It's a Great Day to Bird

Birding New Mexico

January 20, 2017

We left Portal Arizona today for New Mexico.  We took the less-traveled back roads (allowing us to stop more readily for birds) – Highway 9.  Along the way, we spotted  some cattle pens near the road so we stopped to check it out for birds.  After about 15 minutes a couple in an ATV came roaring up and a guy, not so kindly, asked us to leave as we were on private property.  (Ma’am, you’re on private property). Yeah, that’s me a cattle rustler or a person with PETA documenting the poor treatment of the cattle, which in fact was occurring – in my honest opinion.

Our campground for the night – Rock Hound State Park – was nearly full.  Only two spots left in the non-electrical portion of the campground.  We were hoping for electric so we could turn on our heater, but alas no electrical sites available. New Mexico and Arizona are experiencing winter weather conditions – rain, snow, and fierce wind.  Luckily we didn’t need the electricity to stay warm.

I was going to make a list of the birds we saw/heard at Rock Hound State Park, but there were only three of them: Curve-billed Thrasher, Red-tailed Hawk, and a Great Horned Owl (heard).  Because of the wind, we didn’t linger.

January 21, 2017

Last night it rained, and rained, and rained on our ‘tin tent’.  The winds continued throughout the night as well.  Luckily we didn’t get any snow, although there was snow on the nearby mountains.

We broke camp and headed to our destination for the night – Percha Dam State Park.  Again, we took the back roads.  Not many birds out and about in the winds, but at least the rain stopped.  When we got to Percha Dam State Park, which is supposed to have good birding year round, we decided not to stay.  We just didn’t like the campground.  About ten miles to the NE is the Caballo Lake State Park, so we decided to stay there instead.  And we got an electric site.  Woohoo!!!  Now I can recharge camera batteries, charge iPads and my iMac devices, and use the heater tonight, if necessary.  Right now the wind is whipping, it’s a whipping good – about 24 mph.

We did walk down to the water’s edge and saw a few birds on the lake – Common Merganser, gull sp., grebe sp. and the old faithful American Coot.  Oh, and a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet working the trees and bushes near the lake despite the wind. So for this area – only the four species, plus a Common Raven fly-over.


Snow on the mountain tops near Rock Hound State Park


Caballo Lake (boy was it windy – hard to walk as it felt like you were going to get blown over or away).

January 22, 2017

Wow, what a difference a day makes – when the wind isn’t blowing.  We only stayed in camp for an hour as we fixed and ate breakfast and then put a few things away, but we got a few more species.

We drove north to take in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge before the winds return again tomorrow.  Supposed to be windy for the next several days.  Tomorrow we will head south towards the White Sands National Monument where high winds, luckily, are not predicted.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, consisting of 57,331-acre acres, was established in 1939.  The friends group holds a Sandhill Crane festival each year in November.  The cranes are the refuge draw during the winter months were thousands of cranes gather to feed, roost, and preen.  The refuge offers an auto tour route – north loop and south loop – along with a number of trails.  During the winter months, dogs aren’t allowed outside of vehicles so we only drove the auto tour route.  Still that took us almost four hours to complete.  Along the route and at the visitor center we saw or heard a total of 41 different species, of which four were FOYs (First of Years).  One of the cranes we observed was tagged (transmitter and two bands).  Will report the sighting to the refuge and International Crane Foundation.  Being as this was a Sunday, there was a fair amount of traffic on the auto tour route.

The bird of the day was the Golden-crowned Kinglet.  For some reason I did not expect to see that particular species at the refuge.  Normally when I see this kinglet it is flitting about high in the trees.  Today, the kinglet was much lower to the ground making identification and viewing much more easy and enjoyable.


