10,000 feet: Birds atop Sandia Mountain

In an effort to escape the blistering temperatures brought on by a mid-July heat dome, we decided to take a cooling hike high above Albuquerque. At 10,000+ feet, the trails along the top of Sandia Mountain are a refreshing contrast to the dry desert habitats we usually enjoy.

Up high there are spruce, fir and aspen trees surrounding lush meadows full of blooming wildflowers. On the margins we found flying, flitting, perching and singing some of the prettiest birds we’ve seen all season. Let me share some of the fun facts I learned about two of these birds; the Violet-green Swallow and the Northern Flicker.

Violet-green Swallow: Swallows are usually characterized by their aerobatic prowess as insectivores, and this little energetic bird was no exception. What seemed surprising was how they swooped and darted about not only to capture flying insects but they also appeared to be outmaneuvering a half dozen Western bluebirds. After a bit of research I learned that Violet-green swallows sometimes develop a close association with Western bluebirds where they will help rear bluebird nestlings until and shortly following fledging. Maybe this group of 3 swallows were capturing bugs for the bluebird fledglings? Fascinating!

One of the photogenically-gorgeous Violet-green Swallows at rest

It was not until one of the swallows would alight on a tree branch that we noticed, with awe, their dazzling coloration. The morning’s bright sun reflected off iridescent green/copper, iris and cobalt blue, and shimmering violet feathers. It was breathtaking!

Northern Flicker: The Northern Flicker is truly a woodpecker, but with a strange habit. Instead climbing up and around trees hammering away looking for food like a ”normal” woodpecker, the flicker prefers to eat on the ground, grubbing about in search of their favorite insects …. ants and beetles. But as this photo shows, flickers do get high! They don’t assume the typical woodpecker stance of using their tails to prop against a tree trunk, but perch from a prime vantage point to call quite loudly to proclaiming their territory. When they aren’t being territorial, they use their loud calls as a form of friendly communication.

A Northern Flicker high atop an Engelmann Spruce

I did learn that Northern Flickers do ”hammer” on things to get attention. One bird found in Wyoming could be heard for up to a mile as he drummed away on an old abandoned tractor! Gotta wonder why!

Northern Flickers are such handsome birds and always a welcome sight at our home during both spring and fall migration.

A page from my journal

Have an awesome day, and don’t forget to look up!


  1. I love your gorgeous pages and the vibrant colors! The swallow is amazing, I have not seen one of those before. I really love how you put diagonal boxes for your sketch and the information around it. Did you pencil that in before writing your information? Northern flickers are common here too and I love seeing them on our grass. One day I heard pecking on our house and I snuck outside and discovered a flicker pounding on our metal downspout noisily! An interesting fact about flickers in eastern US is that they have yellow underneath their wings instead of the pinkish-orange color here. My Dad in Ontario, Canada told me about this color difference as he got to observe one that had hit a window in his apartment building. I had no idea that flickers were different colors on either side of the country! Thanks for sharing your discoveries on Sandia Peak!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow, thanks very much for such nice comments, and informative too. My colors are Derwent Inktense watercolor pencil and yes, I do use pencil to sketch in the boxes, but only after the birds are finished. And yes, our western Northern flickers are the red-shafted variety. I too enjoyed the yellow-shafted flickers when we lived in North Carolina. Sorry to hear your dad had to experience a window strike by a flicker; that must’ve been quite a noise. I think the eastern yellow-shafted flickers range up and down the eastern seaboard west to the Mississippi, and now I know they are as far north as Ontario. Thanks for sharing.
      This was the first time we’d had such a good look at the Violet-green swallows. Didn’t realize they were so spectacular.I know you probably were very close to our hiking location when you and your sons went up Sandia Mtn. Love how much cooler it is at 10,000 feet!

      Liked by 1 person

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