Rosyfinch Ramblings
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December 2011
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Birding the Sandia Mountain foothills
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, NM & SW US, Sandia Crest, Birding "Patches", Wild Bird Wednesday
Posted by: Ken @ 2:09 pm

We followed our recent trip to our son’s family home in the Texas Panhandle with a short visit to Albuquerque, where our main objective was to see the rosy-finches at Sandia Crest.

There are many great birding spots in and around Albuquerque. Judy Liddell and Barbara Hussey described them beautifully in their recently released book, Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico (See my review here). We only had time to bird a few of them. The City of Albuquerque manages an impressively large number of dedicated Open Spaces.

On our first full day, driving from our lodging in Albuquerque to Sandia Crest House, we encountered rain and low clouds as we ascended the east side of mountain. Since we knew that the temperature at the tip was in the twenties (F). we turned around and birded Tres Pistolas (Three Gun) Canyon.

This unimproved Open Space is just off I-40 in the southern foothills of the Sandia Mountains. This photo illustrates the vagaries of mountain weather. Although the sky is blue here and the temperature is in the mid-forties, it is snowing atop the mountains just a few miles beyond.

Tres Pistolas 20111113

On the dirt road leading to Tres Pistolas, we encountered this Ladder-backed Woodpecker, busily foraging in a Cholla cactus.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker 2-20111114

We saw several Townsend’s Solitaires.

Townsends Solitaire 3-20111113

A feeder in the residential area next to Tres Pistolas was remarkably productive. Here, from left to right, a Pink-sided and a Gray-headed Junco, two subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco, share a meal with a male House Sparrow.

Pink-sided and Gray-headed Juncos 20111114

An Oregon Junco also visited the feeder.

Oregon Junco 20111114

A feisty Pine Siskin squabbled with a Gray-headed Junco as a White-crowned Sparrow looked on.

Siskin Junco and White-crown squabble 20111114

From there we drove down to the Rio Grande Nature Center, where I had been a volunteer docent for eleven years, leading bird and general nature hikes. We parked and immediately walked over to the blind at the east end of the parking lot. We saw several Hooded Mergansers.

Hooded Merganser 20111113

Inside the Interpretive Center, we were delighted to see our old friend, Sondra Williamson. Sondra was sitting on the couch in front of the big picture window that overlooks the pond, pointing out and identifying the ducks for visitors. A Ring-necked Duck and a Lesser Scaup provided an opportunity for her to compare their features.

Ring-necked Duck 20111113

Lesser Scaup 20111113

There were several pairs of American Wigeons…

American Wigeon 20111113

…and a spectacular male Wood Duck, roosting next to the pond before taking a swim.

Wood Duck 20111113

Wood Duck 2-20111113

A female Belted Kingfisher hunted from a perch on an island in the pond.

Belted Kingfisher female 20111113

A Pied-billed Grebe flapped in place.

Pied-billed NOT Red-necked Grebe  2 20111113

On our final full day, we again visited Sandia Crest, then explored the western foothills of the Sandia Mountains. Lomas Canyon Open Space provided a nice view of Albuquerque, but was not very birdy.

View of Albuquerque from Lomas Canyon 20111114

Embudito Canyon Open Space, not far away, offered a wonderful contrast. It was a bit greener than Lomas. There had been recent reports of a Golden-crowned Sparrow as well as Canyon Wrens.

Embudito Canyon 20111114

As we entered the gate at Embudito, we were greeted by at least a half dozen Black-throated Sparrows.

Black-throated Sparrow 3-20111114

Black-throated Sparrow 5-20111114

Western Scrub-Jays were common.

Western Scrub-Jay 20111114

Although they can be elusive, Canyon Towhees were abundant and out in the open.

Canyon Towhee 3-20111114

Curve-billed Thrashers sat atop the tallest Cholla branches.

Curve-billed Thrasher 4-20111114

A little White-tailed Antelope Squirrel eyed us anxiously.

White-tailed Antelope Squirrel 20111114

A Rock Wren scolded.

Rock Wren 2-20111114

Time was running out, as we had a dinner date with some old friends and neighbors. We found neither the Golden-crowned Sparrow nor the Cactus Wren, though we did see a fresh nest belonging to the latter.

Cactus Wren nest 20111114

Unexpectedly, a Rufous-crowned Sparrow made an appearance. We had great binocular views, but I did not get very good photos.

Rufous-crowned Sparrow 20111114

Rufous-crowned Sparrow 4-20111114