird in the canyon was Rock Wren, and active little bird that often gives sharp calls while doing knee-bends. It tends to perch on rocks (not surprisingly) in an upright posture. Near the back end of the trail where it begins to head back to the parking lot through the middle of the scrubby semi-desert, I heard a different wren calling. It, too, did some knew bends, but its more chestnut upper plumage, clear white throat, and longer bill identified it as a Canyon Wren (Bernalillo bird 160)! These are neat little wrens which have a beautiful song.

On the walk back to my car, I startled a small covey of Scaled Quails and a flock of Western Meadowlarks. But I was happy to find the bird I came to see: Sage Sparrow (NM bird 223, Bernalillo bird 161).

Sage Sparrow. Honest.

Then, up on Paseo del Volcan, the wind was too strong to hear any birds calling overhead and none were flying around anyway. I did find some Horned Larks hanging on to the barbed wire fences and another Loggerhead Shrike.

Horned Larks

Volcanoes on the west mesa

Stopping at Tramway Wetlands, I found three Sandhill Cranes feeding peacefully until they noticed me and determined I was a major threat.

After a while, I found myself at Jemez Dam in Sandoval County on the Santa Ana Reservation. There was supposed to be a reservoir here, but the area was a low meandering river on Monday.

No lake

The whole view at the dam. Nice, but no lake and no birds!

I did see some new birds for Sandoval County: Dark-eyed Junco, Sandhill Crane, and Rock Wren. Does the lake ever fill up?

Gary, who recently moved from PA, and I went north into Sandoval County on Tuesday. Our plan was to check Cochiti Lake for loons and other waterbirds.

A brief stop along a farm road outside Peña Blanca turned into about an hour’s worth of good birding. I saw many new species for my Sandoval list:

  • Western Meadowlark
  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Song Sparrow
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • European Starling
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • American Crow
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Brewer’s Blackbird
  • Pine Siskin
  • American Kestrel
  • Northern Harrier
  • Savannah Sparrow
  • American Goldfinch
  • Black-billed Magpie (first seen by Gary far off near the Rio Grande bosque, but we saw a few much closer on the drive back to the main road)
  • Mountain Bluebird
  • Rock Pigeon
  • Western Bluebird
  • Downy Woodpecker

Cochiti Lake didn’t hold too many waterbirds and most of them were on the east side of the lake, closed to visitors during the winter. Despite that, we managed to find some good birds on the lake and on land with Gary’s superior scope. Here are the ones that were new for the county:

  • Western Grebe (hundreds of either Western or Clark’s grebes–we confirmed the identity of some of the closer birds)
  • Great-tailed Grackle
  • American Coot (hundreds along the far shore)
  • Ring-billed Gull (two in with the grebes)
  • Eared Grebe
  • Clark’s Grebe
  • Common Merganser
  • Bufflehead
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Redhead (this pair looked like Mallards in my scope!)
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Pinyon Jay (one lone bird flew by us at about 20 meters away, calling. Closest either Gary or I had been to one.)
  • Sharp-shinned Hawk

Many ducks hang out below the dam spillway where the Rio Grande flows again. This is on Native American land, and birding from the bridge is sometimes frowned upon. We stopped breifly, did not get out of the car and added American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal to the day’s list.

I forgot to mention that Gary and I saw several birds in his backyard when I picked him up in the morning, most exciting being Inca Doves. A female Ladder-backed Woodpecker visited the suet feeder a few times, and a few American Goldfinches became my 163rd species in Bernalillo County. (I must not have recorded this species before, either in the last month or so they’ve been back or last March).

Also, a late week visit to the Rio Grande Nature Center after birthday shopping for Melissa turned up a good-looking pair of Northern Pintails, also new for the county (164).

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