This, the 7th Ladder Ranch CBC, had the best coverage so far, as reflected in our new high total of 105 species. New high counts were set for several species including Gambel's Quail (513), Western Bluebird (191), Hermit Thrush (26), Spotted Towhee (105), and White-crowned Sparrow (1174). Apparently, there is a lot of food on Ladder this winter. We also keep adding new species to the count with Northern Goshawk, Northern Shoveler, Lark Sparrow, Killdeer, Rusty Blackbird, Cassin's Finch all being tallied (the latter two species first time ever on the ranch). Historic low counts were American Coot (2), Juniper Titmouse (1), Vesper Sparrow (1) and Eastern Meadowlark (2). First time misses, both head scratchers, were Canada Goose and Cactus Wren. Many thanks to all who drove the long distance to participate.
With two Canadian birders, we headed south from Santa Fe to the desert foothills on the west side of the Sandia Mts. I decided to include a deciduous riparian stop along the Rio Grande River just north of Albuquerque. Among the species typical of that habitat, such as Black Phoebe, Blue Grosbeak, and Lesser Goldfinch, we also found a beautiful adult male Summer Tanager. Somewhat of a surprise as the sighting was a bit late in the season and near the northern limit of where the species occurs in NM. Continuing on to the canyons on the west side of the Sandia Mts, we added a number of desert species including Rufous-crowned and Black-throated Sparrows, Cactus Wren, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Gambel's Quail. My clients' most sought after species, Greater Roadrunner, still eluded us. Although I was aware that we were well past the breeding season, I decided to try playback anyway. Within a couple minutes, a roadrunner popped up among the boulders on a ridge in front of us. We watched it forage for about 15 minutes during which time the bird chased away the local Canyon Towhees on several occasions. Apparently the roadrunner did not appreciate competition for the ripe orange berries on a nearby shrub.
We then moved higher to a spring in Tijeras Canyon finding some typical foothill species such as Plumbeous Vireo, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit and Western Scrub Jay. Still higher up in Ponderosa Pine we encountered other permanent resident birds that were new for my clients-Mountain Chickadee, Steller's Jay, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Townsend's Solitaire. A migrant Townsend's Warbler from the pacific northwest on its way to Mexico was a nice addition.
The trip ended with a swing through prairie habitat near Stanley where we found Western Bluebird, scads of Vesper Sparrows, and a lingering Swainson's Hawk.
With breeding season over and birdsong at a minimum, August birding presents some new challenges. With a group of Chicago birders in tow, I decided to survey the largest cross section of habitats possible in a day near Santa Fe. Starting in desert habitat at the edge of the Galisteo Basin we found some species typical of the area including Curve-billed Thrasher, Scaled Quail, and Ladder-backed Woodpecker. Heading east over Glorieta pass we visited a private ranch on the Pecos River. In pinyon/juniper habitat we found Gray Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Black-throated Gray Warbler, and what turned out to be the last Ash-throated Flycatchers of the summer. Along the river itself there were still lingering breeders such as Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Cordilleran Flycatcher. An added piece of excitement was a close encounter with a Prairie Rattlesnake near the trail that was stalking a young chat in a nearby bush. All we could do was admire the snake and wish the chat well.
Moving to higher elevation, we paused in a meadow that had scattered pines to enjoy some Western Bluebirds. I spotted a flying bird with quite a bit of white in the wing which turned out to be an adult male Williamson's Sapsucker. As the species departs northern New Mexico in winter, I suspected it was a migrant moving out of the mountains. Arriving in Dalton Canyon, we were able to locate other southern Rocky Mt specialties such as Grace's, Virginia's, and MacGillivray's Warblers. Heading further up the Pecos canyon, we enjoyed the myriad of hummingbirds at the Terrero Store including an adult male Calliope. Our last stop at the start of the Elk Mt road gave us some additional Ponderosa Pine zone birds such as Pygmy Nuthatch and Red-naped Sapsucker. Just before heading home I followed a woodpecker tapping sound and located what I thought to be a female Hairy Woodpecker. But the youngest birder in our group noticed some different field marks. Sure enough, upon closer examination, the two woodpeckers in question turned out to be first year male Three-toed. A great find to end the day and a useful lesson to stick with an observation until all other possibilities are exhausted. It's a good thing that the learning never ends.