| Birding in the Sandia
East of Albuquerque, NM
CLICK ON PICTURE FOR LARGE PANORAMIC VIEW
FROM CREST HOUSE THAT WILL SCROLL ITSELF IN YOUR BROWSER!
panoramic view from the deck of the Crest house with Canon A40 in
stitch mode, March, 2003. Ken
HIGHLIGHTS:CLICK HERE TO
Beloved Local Teen Birder Killed in Auto Accident-- VIEW TRIBUTES IN
GUIDED BIRD WALKS Every Tuesday Morning MAY through OCTOBER
AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER RETURNS TO
SPRING AND SUMMER
Species seen on Morning Bird Walks at three locations in the Sandias
Bird Walk and
Rosy-Finch programs gain US Forest
Service National "Eyes on Wildlife"
viewing site award (Full Text)
We have moved from New Mexico--
The Rosy-Finch Project has NEW COORDINATORS!
Williamson's Sapsucker in Cedar Crest back yard November 2, 2003
Piratic Flycatcher at
Bosque Redondo, NM
Tres Pistolas Open Space/Sandia Hawk Watch Area in Tijeras Canyon
Read Central NM Audubon
newsletter THE BURROWING OWL for
current news about field trips and other birding events
Picture of "THE LOG" AT CAPULIN SPRING and some of
its spring avian visitors
Proposed construction around "THE LOG"
at Capulin Spring
Birders and Central New Mexico Audubon FIELD TRIPS
Link to National Forest Fire Closure
of Blue Grosbeak, Black-throated Gray Warbler and More...
target species and directions to birding spots in the Sandias and
nearby New Mexico (e.g., "pygmy-owl" or "Capulin Spring"):
KEN AND MARY LOU TO
ADD OR LINK YOUR FAVORITE
SANDIA BIRDING LOCATIONS TO
THE LOG AT CAPULIN SPRING-- A
GREAT PLACE TO SIT AND WATCH MONTANE BIRDS
CLICK ON THE PICTURE FOR A
VIEW OF "THE LOG" AND SOME OF THE BIRDS SEEN THERE ON MAY 9, 2003
As we drive to
Sandia Crest from our home at 7000 ft.
elevation in the Piņon-Oak-Juniper woodlands , we pass through
the Ponderosa belt (7500-8000 ft.) into the mixed conifer forest
at about 8000-9500, then into the fir-spruce forest at the top. This
provides a great variety of habitats for wildlife. The area suffered
some wind damage and there are plans to make the viewing area more
"birder friendly." For updated information, link to Ken's Blog and comments here.
One of our favorite stops on the way to Sandia Crest is the Capulin
Spring Picnic Area in the Cibola National Forest in eastern Bernalillo
County, which is east of Albuquerque. A spring has been a
constant supplier of fresh water to a hollowed out log that serves as a
watering trough and a bird bath. The best times of the year to
visit the log are during spring and fall migration, but it can be
productive any summer day as well. We try to get there early in
the morning, but it is usually reliable any time of day. Since it
the only source of water in a wide area of a mixed conifer forest at
about 8900 ft. elevation, it can attract almost any creature that calls
the forest its home.
A slight bluff overlooks the log, permitting great views of its long
axis from about 20 - 30 feet away. We bring folding chairs and
sit very quietly. We have been rewarded with views not only of
birds, but also deer, squirrels, chipmunks, weasels, and even a bear.
For those with limited mobility, there is a parking space level
with the viewing area, only about 20 steps away.
Our list of birds seen at the log is quite long. In addition to
the permanent residents such as Steller's Jay, Red-breasted
Nuthatch, Pine Siskin, Dark-eyed (Gray-headed) Junco, Red-naped
Sapsucker, Brown Creeper and Hermit Thrush, highlights
include wintering Cassin's Finch, often with Clark's
Nutcracker, Townsend's Solitaire, Red Crossbill, and Evening Grosbeak.
Usual summer residents are Warbling Vireo, Western Tanager,
Band-tailed Pigeon, Black-throated Gray, MacGillivray's, Virginia's and
Grace's Warbler, and Green-tailed Towhee. Some summers find
the Evening Grosbeak, Cassin's Finch and Red Crossbill
staying on to breed. The Dusky Flycatcher arrives in early
June and most years may be found in the extensive groves of small New
Mexico Locust at the far (north) end of the Snow Play parking area just
above the Spring (Enter the Snow Play Area by way of the gate which is
closed to automobiles in summer, and walk directly, all the way in).
There is also a path that continues north, and the Duskies may be
found less than a hundred yards into that grove of New Mexico
Locusts). Just after sunset in June and July, Northern
Pygmy-owl, Flammulated Owl, and sometimes Saw-whet Owl and Common
Poor-will may be heard nearby.
Van Sutherland took some photos of a Dark-eyed
Junco that visited "The Log" during late May and
early June 2003, a time when normally only the local resident
Gray-headed race is present. This bird has plumage
characteristics of both Gray-headed race (strong rufous saddle on back,
dark mask) and Pink-sided (brown on sides of breast), yet also has
strong brown coloration extending into the flight feathers. To
see Van's two photos CLICK HERE
The Capulin Spring Picnic Area is on NM 536 (the road to Sandia Crest)
about 8 miles west of its junction with NM 14; the latter is about 6.5
miles north of I-40, exit 175, which is about 12 miles east of
Albuquerque city limits. This area is closed during the winter.
