Texas & New Mexico, USA - January 2019

From 9 – 19 January 2019, I went on a solo birding trip to New Mexico and visited the best birding spots in this state and a few around El Paso, Texas.

Check out my trip report hereunder!

General
With about 500 different birds on New Mexico’s state bird list –one of the highest– it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of favourite places! Many of New Mexico’s best birding sites are located along the Rio Grande—a green ribbon running through the middle of a generally arid state.
One of the rules of thumb for finding birds in New Mexico is search for the water. Throughout the State there are numerous reservoirs, rivers and irrigation projects, which act like magnets to the birds.

Directions
Fly into El Paso, Texas and drive north towards Albuquerque, following the river Rio Grande for the best birding sites.

Programm

Wed 9 Jan – Late arrival El Paso, Texas; Night in Ramada by Wyndham, El Paso.
Thu 10 Jan – Early morning birding Rio Bosque Wetlands Park; afternoon birding Ascarate Lake; Night in Days Inn,  Las Cruces.
Fri 11 Jan – Early morning birding Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park; Late morning birding at Spring Canyon State Park; Afternoon visit to Mountain View Cemetery, Deming; Drive to Silver City and visit to City of Rocks State Park; Night in Motel Super 8, Silver City (distance Las Cruces – Silver City: 112 miles (2 hours)).
Sat 12 Jan – Drive north to Gila National Forest; Early morning to Cherry Creek/McMillan Campgrounds (closed; too icy); morning birding at Lake Roberts; Afternoon visit to Hillsboro Public Park, Percha Dam State Park and Caballo Lake State Park. Late afternoon visit to Las Palomas Marsh; Night in Travellodge, Truth or Consequences (distance Gila Cliff Dwellings to T or C : 111 miles (3 hours).
Sun 13 Jan - Morning visit to Elephant Butte State Park; All afternoon visit to Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Reserve; Night in Econo Lodge, Socorro
Mon 14 Jan – Early morning visit to Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Reserve; Late morning visit to Water Canyon National Forest; Afternoon visit to Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge (closed) and to Bernardo Waterfowl Area; Night in Socorro
Tue 15 Jan – Drive north and early morning visit to Belen Marsh and Los Lunas River Park; Late morning visit to Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Albuquerque; Afternoon visit to Sandia Crest (Rosy-Finches!); Night in Albuquerque.
Wed 16 Jan – Early morning visit to Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Albuquerque. Late morning visit to downtown Santa Fé. Lunch at Santa Fé. Visit to Madrid and to Sandia Crest. Night in Albuquerque
Thu 17 Jan - Early morning visit to Sandia Crest. Late morning drive south and visit to Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Reserve; Afternoon visit to Leasburg Dam State Park and Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park; Night in El Paso
Fri 18 Jan – Morning birding at Rio Bosque Wetlands Park and Ascarate Lake; Night in El Paso
Sat 19 Jan – 13:18 return flight to Amsterdam

Accommodations
9 -10 January 2019 (1 night)
Ramada by Wyndham El Paso 31°44'34"N 106°19'51"W
8250 Gateway Blvd E, El Paso. USD 53 p.n.

10 -11 January 2019 (1 night)
Days Inn, Las Cruces 32°17'32"N 106°47'14"W
755 Avenida de Mesilla, Las Cruces. USD 65,- p.n.

11 -12 January 2019 (1 night)
Motel Super 8, Silver City 32°46'59"N 108°15'53"W
1040 Highway 180 East, Silver City. USD 45,- p.n.

12 -13 January 2019 (1 night)
Travelodge by Wyndham 33°09'18"N 107°15'03"W
2270 North Date Street, Truth or Consequences, NM. USD 58 p.n.

13 -15 January 2019 (2 nights)
Econo Lodge Socorro 34°03'53"N 106°53'35"W
713 N.W. California St, Socorro, NM. USD 60 p.n.

15 – 17 January 2019 (2 nights)
Baymont by Wyndham Albuquerque 35°03'24"N 106°38'08"W
2601 Mulberry St SE, Albuquerque, NM. USD 50 p.n.

17 -19 January 2019 (2 nights)
Palace Inn, El Paso
8778 Gateway Blvd E, El Paso. USD 70 p.n.

Birding hotspots

Rio Bosque Wetlands Park
10 km south-east of El Paso. 31°38'16"N 106°18'06"W
GPS can be difficult!
Exit Zaragosa (from North Loop), take a right on Pan American Drive, and take Pan American all the way down until you pass the canal. There will be a RBWP sign immediately in front of you (31°39'19"N 106°19'09"W). Pass the canal, immediate left and follow to the end.
This wildlife refuge within El Paso’s city limits abounds with bird life:  244 different species have been recorded to date.  A lovely place and easy to bird from out of your car! Lots of nice birds, including lots of Harris’s Hawks and a few Greater Roadrunners!