Refuge sign






Greater Roadrunner – we sure have seen a lot of these birds on our trip


Sandhill Cranes – the one on the right is tagged




Canada Geese



Great Blue Heron


Interpretive sign along boardwalk


Pond the boardwalk bisects


Another GBH hanging out



Auto tour route road


Our first Eastern Phoebe of the trip

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

  • White-crowned Sparrow
  • Gambel’s Quail
  • Red-winged Blackbird
  • Bald Eagle
  • Northern Shoveler
  • Canada Goose
  • Ring-necked Duck
  • American Coot
  • Mallard
  • Northern Pintail
  • Ruddy Duck
  • Northern Harrier
  • Sandhill Crane
  • Hooded Merganser
  • Bufflehead
  • Bewick’s Wren
  • Spotted Towhee
  • American Kestrel
  • Swan sp. (supposed both could occur – too far away to id)
  • Golden-crowned Kinglet
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Long-billed Dowitcher
  • Killdeer
  • Verdin
  • Lesser Goldfinch
  • Western Meadowlark
  • Greater Roadrunner
  • Snow Goose
  • Say’s Phoebe
  • American Wigeon
  • Green-winged Teal
  • Northern Flicker
  • Great Blue Heron
  • Common Merganser
  • Pied-billed Grebe
  • House Finch
  • Chiquaquan Raven
  • Gadwall
  • Canvasback
  • Eastern Phoebe
  • White-winged Dove

Bird Species Seen or Heard at Caballo State Park

  • Common Raven
  • Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  • Common Merganser
  • American Coot
  • House Finch
  • House Sparrow
  • Curve-billed Thrasher
  • Mourning Dove
  • White-winged Dove
  • Pyrrhuloxia
  • Ring-billed Gull
  • Sandhill Crane

January 23, 2017

Have you ever been to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico?  The White Sands desert is the largest gypsum desert in the world – over 275 square miles.  The National Monument looks to cover about half the desert and shares a boundary with the White Sands Missile Range.  A good portion of the park road takes you through the imposing dunes driving on the hardpan gypsum road surface.

Birds seem to like the area.   Surprisingly they have recorded over 220 bird species, of course this includes mainly migrants.  We saw only four species: Horned Lark (in the actual sand dunes), House Finch, Curve-billed Thrasher, and Red-tailed Hawk.  Despite the lack of birds, the area was fascinating.  We watched a 17-minute video explaining the process of creating the ever-shifting dunes and the plant and wildlife found there and their adaptations (many species of lizards, rodents, and insects have evolved from dark to white or very pale).  The Soaptree Yucca you see high on the dunes is supported by a stem and roots reaching the floor of the desert.  If the sand dunes shift, exposing a significant part of the stem, it will collapse on itself (see photo).

The place was actually quite busy for a Monday.  Some days the monument is closed when the nearby White Sands Missile Range conducts missile launches.  We did see and hear a fair number of fighter jets flying over.  Would love to see the monument from the air.  We saw some people marching off into the dunes to a hike-in camp and they were carrying a drone.

Tonight we are camping at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park near Alamogorda, New Mexico.  Tomorrow we are headed into Texas, although we won’t get too far into the state as we plan to visit and stay overnight at the Guadalupe National Monument.  We are thinking we should head to warmer climes.






Horned Lark sticking its head up above the sand


A road made of gypsum





Patters in the sand (well really gypsum) generated by wind action


Dying Soaptree Yucca



Black-throated Sparrow at campground


My new favorite sparrow


Our campground was adjacent to these mountains



We’ve seen a lot of cactus where a portion has been eaten or broken off and the cactus then looks like a heart

January 24, 2017

Today was a travel day – TX is a big sate!  We had intended to stay the night at Guadalupe National Monument but the winds were around 45 mph, on average.  A little too windy for us.  We decided to drive on to Davis Mountain State Park, arriving with a tail wind around 5:45 pm.  We found a campsite, cooked a quick dinner, and called it a night.

It’s A Great Day to Bird

1 Comment

  1. Nina Faust

    Let me know what you find out about the banded crane. Stay warm.

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