FROM ALBUQUERQUE: Take I-40 East to Exit 175 (Cedar
Crest/ NM 14). Exit 175 is about 20 miles East of the I-25 / I-40
intersection. Exit right from I-40 but bear to the left and then
pass under I-40 to the north, following NM-14. Follow NM-14
signs North past Cedar Crest, total of about 6.5 miles, to NM 536 West,
also known as the Crest Road or the road to the Sandia Ski Area.
There is a gas station on the right side of the street just before
the Left turn. Take NM-536 about 8 miles up to the Capulin Spring
Picnic area, park and walk down the narrow paved road
about 1/2 mile to the loop at the end. Walk up to the little hill
overlooks the log and spring.
CONSTRUCTION INVOLVING THE CAPULIN SPRING "BIRD LOG" AND ADJACENT SNOW
The US Forest Service
proposed alternative plans and a
comprehensive environmental assessment for construction around the
Capulin Spring "Bird Log" in Cibola National Forest. Three alternatives
were considered. Both Alternatives #1 and #2 would relocate the
main entrance to the
Spring and Snowplay area in the interest of highway safety. Both would
replace the deteriorating log with a new one from a local tree. Both
alternatives #1 and 2 would also improve the bird observation area
above the spring by removing the picnic table and fire pit, replacing
them with benches for comfortable and ideal observation of the log and
Alternative #1 would improve
the roadways and parking/ picnic/
gathering facilities, but also attract many more visitors to this
Alternative #2 would close the
entire roadway below the one-way road
gate to vehicular traffic. Alternative #3 is actually to do nothing.
The proposals and detailed
maps are available at: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/cibola/projects/nepa_reports.shtml
Alternative #1 would have
offered great improvements in access for the general
public and the handicapped, while #2 provides less disturbance for
birds and birders, yet would pose a problem accessing the log viewing
area for those with limited mobility. Both would replace the log with a
new one and improve the bird viewing area.
We have learned that the USFS has chosen Alternative #2, and that funds
are likely to be made available for the project to proceed.
A decision that should be welcomed by birders, despite some temporary
inconvenience, was announced by the Sandia Ranger
District of the Cibola National Forest.
Improvements will be made to the Capulin Springs Picnic Area, site of
the “Bird Log” that attracts many photographers and
birders. The Capulin access road intersection with Highway 536 will be
reconfigured and relocated about 250 feet to the south in the interest
of traffic safety, as it also serves the Snowplay area and is heavily
used during the winter. Of interest to birders, the one-lane side road
that ends at the loop where “The Log” is located will be
permanently closed to public vehicles at the existing seasonal gate.
Six parking spaces would be constructed above the gate, making the one
lane road available for walk-in traffic by the public. The road would
be left for administrative uses only. The existing deteriorating log at
Capulin Spring would be replaced with a natural log cut from a dead
tree in the local area.
According to the decision paper, the majority of the sites northeast of
the gate would be removed and the sites replanted. There would be five
tables which would be placed east of the gate near the lower bathroom.
Pedestal grills would be installed near the five picnic tables. The
table at the end of the existing loop will be replaced. The
cinder-block toilet near the gate will be demolished and the existing
toilet towards the end of the one lane road be replaced.
The USFS Decision Letter and findings that this Alternative will have
no significant environmental impact may be viewed at this link:
See some comments in the ROSYFINCH
RAMBLINGS Blog at http://blog.rosyfinch.com/?p=83#respond
Thank you all for your valuable input.
the snow has vanished, we hurry to visit
Cienega Picnic area, located at about the 1.8 mile mark of the Crest
Road (NM-536). One of the marvels of living in a mountainous area
is seeing how the flora and fauna can change with altitude. While
Sandia Crest still seems to be sleeping under a blanket of snow, early
spring brings hordes of wildflowers and butterflies to Cienega and the
associated Doc Long Picnic area/Bill Spring Trail. A good spot for
summer resident Virginia's Warbler, Grace's
Warbler, Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager and Plumbeous Vireo
is the "trash trail," identified as #190, that is accessed by parking
at the "T" where the south bound Cienega Picnic Area entry road meets a
paved road that is blocked to the left (east). Walk down the paved road
past the barriers to the end of the pavement, then bear right and
eventually you will have turned 180 degrees and find yourself in a
small open valley that leads back up the main mountain into Armijo
Canyon (Trail #222). We once found the nest of a Plumbeous Vireo
in a juniper just at the end of the paved road.
We usually drive all the way in to the western end of the Cienega road,
to the parking lot at the Faulty Trailhead. In most years, a
spring feeds a small stream and dampens a meadow just to the
east. This is one of the better places to see Grace's Warbler.
Although we have not been able to find their nests, we have seen
them gathering nest material under the Ponderosa Pines just south of
the parking lot. Cordilleran Flycatcher, Warbling and Plumbeous
also numerous in this area. West of the parking area there are
aspens in which we often see Red-naped Sapsucker and
Ponderosas that may harbor Pygmy Nuthatch the year round.
