UPPER PECOS RIVER WATERSHED Aug 12, 2014
With breeding season over and birdsong at a minimum, August birding presents some new challenges. With a group of Chicago birders in tow, I decided to survey the largest cross section of habitats possible in a day near Santa Fe. Starting in desert habitat at the edge of the Galisteo Basin we found some species typical of the area including Curve-billed Thrasher, Scaled Quail, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Heading east over Glorieta pass we visited a private ranch on the Pecos River. In pinyon/juniper habitat we found Gray Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and what turned out to be the last Ash-throated Flycatchers of the summer. Along the river itself there were still lingering breeders such as Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Cordilleran Flycatcher. An added piece of excitement was a close encounter with a Prairie Rattlesnake near the trail that was stalking a young chat in a nearby bush. All we could do was admire the snake and wish the chat well. Moving to higher elevation, we paused in a meadow that had scattered pines to enjoy some Western Bluebirds. I spotted a flying bird with quite a bit of white in the wing which turned out to be an adult male Williamson's Sapsucker. As the species departs northern New Mexico in winter, I suspected it was a migrant moving out of the mountains. Arriving in Dalton Canyon, we were able to locate other southern Rocky Mt specialties such as Grace's, Virginia's, and MacGillivray's Warblers. Heading further up the Pecos canyon, we enjoyed the myriad of hummingbirds at the Terrero Store including an adult male Calliope. Our last stop at the start of the Elk Mt road gave us some additional Ponderosa Pine zone birds such as Pygmy Nuthatch and Red-naped Sapsucker. Just before heading home I followed a woodpecker tapping sound and located what I thought to be a female Hairy Woodpecker. But the youngest birder in our group noticed some different field marks. Sure enough, upon closer examination, the two woodpeckers in question turned out to be first year male Three-toed. A great find to end the day and a useful lesson to stick with an observation until all other possibilities are exhausted. It's a good thing that the learning never ends.