Ascarate Lake
5 km east of El Paso. 31°45'21"N 106°24'10"W. (+ 31°45'12"N 106°24'18"W)
Ascarate Park features an 18-hole 72 par golf course, a 48 acre surface lake, lakeside boardwalk, fully-equipped aquatic center, playgrounds and picnic facilities. It can be crowded here but when I visited it was quiet en there were a lot of good waterbirds, including Hooded Mergansers, Lesser Scaups, Common Goldeneyes, Canvasbacks, Buffleheads, Ruddy Ducks, American Wigeons, Ring-necked Ducks and Western Grebes.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park (Las Cruces)
A little north of El Paso. 32°15’47″N 106°49’34″W
Situated at the north end of the Chihuahuan Desert, Las Cruces has the added dimensions of the Rio Grande River, and the nearby Organ Mountains. From east- or westbound I-10, exit at Avenida de Mesilla (Exit 140) and drive south to Calle del Norte. Turn right and drive two miles southwest until you cross the Rio Grande. The entrance to the park is on the left immediately after crossing the river.
I really enjoyed a walk through the park. The dense brush supposed to have bobcats and javelina (collared peccary) but I didn’t see any. Birds were very good here: Say’s Phoebe, White-crowned Sparrow, Pyrrhuloxia, Crissal Thrasher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, both Ravens, Orange-crowned Warbler, Northern Harrier, Gamble’s Quail, Western Meadowlark etc.

Rock Hound/Spring Canyon State Park
West of Las Cruces. 32°11'08"N 107°36'40"W
This dramatic canyon (elevation 4,500 feet) is surrounded by the rugged peaks of the Florida Mountains. You have here Spring Canyon State Park (32°08'37"N 107°37'06"W) and Rock Hound State Park (32°11'08"N 107°36'40"W). The first is the more interesting area for birders, although the list of birds seen at Rock Hound is impressive.
Rock Hound has a visitor center. If you find gem stones, you can bring them with you. There are two hiking trails. There is a trailer camping area. Entrance fee is USD 5,-.
I only visited Spring Canyon and I followed the trail up the canyon for a short while. I was totally alone here and within 10 minutes I saw two Ibex deer high up on the rocky slopes. Ibex deer have been introduced here from Africa.

And soon the birding became quite good: Western Bluebirds; Black-throated Sparrows; Black-chinned Sparrows, Canyon Towhees, Spotted Towhees, Cactus Wrens and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.

Gila National Forest
Just a half hour drive north of Silver City, the Gila River Bird Habitat Management Unit, a special unit of the Gila National Forest, offers great birding in the cottonwoods and willows along the River.
Driving north from Silver City on Highway 15, you soon enter Gila National Forest. It is a beautiful scenery. In about 11 miles you reach the Cherry Creek campground (32°54'51"N 108°13'31"W), and less than a mile later the McMillan campground (32°55'33"N 108°12'47"W). Both are supposed to be good spots for many high-elevation, conifer-forest birds, including some specialties of the Southwest. Both camp grounds were closed during my visit because there was at least 2 feet of snow. Despite of the snowy and icy conditions, I spotted some Steller’s Jays, a Hairy Woodpecker and one Townsend’s Solitaire sitting high up a conifer tree.
I decided not to go to the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument because of the heavy snow and I was quite sure it was closed anyway due to the Government shutdown.

Lake Roberts, Gila NP
What a beautiful lake this is! When I visited there were a few fishermen and the weather was sunny. Several ducks and common mergansers were swimming and I found a couple of Bald Eagles sitting in a dead tree along the banks of the lake. I walked around half of the lake and I ate my brought along sandwiches on the shore. Really a lovely place!

Percha Dam State Park
32°52'06"N 107°18'23"W
The cottonwoods here attract migrant songbirds and other species in spring and fall. All I found were Western Bluebirds, Northern Flicker, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Gadwall, Chipping Sparrows, American Goldfinches and a couple of Cedar Waxwings.