A short walk just east and north
of the parking lot brings you to a Group Picnic Area (open to vehicles
only by reservation). A handicap accessible Nature Trail winds
from this picnic area
and along the stream and meadow, to and from a public parking
area further to the east. We have
seen Blue Grosbeak and Lesser Goldfinch during early
summer in the deciduous trees and shrubs that line the road along the
open grassy area. Cienega
and Doc Long Description and Map from Albuquerque Journal Outdoors
DIRECTIONS TO SANDIA CREST;
Do not confuse the base of the
Sandia Peak Ski Area, at the 7
mile mark, with Sandia Crest, at 13.5
miles, the very top. There are no Rosy-Finch feeders at the Ski Area!
The Tram from Albuquerque goes to the Peak, which is a mile south
of the Crest. The 1.5 mile trail connecting the Peak and Crest
should not be attempted by casual hikers, especially in
Take I-40 East out of Albuquerque to Exit 175 (Cedar Crest/ NM 14).
Exit 175 is about 20 miles East of the I-25 / I-40 intersection.
Exit right from I-40 but bear to the left and then (at the traffic
light) pass under I-40 to the north, following NM-14
Take I-40 West from the Texas Panhandle to Exit 175 (Cedar Crest/ NM
14). Exit right from I-40, and turn right on NM-14
Follow NM-14 signs north past Cedar Crest, total of about 6.0 miles, to
NM 536 westbound, also known as the Crest Road or the road to the
Sandia Ski Area. There is a gasoline station on the right side of
the street just before the left turn.
Take NM-536 all the way to the top, about 13.5 miles (10,678 feet
elevation). Look for Clark's Nutcrackers and Northern Pygmy-owl at the
ski lift area, and
Cassin's Finches and Pine Grosbeaks all along the higher reaches of the
The road to Sandia Crest, which is fully paved, is usually well
maintained (plowed and heavily sanded). Because of the ski area,
it is essential for the Forest Service to keep it open to the ski
lifts, which are about 2/3 of the way up the 13 miles to the
top. Sometimes after a particularly big snowfall, or if there is
a lot of blowing snow, there can be drifts and early morning ice in the
upper reaches. Be particularly careful at curves and at stretches
of road that are in the shade. We have never had trouble in our 4WD
Nissan Pathfinder, and a front wheel drive sedan should be able
to make it even without chains if the road is sanded and there are no
drifts. If you arrive after a snowfall, call the Sandia Ranger
District (281-3304) and ask about road conditions. The
State Highway Department Web page provides information about road
conditions. Note the date and time of the advisory as it may
be out of date, or call Road
sure to check the weather and not attempt the drive up the mountain in
heavy snow or immediately after a snowfall. Sandia Crest House Gift
Shop and Restaurant opens at 9:30 AM, so call Crest House
(505-243-0605) during business hours if you are wondering whether the road is open. Crest House will not open if sufficient staff cannot report for duty.
Be alert for rosy-finches on the way up, at
the Ellis and 10K Trail heads. We also like to first check for
rosy-finches from the lower Crest
parking lot, just before the the very top. They often roost in the trees around the parking lot, and can be
observed if you use your car as a blind. The lower feeders near
the parking lot have been removed. Then, drive up
to the the parking lot at the very top, and enter the Crest House where
you can view the deck feeder through the windows or from the patio.
There is a $3.00 parking fee (fee is waived for holders of Golden Eagle, Golden
Age and Golden Access Passports) which
is retained locally by the Forest Service to maintain and improve the
picnic areas and other facilities.
Handicapped Access; Health and Safety Considerations:
The Crest House has designated handicapped parking in the
upper lot, but snow and gravel may obscure the stripes and markings.
The walk to the entrance is paved but at a moderate uphill grade.
It can be slippery. If your mobility is impaired, use the
right (west, or restaurant)
entrance, which has no steps. There is a powered wheelchair lift
that accommodates a wheelchair and an attendant, providing access to
the main floor and Rosy-Finch viewing area
below. Because of the very high
high altitude (each breath at
10,678 feet delivers one third less oxygen
than at sea level), it is safer to acclimatize by spending at least one
night at 5000 to 7000 feet, and making several short trips rather than
venturing up for a long period of time. Even if you are in
health you should avoid over-exertion and drink plenty of fluids, and
retreat to a lower elevation if you suffer symptoms such as
headache, weakness, nausea, or dizziness. If you
have heart or circulatory problems you should consult your
physician. Click Here
about Altitude Sickness.
At Cienega Canyon Picnic area there is designated parking at the Nature
Trail head. The trail is paved and wheelchair accessible for
nearly 1/2 mile as it loops to the west into the Group Picnic Area,
crossing the small stream and following it
through the riparian area. Braille signage and interpretive
plaques that were vandalized have been repaired..
All developed Picnic areas have handicapped spaces in the parking lots
and usually have one or two tables that are more accessible. Doc
Long, Capulin Spring and Nine Mile Picnic areas have parking places
amid the trees (Ponderosas at Doc
Long and mixed conifers at Nine Mile). There are plans to further
improve access to "The Bird Log"
at Capulin Spring (see Blog
entry and comments about it here). The trail at Balsam Glade,
while not paved, is quite clear and level. It is possible to
bird effectively from your vehicle in the parking lots and along the
Crest Road, but do not stop in the roadway and especially not on
curves. Use pullouts or the shoulder where
Be patient. The Rosy-Finches seem to come and go about every
30-60 minutes, in compact flocks. Once the juncos start feeding,
it is a good omen (though the Rosies will not alight on the feeder if
Steller's Jay is present). While there, be sure to
pick up some souvenirs and have a hot beverage-- and let the staff know
that the Rosy-Finches brought you there!
