Friday, August 15, 2014

Birding the Sandias in Albuquerque


Just east of Albuquerque lie the beautiful Sandia Mountains. On a recent visit, my daughter Callie and I were treated to a day of birding with our friends Ashli and Larry Gorbet. As newbies to the area, we were lucky to have such expert guides. We didn't know what to expect--and the day was full of surprises, new birds, and varied landscapes to savor.

We started the morning by driving up into the foothills to Embudito (Little Funnel) Canyon. Following a recreational trail, we could see that it had been a good year for the surrounding vegetation--the cacti, shrubs, grasses and wildflowers were healthy and abundant, and provided excellent habitat for the many species of birds we saw and heard. Craggy rock outcrops and giant boulders dotted the landscape--and Albuquerque laid out below, in the distant flatland.




With virtually no shade to protect us from the hot July sun, we were grateful for a breeze and scattered clouds that morning. Taking in the rugged and picturesque surroundings, we stopped frequently to listen to bird songs and to train our binoculars on any movement. Larry and Ashli know this area well. Nothing is missed.l10801631


As the trail reached the narrow of the canyon, we turned and headed back to the car. Our next stop would be the Sandia Ranger District in the Cibola National Forest, on the opposite side of the mountain, so we had some driving to do. Ashli and Larry told us to take note of the landscape here--because over there, it would be completely and totally different. Callie and I were curious. How could it be that different? This is how:


What a stunning transformation! And our friends timed the day perfectly--now the sun was high, and we had access to the welcome shade of deciduous and evergreen trees. We stopped to do some birding at this picnic area, where Ashli pointed out the fascinating Alligator Juniper:


Continuing up the steep road, our next stop--a few thousand feet higher up the mountain--was The Log at Capulin Spring. What makes this log so special, and such a destination for wildlife observers? It's the only source of water for miles around. A spigot drips water in to one end, and the water puddles all along the log's length and collects, birdbath style, at the other end. All you have to do is watch, and wait. The birds come.

We were told the story of seeing a young bear there once--which ambled up to the log, climbed in, and laid down in the water--while Ashli and Larry slowly, and as silently as possible, backed away and high-tailed it back to the car.

Our final stop, at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, was Sandia Crest. Cool mountain air and spectacular bird's-eye views of the rocky cliffs and ridges. Ashli could actually point out their house way down below, in the middle of the city of Albuquerque.


It was the topping-off of a marvelous day of birding (44 species seen), camaraderie, and precious time together for a mom and daughter whose homes are now separated by too many miles.


Nina Cheney
Eagle Optics Staff
Binoculars: Bring them. See what they bring you.

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