Monday, May 19, 2014

Turquoise Trail 5/12--Black Phoebe, Western Kingbird, Plumbeous Vireo, Cliff Swallow, MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD, Lesser Goldfinch

Devil's Throne
This was a combined sightseeing/birding trip and the Turquoise Trail, which winds south from Santa Fe, was our first real sightseeing jaunt. Turquoise is a big deal in New Mexico and towns along the way on Highway 14, especially our first stop, Cerillos, once processed large amounts of turquoise, though usually as an afterthought to copper and lead. I am not particularly interested in turquoise (in fact, next to jade, I find it the least appealing of the gemstones) but Shari is, so we stopped in the practically abandoned (not ghost) town so that she could visit a place that still mined, polished, and sold turquoise.

The town, such as it is, happily was loaded with birds. In the yard of the Visitor's Center (open 2 hours a day and not when we were there) there was a sculptural fountain from which Lesser Goldfinch were drinking.

A couple of Western Kingbirds perched on the fence around the yard.

Bird Photos: Shari Zirlin

And in front of us, atop a telephone wire, we saw a MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRD. It almost blended into the sky. I didn't realize until we got back to Santa Fe that Mountain Bluebird was a lifer for us.

The woman who ran the trading post/museum where Shari bought some white turquoise stones (sort of like a green ruby, I guess) told us that by the post office about 1/2 mile away there was a creek that had a lot of birds. She said that swallows nested under the bridge. We'd seen a lot of Barn Swallows on the way in, so that was what I was expecting. But they turned out to be Cliff Swallows, birds we hadn't seen since Port Clinton, Ohio, last year. Also, along the creek, we found a Black Phoebe, flicking its tail, just like its eastern cousin.

19 species
Turkey Vulture  1
Red-tailed Hawk  1
Eurasian Collared-Dove  3
Mourning Dove  1
Black Phoebe  1
Western Kingbird  2
Common Raven  2
Tree Swallow  1
Barn Swallow  15
Cliff Swallow  10
American Robin  2
Yellow Warbler  1
Spotted Towhee  1     Heard
White-crowned Sparrow  2
House Finch  5
Pine Siskin  1
Lesser Goldfinch  4
House Sparrow  10
Our next stop was 2 miles above sea level, Sandia Crest in the Cibola National Forest. The roads were good switchbacks so it didn't feel as if we were really climbing so high. The views, of course, were spectacular, and would have been more amazing had the skies been clearer and the wind calmer. Take in a view, get blown off your feet.


There is a nature trail at the peak, only about a 1/4 of mile, they say. However, about 1/2 of that 1/4 mile is steep staircase and trail along the side of a cliff. There probably weren't going to be a lot of birds on the side of a cliff, so we stuck to the the part of the trail that went through spruce and fir.

We found the Audubon subspecies of the Yellow-rumped Warbler, a beauty, and so different from the eastern, Myrtle version. In New Mexico, I found out, yumpers are high altitude breeders. I don't usually think of warblers as being on top of mountains. 

We made our way down the mountain, stopping at a few sites. At one place we heard a familiar song--it sounded like a Blue-headed Vireo but turned out to Plumbeous Vireo. Not surprising that they sound alike, since not long ago they, and two other now separate vireo species were all lumped together as Solitary Vireo. 

At the bottom of the mountain we went back to sightseeing mode, stopping at the truly crazy, bizarre and wonderful Tinkertown Museum. Hundreds, no thousands, of small figures carved into western or circus scenes by the founder who died tragically early. His family keeps the museum going (charging a ridiculously small entrance fee) in his honor. Some random photos of the museum:

And a video:

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