A GUIDE TO THE CREST ROAD, MILE BY MILE
Stops Along the Sandia Crest National Scenic Byway (NM 536)
Some may find this guide useful in reporting
sightings along the Crest Road, more properly called the Sandia
Crest National Scenic Byway (NM 536). There are mileposts
most of the way, starting at NM 14, where NM 536 originates, up to
Sandia Crest. Elevation gain is 3,828 feet, and you may
experience a drop in temperature of as much as 20 degrees, depending
upon cloud cover and climate conditions (average about 11 degrees). Be
sure to bring an extra layer of clothing at any time of year, a hat and
sunscreen. Every 1000 feet is the equivalent of traveling 300 to
600 miles northward-- like driving to Hudson Bay, Canada in a half
Start birding the first mile (6,850'), where Scrub Jay,
Townsend’s Solitaire, Western Bluebird, Spotted and Canyon
Bushtit, Mountain Chickadee and Juniper Titmouse may be found in
roadside pastures, door yards, and in the piņon-juniper
woodland. In summer, look for Black-headed and Blue Grosbeak,
and Ash-throated Flycatchers. Curve-billed Thrasher and Cedar
Waxwing have been seen in Pyracanthas at the edge of the
Triangle Grocery Store parking lot.
mile— The Sandia Park Pond appears on the left
(south) side of the road. Drought reduced it to a puddle, and it
was deepened and provided with new rubber liner late in 2002.
Unfortunately, the muddy shoreline that formerly attracted sandpipers
has been replaced by cobbles set all along the perimeter. It will
probably be sterile for a few years. It is still worth scanning
any open water for resting puddle ducks (Mallard, Cinnamon
Teal, Green-winged Teal and Ring-necked Duck at times). Ladder-backed
Woodpecker and Red-naped Sapsucker may be seen in the
Lombardy Poplar trees that border the pond. During breeding
and Blue Grosbeak, Western Tanager and Lesser Goldfinch may be
seen. In August, 2005 a Brown
Pelican made its appearance here.
1.6 mile— Enter Cibola National Forest (7,130'),
Pines and Gambel Oaks predominate.
mile— On the left is the entrance to Cienega (CLICK for more detailed
description) and Sulphur Canyon Picnic Areas
Interior roads are closed most of the winter, but the parking area here
and at Doc Long Picnic Area (2.0 miles) should be explored for Steller's
Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy, Red-breasted and White-breasted
Nuthatch, Pine Siskin and Red Crossbill (most years), and Grace's
Warbler in spring and summer. Sharp-shinned Hawk and
(rarely) Northern Goshawk have been seen in the woods adjacent
to the parking areas and along the short trail that connects the Doc
Long with Sulphur Canyon Picnic Area. Red-naped
Sapsucker nests here and may be found
any time of year. During Spring and Summer, Cienega Canyon Picnic
Area is great for Western Tanager, Plumbeous Vireo,
Warbling Vireo, Virginia's and Grace's Warblers, Black-headed and Blue
Grosbeak, and Cordilleran Flycatcher. Sometimes
Olive-sided Flycatcher is seen in the tall snags. Of geologic
interest, just between Cienega and Doc Long, is the "Great
Unconformity," where limestone deposited at the bottom of an
ocean 300 million years ago lies directly on top of granite that
is 1.3 billion years old-- a gap that represents over a billion years
of missing geologic history!
3.0 mile— Look for Northern Pygmy-owl along the
from here onward. To the left, on the drier slope beneath the
road, you may find Green-tailed Towhee during breeding season.
They often sing in the shrubs along the side of the road.
There are several pull-outs on the outside edge of the road--
plan to stop there more safely on the way back down and look/listen for
the towhees. During winter, this is also a pretty reliable place
for Townsend's Solitaire.
3.3 mile— Old hollow tree up on the right, with many
south facing woodpecker holes. Check it out for owls. Do
not expect either the Northern Pygmy-owl or the Northern
Saw-whet Owl to pose in their doorways, however. Western
Bluebird may also use these holes. Violet-green Swallow
also utilizes the woodpecker holes any where from here
to the top of the drive.
4.1 mile— Tejano Canyon overlook (7,800-8,280')
of the valley below. Resident Red-tailed Hawk and other
wandering raptors may be seen, especially as migration season
begins. White-throated Swift become more likely over open
areas on the ascent.
mile— “The Hollow,” where Northern Saw-whet
sometimes appears at dusk and may call or respond to imitations of its
call after dark and well
into the night. Check the woodpecker holes in trees to left
side of road. They do not
normally sit at the entrance of a nest or roosting hole but
may be seen nearby.
mile— Tree Spring Trailhead (8,480'). Clark’s
Nutcracker has appeared here in winter when it was scarce at higher
elevations. Pygmy Nuthatch may be seen. During
breeding season, Grace's Warbler sings from the tips of the
Ponderosas, which are gradually replaced by White Fir, Douglas-fir
and Quaking Aspen over the next three miles. Great Horned Owl
is heard at
night. Northern Saw-whet Owl
may be called up after dark, any time of year. During spring and
summer, great for Flammulated Owl but
don’t look for them in the winter!
