Took a morning flight from Heathrow to Atlanta and the onward connection to Albuquerque in New Mexico. After picking up the rental car it only took us 15 minutes to arrive at a wonderful hotel in the historic old town of the city. The first of many fine meals followed at a charming ‘wild west’ style restaurant nearby and as we walked back to the hotel realised that there was a distinct chill in the air – well we are at 1,619m (5,312 feet)…!
The following morning in the Hacienda gardens we saw an Audubon’s Warbler (a recent 2-way split from Yellow-rumped Warbler) and a flyover Eastern Bluebird, before driving to the Rio Grande Nature Centre about 10 minutes away. This lovely little reserve proved to be a great place to start our birding in New Mexico, as along the trail to the lake we found Downy Woodpecker, both Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Oregon & Pink-sided Juncos, White-crowned Sparrow, Spotted Towhee and White-breasted Nuthatch. Out on the lake were numerous Wood Ducks, Ring-necked Duck, Gadwall, Mallard, a cracking little female Bufflehead, American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe and a Belted Kingfisher.
|Rio Grande Nature Centre|
|Wood Ducks were common|
We then took the River Loop Trail, where we saw Northern Flicker, House Finch and out on the Rio Grande River were a pair of California Gulls, 3 Killdeers, 3 Sandhill Cranes and a flock of Horned Larks. Returning to the lake beside the Visitor Centre we spent a little while scanning through the waterfowl which had now been joined by lots of Canada Geese. Across the parking lot is Candelaria Lake and I was very pleased to finally nail Cackling Goose. Also here was Green-winged Teal, a few American WIgeon, American Kestrel, Say’s Phoebe and a confiding Bewick’s Wren. So by now it was almost 11am and we decided that with the forecasted snow for Sunday potentially affecting our plans to head up into the mountains, we would drive up to Sandia Crest now. On the road out we stopped to admire a large flock of some 25+ Bushtits.
The drive up to the turn off into the Sandia Mountains only took half an hour and we headed the 13 miles along the winding road to the parking area at the top, which is at an elevation of around 10,263 feet. Once here we wasted no time in entering the famous Sandia Crest House and scanning for rosy-finches.
|Recent snowfall in the Sandia Mountains|
Despite the area being shrouded in low cloud and a thick frost on the pine trees we could watch Grey-headed Juncos and Steller’s Jays from the heated restaurant and shop complex. But we didn’t have to wait long before a group of Black Rosy-Finches flew to the feeder on the veranda just 10 feet away from us.
|At least 8 Black Rosy-Finches appeared at the feeders.|
All of a sudden the frozen fingertips were forgotten as 8 of these beautiful gems totally enthralled us. So when they had flown away a hot cup of coffee was called for before venturing outside again and around the car park were many Red-breasted Nuthatches and Mountain Chickadees to keep us entertained. A flock of Red Crossbills flew in and landed nearby and on closer inspection there was also a Pine Siskin accompanying them.
Driving back down the mountain we found a Hairy Woodpecker, a huge congregation of several hundred American Robins and our first Townsend’s Solitaire. And that was our mountain birding done for the day as we headed north to Santa Fe along a quiet ‘back’ road. Flocks of Western Bluebirds adorned the telegraph wires as we drove through rolling hills until we couldn’t take it any longer and frustration got the better of us and we pulled over at the basically the first safe bit of parking space we came to. What a superb decision this was as no sooner had we stepped out of the car than another American Robin appeared, but right next to it was a female Cassin’s Finch. A lifer for yours truly and I took my time studying the bird – not wanting to make an error in identification.
|Female Cassin's Finch with an American Robin|
I needn’t had worried as there were several others present, and at least one male bird to clinch things. As if things couldn’t get any better, a Canyon Towhee appeared and shortly after a pair of Sage Thrashers showed nicely. A close Townsend’s Solitaire was pretty cool as well! So that was it and with the light fading at 4.30pm we drove just under an hour to Santa Fe and our base for the next two nights.