San Mateo Mountains: August 7-8, 2011

Taking a break from work, I headed to the San Mateo Mountains in west central NM. This is a spectacular range that rises steeply out of the surrounding desert grasslands west of the Rio Grande to over 10,000'. The highest point, Mt. Withington, is on an aspen, Douglas Fir covered ridge that supports a mix of Rocky Mt and Sierra Madrean Oak woodland species Arriving late afternoon, my first sighting was a male adult Peregrine Falcon at an historic site several hundred feet up a sheer rock wall. Among other prey, the Peregrine was no doubt dining on the nearby population of Band-tailed Pigeons. At the campsite mid way along the 10 mile long ridge, I heard and then saw a flock of about 15 Purple Martins-the largest group I had ever seen in NM. About a half hour past dark I imitated Spotted Owl and had a quick response from a juvenile that ended up coming in quite close. It soon figured out I was not mom or dad with food and quickly melted back into the forest. In the morning, I reached the Grassy Lookout early and a mixed species flock was actively on the sunlit, east side of the ridge. In quick succession I spotted Olive, Virginia's, Red-faced, Grace's, Black-throated Gray, Townsend's and Hermit Warblers, the latter being a scarce fall visitor in sw New Mexico. Once the flock moved on, I continued around the lookout tower point on foot and was quickly rewarded with a pair of Montezuma Quail scurrying up out of the grass. As their call is somewhat easy to imitate, I began whistling and immediately a female walked back within 10' of me. This seemed like a high sighting (9,700') of this icon of southwest pine/oak forests but I was thrilled to get such a long, close up view of a notoriously hard to see species. Descending the mountain later in the morning, I found another Hermit Warbler in a flock that also contained a migrating Olive-sided Flycatcher. Reluctantly, I departed from this tranquil, isolated wilderness to return to Santa Fe.

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