6.0 mile— Dry Camp (8,640') has a few large
can attract woodpeckers: Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker, Hairy and
Red-naped Sapsucker drum there in the spring. Red
Crossbill and Cassin’s Finch may be present during
6.2 mile— Another
old "woodpecker tree" that may harbor owls.
Listen at and after dusk.
6.6 mile— The large turnout on the right has been good for
Crossbill in past years.
mile— Sandia Ski Basin (8,609'). The Northern
likes to sit on the wires next to the telephone pole at the right side
of the road, about 100 yards past the driveway that serves the Ski lift
area. During winter, Clark's Nutcracker may congregate along
the ridge to the left to collect food scraps left by skiers. Red-naped
Sapsucker may be seen at roadside, nesting in the aspens and
taking sap from the exotic Siberian Elm trees.
mile— Balsam Glade (8,651') has an overlook at the end of
trail that may yield raptors. This is as high as I have ever seen
Pygmy Nuthatch along the Crest Road. It has been great for
Red Crossbill and Red-breasted Nuthatch in past
winters. In early February, 2004, over a dozen Wild Turkeys were reintroduced here and are reproducing and are
being seen at all elevations. The species, once common in
the Sandias, had been absent for many years. Panoramic view
Balsam Glade Overlook
mile— Capulin Spring and the Capulin Spring Snow Play Area
(8,840') is the site of the famous “Log
at Capulin Spring.”
Crowded during snow season and hard to
find free parking, but Northern Pygmy-owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl may be found
during winter as it gets dark. Far more pleasant is owl watching
after sunset during midday into early July, when the pygmy-owl is
calling actively, and often Northern Saw-whet and
Flammulated Owl can be heard. The road into the Snow Play
area is one of the better places to find Dusky Flycatcher, near
the southern extent of its breeding range, in June and July.
mile— Nine Mile Picnic Area (9,200') is closed in
winter, but Pine
Grosbeak has been reported in this area, and Cassin’s
Red Crossbill may abound in good winters. Warbling Vireo are
numerous during May and June, and Gray-headed (Dark-eyed) Junco nests
here. Williamson's Sapsucker may breed in this area and
at higher elevations. Mixed conifers have now replaced the pines,
and wild raspberries grow in open areas.
Both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglet may
nest high up in the conifers from here up. During winter and
migration season, look for Merlin that may perch in the high
snags along the road as you progress upward. Clark's Nutcracker
usually becomes more common from here up.
9.5 to 11.0 mile— Here, a series of switchbacks
good vantage points to search for winter finches and raptors. Violet-green
Swallow nests in the tall snags at
the 10.5 mile switchback-- it arrives first week of April or even late
above the curves, and only if the shoulder is clear. Never park
on a curve. Obey parking restrictions.
mile— 10K Trailhead (10,000') marks the beginning of the
spruce-fir belt (PANORAMIC PHOTO). It provides
an open area where flocks of Rosy-Finch
may forage during the winter. Look for them along exposed
rocky slopes. Scope the vista for other winter finches and
raptors. Dusky Flycatcher may be found from June through
August in an emerging aspen grove located near
the south trailhead. Walk up the slope but instead of following
the trail, bear right (westward) and cross the old
road cut uphill to the other side. Within 100 yards of the
Crest Road you will see a cleared area in which thousands of new
aspens cover the ground. Listen for the distinctive voice of the
Duskies (pslick, BRREET, pseet) as they move between shrubs and
set up on tops of taller trees. Recent clear-cutting has changed
the area to the north as well, and improved conditions for aspen
propagation. Some of the large trees were weakened and killed
during the slash burning, raising hopes that American Three-toed
may visit-- but be sure to look for this species up higher, as they were sighted at
Sandia Crest in 2005. This is an interesting area to explore
season. CLICK HERE FOR FOUR
OF 10-K TRAIL BREEDING BIRD SURVEY IN WORD FORMAT (RTF FORMAT AVAILABLE HERE)
11.7 and 12.0— Two large switchbacks also offer
viewing. Pine Grosbeak has been seen at 12.0.
mile— Ellis Trailhead (10,260') also offers views to the
where Rosy-finch may gather. During mid-winter, Pine
Grosbeak may be seen 100 yards or so upslope (to south) along the
alpine ski trail. Do not disturb the ski tracks-- walk along the
edges where the snow is undisturbed.
13.0 mile— Final big switchback (10,540').
the protective raptor perches on the power poles where the lines pass
over the highway. Not safe to park
here, but look for Pine Grosbeak and Northern Goshawk,
both reported here during winter of 2001-2. Vegetation is now largely
spruce and fir.
mile— Sandia Crest parking lot. (VIEW TO THE SOUTH FROM OBSERVATION AREA)
During the winter,
enter the first lot and check out the feeders from below, before going
up to the final level and viewing Rosy-finch from inside the
Crest House! In summer, scan for White-throated Swift. During
months, a walk south along the Crest Trail leads
through a sub-Alpine forest with interpretive signs, to Kiwanis Meadow,
where nesting Green-tailed Towhees
and (Audubon's) Yellow-rumped Warbler
Both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglet nest high in
the spruce and fir trees here. The trail also leads north, just
east of the electronic communication tower site. House Wren
is here in the summer, and Gray-headed (Dark-eyed) Junco
may be found all year round.
THREE-TOED WOODPECKERS were photographed on June 4, 2005 on Sandia
Crest east of Albuquerque on the trail that leads to the Kiwanis
Meadows from the lower parking lot. They were 100 yards down from
the gate at the south end of the lot near several downed trees on the
left hand side of the trail. There were signs of trees with their
bark stripped. There was still snow up there. A drumming
male was then seen on June 5, 2005, and several times through the next
year. A male was again seen drumming on June 3, 2006, just east of
Kiwanis Meadow. These are the first confirmed sightings of this species
in the Sandias after an absence of over 9 years. They may have produced
young, as three or more were subsequently reported there at one time.
Subsequently. an American Three-toed Woodpecker was seen from the
lower parking lot of Sandia Crest on January 29, 2007. On March
25, 2007 one was seen on the path from the Crest parking lot near the
Kiwanis Meadow as well as a calling Northern Pygmy-Owl, near the start
of the track that leads downhill from the south end of the
parking area to the Meadow. Celesten Brozek saw a female Three-toed
Woodpecker feeding a full-fledged nestling on July 27, 2007, at the
Crest, to the north of the radio towers.
reported that on July 17, 2008, there was at least one female
Three-toed Woodpecker to be found in the area about midway down the
wide trail to Kiwanis Meadow from the south end of the exit road below
the lower restrooms at Sandia Crest. "At about 1 PM, I had good looks
at an actively foraging bird flaking bark off large spruce trees on
either side of that trail around where several flattopped boulders
border the upslope side and a large pile of recently felled trees lies
on the downslope side. At about 4 PM, I observed the same or another
female in that area as I was returning to the Crest via the Buried
Cable bike trail, which is parallel to and below the aforementioned
trail... FYI if you go looking, last July and in early November I found
a Three-toed within the first 50 yds. or so down a marked trail to
Ellis trailhead that splits off from the Crest trail just below Kiwanis
Meadow. Judging from the amount of apparently fresh bark chips I saw on
that trail, it still is another good place to check for the bird."
On August 4, 2008, Danny Paez reported that while hiking near Sandia
Crest he saw four Three-toed Woodpeckers. He started his hike at the
Ellis Trailhead just up the road from the 10k Trailhead. At the
intersection of the Switchback Trail and the Survey Trail he saw two
female three-toed woodpeckers. "This is very close to the parking area.
To get there from the trailhead go past the gate closing off the road.
Just past this point there is an unsigned trail on the right. Take this
a short distance uphill to the Switchback Trail. Take another right
here a short distance to the intersection with the Survey Trail. Both
birds were foraging close together in the same tree. I may have heard a
third bird nearby, but I didn't see it. This location is very close to
Kiwani's Meadow and the previously reported Three-toed Woodpecker. I
continued up to the Crest Trail and went north all the way to the 10 k
trail at its northern terminus... I then took 10k downhill to the Ellis
Trail which I followed back to the parking area. About halfway along
this section of the Ellis Trail I heard some tapping uphill.
Investigating led me to two male American Three-toed Woodpeckers, also
foraging in the same tree, with fantastic up close views. This area is
probably under a mile from where the females were. If going north from
the Ellis Trailhead it was about 1/3 mile past where the trail passes
under some powerlines."
Then, on August 5, 2008, four adult American Three-toed Woodpeckers
were encountered along the trail to Kiwanis Meadow, and in the wooded
area just east of the Meadow. This trail is accessed from the
Crest House lower parking lot. Just walk south about 100 yards to
the meadow, take the spur to the right towards Kiwanis Cabin, and start
looking for the birds and the stripped bark that results from their
feeding. Bill Wittman on January
9, 2009 had a female THREE-TOED WOODPECKER and two GOLDEN-CROWNED
KINGLETS at the Crest. John Parmeter saw the THREE-TOED on
January 11, 2009, just below the trail to the Kiwanis Meadows.
Another was sighted at Sandia Crest on Feb. 22, 2009. Gale Owings
reported a male and female on July 16, 2009. The full report is at this
promising spot for three-toes may be the Ellis Trail Head and, just
above it, 10K Trailhead. Click here, and then scroll down for a
Panoramic winter view of this spectacular location.
BIRDING NEAR SANDIA CREST
Be sure to check the latest New
Mexico Ornithological Society's Statewide Rare Bird Hotline and the Sandia Crest Birding FORUM before
starting out. Sightings
are arranged by County. CLICK HERE
for a map NM Counties and
Once we get some good snow the Capulin Picnic Area is closed because it
shares an entrance with the crowded Capulin Snow Play Area, and the
access road is narrow and is not plowed. I have visited in winter
and found Golden-crowned Kinglets, Cassin's Finches, Clark's
Nutcrackers, Evening Grosbeaks-- all fairly erratic visitors that
can be seen elsewhere anyway, when they honor us with a visit.
The spring probably keeps flowing but we had to do concrete work to get
at and repair a leak (separated joint in the pipe) and I
suspect it froze.
In winter, the sides of the road up to the Crest
can be good, yielding (rare) Pine Grosbeak, Goshawk, Merlin, Red
Crossbill, Northern Pygmy-owl (look for them perched in oak trees
along the road from about the 4 mile to the 8 mile mark), Saw-whet
Owl, Clark's Nutcracker (often seen at the base of the ski
area, which is about at the 7 mile point-- they beg for food from the
skiers). Red-naped Sapsucker is possible even in
At the Crest, the winter feeder species list is
still rather limited. Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned Sparrow,
Mountain Chickadee, White-breasted and Red-breasted Nuthatch, Steller's
Jay, Common Raven, Clark's Nutcracker, Cassin's Finch, Red Crossbill,
Pine Siskin and (once, in January, 2001) Pine Grosbeak have
shared with the Rosy-finches.
Nearby, Frost Road (which is the eastward
extension of NM-536, the Crest Road) is like a little "Hawk
Alley." It becomes NM-472 and runs through a flat high
valley for maybe 25 miles to the east towards Stanley-- grazing and
farm land. In addition to Redtail, some Kestrel, N.
Harrier, Prairie Falcon and Merlin, it has been fairly reliable for
Ferruginous Hawk and Loggerhead Shrike (I still have not
found the rare Northern Shrike). Sometimes there are Eastern
Bluebirds in winter, according to other observers. There may be
large flocks of Mountain Bluebirds there in winter. Western
Bluebirds and Western Meadowlarks also persist there in
winter. When Frost Road ends at NM-41, go south a few miles
towards Moriarty for more great raptor habitat, and possibility of Horned
Larks, American Pipits and Longspurs on the plowed fields if
not snowbound. The sod farm in Moriarty is about 4 miles east
from NM-41 on the service road that runs along the north side of I-40.
Birders are no longer welcome to enter, but the roadside may
provide glimpses of longspurs (and Mountain Plovers
Our Back Yard Bird List
. We had Canyon and Spotted Towhee, Juniper Titmouse,
Bushtit, Pine Siskin and Mountain Chickadee as well as Scrub
and Steller's Jay at our yard feeders during winter. Pinyon
Jays are irregular, but have had over 200 in the yard at once,
turning the snow scene blue (I have a snapshot to prove it). Cassin's
Finches visit almost every winter, with over a hundred at a time
during two good invasions. Evening Grosbeaks are hard to
figure out-- sometimes they visit in mid to late summer, other times in
the dead of winter. When they do come, they usually stay for
several weeks at least, but we have had spells of over a year without
seeing one! Red Crossbills are only slightly more
reliable, with invasion years and even summer visits some years. No
crossbills visited our feeders from June, 2002, when an
adult took two newly fledged birds to our sunflower seeds, until July
1, 2003, when flocks returned to breed in the Sandias. We
usually have a
pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers at the suet, and Townsend's
Solitaire hang around most winters. In
the Ponderosas look for flocks of Pygmy Nuthatch-- I saw 35 on
the 2000 Christmas Count.
Nature Center State Park in Albuquerque, can be a jewel in
winter. While it does not rival Bosque del Apache, there
are plenty of waterfowl. Eurasian Wigeon has turned up
several times. Redheads, Canvasbacks, White-fronted Geese,
and Snow/Ross's Goose are possible. Sandhill Cranes
will persist all winter if forage is good. The new wetlands with
a blind is a major attraction. Bald Eagles usually are at
the river and there is the possibility of seeing Great Horned
and Western Screech-owls. A Peregrine may warm things
up. Saturday and Sunday bird walks start at 9:00 AM during the
winter, and they can be a lot of fun. Follow my
link for more information, seasonal schedules and special events.
Winter walks in Tres
Pistolas or Three Gun Spring
Open Space (Albuquerque
Journal Story) , the entrance point to spring Hawk Watch (CLICK
HERE FOR A PANORAMIC VIEW),
jointly acquired by the City of Albuquerque, Bernalillo County
and the National Forest) may yield (Slate-colored) Fox Sparrow.
The Rufous-crowned Sparrow is a resident here and in the
western foothills of the Sandias. Some Crissal and
Curve-billed Thrashers, as well as Scaled Quail are
found here and in Elena
Gallegos Picnic Area (a County Open Space Park), north of Academy
on Tramway and along the connecting
system of foothills
trails on the west side of the Sandias.
I have seen winter Prairie Falcons in both places, but Black-throated
and Black-chinned Sparrows only in the warmer months. Both
of these areas can be quite pleasant when we might be shivering and
shoveling snow on the other (green) side of the mountain. This is one
of the more reliable places to find Scott's Oriole, which may
appear as early a mid-April. See the Tres
Pistolas Birding Page for more information.
the warmer months, a nice place for
migrants and particularly for breeding Hepatic Tanager and Black-throated
Gray Warbler is the southern end of the South Crest Trail, at the
north end of the Canyon Estates Subdivision. To reach this area,
take I-40 east from Albuquerque and exit 175-- stay to the right as
exiting (towards NM 337 and Tijeras, NOT Cedar Crest) and immediately
turn left under I-40 as if you were going to make a U-turn back west to
Albuquerque-- but as you pass to the north under the highway, bear to
the right and continue up Arrow Head (a Dead End road). Travel
0.7 miles all the way into and past the Canyon Estates Subdivision to
the small parking area at the trail head. The pleasant 1/2 mile walk,
mostly in shade, takes you along an inconstant stream to a
waterfall that has extensive travertine deposits and a cave under it.
It is fed by a spring and a watercress-filled creek above it.
I have seen Townsend's Solitaire with fledglings in
summer, Canyon Wren (on the cliffs above the waterfall),
Band-tailed Pigeon, and one spring saw a male Rose-breasted
Grosbeak. In the fall, look for Townsend's Warbler.
San Antonio Open Space
Only 4.8 miles south of the Crest Road NM 536)
intersection on NM-14 is Ojito
de San Antonio (formerly Los Manzanares) Open Space, a
beautiful place, and is a very productive birding area the year
round, especially during migration and the breeding season. Look
for woodpeckers, warblers, vireos, tanagers, towhees, buntings... all
the birds you might see at this elevation (see the Birding
Calendar in the Cedar Crest Back Yard Bird List for
specifics). Almost exactly a mile
north of I-40, on
NM-14, on the west side of the road is the small stucco church of
San Antonio de Padua. Park in the lot just behind and to the west of
the church, but be aware that you may get blocked in on Sunday mornings
by worshipers attending services. Walk west a few yards to the dirt
road that leads to the north into this beautiful Bernalillo County Open
CAUTION: To avoid disturbance to
the bears with their
cubs and deer that feed on the apples in the old orchard, this
area may be closed for a period of time in the fall, usually from
mid-October to late November. Please obey all
signs and do not trespass. You may obtain current information as
to status by calling Parks Administration staff, at (505) 314-0401
The following is from: http://www.bernco.gov/live/standalone.asp?dept_id=3946&link_id=3977
General Description: Ojito de San Antonio consists of 88 acres of land
adjacent to the town of San Antonio de Padua. The property borders
Cibola National Forest to the northeast. In July 1999, Ojito de San
Antonio became the first open space property purchased by Bernalillo
County. Ojito takes its name from two nearby springs--Ojo de San
Antonio and Acequia Madre. The springs have provided clean drinking
water for people and wildlife for centuries. Outside of the acequia fed
riparian and orchard areas, vegetation is primarily a large meadow
surrounded by steep piņon-juniper forest foothills. (More
Judy's related Blog:
Manzano Open Space
We often found Pinyon Jays
in the Manzano-Four Hills Open
Space. This area is along the east margin of the Four Hills
Subdivision in SE Albuquerque. Take Tramway Boulevard south from
I-40 past Smith's supermarket, curving to the left (east) to the "T"
intersection with Four Hills Road SE. Go south on Four Hills Rd
0.5 mile to the "Y" where it meets Stagecoach Road SE. Follow
Stagecoach to the left (east) about another 0.4 miles, where it turns
to the right (south). From this point to the end of Stagecoach
road there are a number of dead end streets to the left, one or two of
which have marked trail heads. There are Piņon Pines and
exotic conifers (which sometimes have seed when the natives do not) in
the back yards along the street, as well as Piņons in the
savannah to the east (the open space extends toward the Manzanito
Mountain foothills and Kirtland Air Force Base). We often found Western
and Mountain Bluebirds, as well as raptors there in the winter.
You may also see flocks of Pinyon Jays
in the Albuquerque Foothills, the
open space area that is east of Tramway and west of the Sandia
Mountains, i.e., that stretch of Tramway north of I-40. There are
trail heads at the east end of Indian School Road Here is a
link to maps of Albuquerque
Open Spaces and trails.
For a chart of
species and their abundance during the summer months at three locations
along the road to Sandia Crest, CLICK HERE.
IF YOU HAVE TIME, A BIT FURTHER AFIELD BUT
OFTEN WORTH THE TRIP:
North of Santa Fe, look for breeding Lewis's
Woodpeckers in telephone poles along the first two miles of NM-503
east of its intersection with US-84.
If you are ambitious, and especially if the hotline sounds
promising, check out the Santa Fe Ski
Area in winter-- there have been White-winged
Crossbill, Pine Grosbeak and Gray Jay there many winters. Dusky
Grouse may be seen along the road
to the top,
especially with the approach of spring, near Aspen Basin. American
Woodpecker is a possibility at burn areas in the Jemez
(particularly Forest Road 289
about 3.1 miles south of its junction
with NM-4, and at Apache Springs
Trailhead on NM-4 about 1.5 miles west
of NM-501, the Los Alamos turnoff), but the best places to see them may
not be accessible during snow season. Black Swift breed
at Jemez Falls, 15 miles
of Jemez Springs on NM 4. The swifts may best be seen in late July and early
August, either over the parking lot or along the streambed just above
the falls. They are very hard to see from the observation area
below the falls. CLICK
HERE for a picture of JEMEZ FALLS.
The Valles Caldera
National Preserve, also near Los Alamos, merits a visit if only
to scan the huge herds of elk that gather in the fall. Blue Grouse,
Northern Goshawk and Golden Eagle may be seen by hiking the (free
and unguided) Valle Grande Hiking
Trail, which is open only Friday through Monday at 8:00
HERE TO SEE OUR PANORAMIC
PHOTO OF THE
CALDERA TAKEN AT THE END OF THE TRAIL. This easy 2
is along an old wagon trail that wanders through a lovely wooded area
on the Southeast corner of the preserve and eventually opens up to a
view of the floor of the Caldera. Parking is located on the south
side of State Rte. 4, where the sign says "Entering Bandelier National
the trail head across the street on the north side. Lewis's Woodpeckers may also be seen here.