Caballo Lake State Park
32°54'26"N 107°18'40"W.
Extensive stands of cottonwood and Chihuahuan Desert scrub supposedly attract large numbers of wintering landbirds such as Hammond’s Flycatcher, Gambel’s Quail, White-winged and Inca Doves, Greater Roadrunner, Northern Flicker, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Red-naped Sapsucker, Verdin, Say’s Phoebe, Brewer's Blackbird, Chihuahuan and Common Ravens, Cactus Wren, Bridled Titmouse, Crissal Thrasher, Pyrrhuloxia, Phainopepla, Rufous-crowned Sparrow and Mountain Bluebird. I passed this pretty good looking  park but didn’t get in because it was already quite late.

Las Palomas Marsh
Supposed to be good for ducks and waders but there was really nothing when I visited. The area is not particular nice. I rushed to get away.

Elephant Butte Reservoir
Directions: State Park Headquarters is 5 miles north of Truth or Consequences on Exit 83 off I-25. Hot Springs Landing (33°12'39"N 107°12'29"W), Rock Canyon Marina (33°13'33"N 107°12'11"W), Three Sisters Cove (33°16'52"N 107°10'46"W)
This place is rich in water birds with many thousands present on the open water and it is perhaps the best place in New Mexico for rare wintering gulls including Glaucous and Thayer's (I didn’t see any). There should be some American White Pelicans and Double-crested Cormorants present (not seen either). This can also be a good site for Hooded Merganser and Cinnamon Teal (guess what?). There could well be a few shorebirds around such as Killdeer, Least Sandpiper or Greater Yellowlegs amongst others. These wetlands are also home to Muskrat and even Beavers as well. My best bird here was a Prairie Falcon and eight flying Sandhill Crane near Three Sisters Cove.

Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge
33°48'17"N 106°53'27"W. Pag 147 of Birding Hotspots Central NM
Famous place to see Bald Eagles, Sandhill Crane, Snow and Ross Geese.
The “Crown Jewel” of New Mexico’s Important Bird Areas. The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, fondly known as "The Bosque," is in New Mexico near the small town of San Antonio, NM, 9 mi. south of Socorro, and less than an hour and a half from Albuquerque.

You want to be at the refuge early enough to see the geese and cranes flying around at sunrise.

There is a North (7.5 miles) and a South Loop (7 miles) that will take you on a one-way graded road around the ponds and wetlands for a host of water birds such as Neotropic Cormorant, Green-winged Teal, Redhead, Ring-necked Duck, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Common Merganser and Canada Geese. Driving these loops reminded me a bit of the safari driving in Kruger National Park in South Africa! I even saw Mule Deer and at the end of the day Collared Pecari’s!
The Visitor Centre offers a nice place to relax and at the feeders in the nice garden in front of the centre I found Spotted Towhee, White-throated, White-crowned Sparrow, Brewer’s Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbirds and Phainopepla.

The Refuge is 57,331 acres located along the Rio Grande near Socorro, located at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert. To reach the refuge from Socorro, drive nine miles south on I-25 to exit 139, go east one-fourth mile on US 380 to the flashing signal at the village of San Antonio, turn right onto Old Highway 1, and drive south nine miles to the Visitor Center.
Bosque del Apache wasn’t closed in spite of the Government shutdown.

Water Canyon
24 km west of Socorro. 34°01'31"N 107°07'51"W
Water Canyon in the Cibola National Forest in New Mexico.  Water Canyon is between the town of Socorro and village of Magdalena.
Directions to Water Canyon from Socorro are simple: take NM 60 west 12.5 miles, turn left before highway pull-off and historic marker (also on left) onto FR 235.
Water Ranch Road begins in a desert grassland at approximately 6,050 feet in elevation.  It continues about 12.5 miles up a canyon through oak and then pine habitat until the road is gated off at about 10,500 feet. I walked around here and even followed a short little path going up the hills. I found this a nice and quiet area and managed to spot Bridled Titmice, Acorn Woodpecker, Bushtits, Mountain Chickadee and a Brown Creeper.

Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge
34°21'05"N 106°52'56"W
The Rio Grande flows through the center of the refuge, and serves as an important source of water for wildlife in an arid landscape. When visiting, you can hike the 3.8-mile Mesa View trail, or if you have a bit less time walk the 1-mile Nature Loop. The Visitor Center is open from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. (Exit 169 off Interstate 25).
Unfortunately, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge was closed due to the Government shutdown.

Bernardo Waterfowl Area
34°26'23"N 106°49'18"W. Pag 143 of Birding Hotspots Central NM
15 miles south of Belen. It is part of the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex.
It has a 3-km tour loop with platforms and photography possibilities. It looks a little like Bosque del Apache. Corn and alfalfa are cultivated to provide food for the birds. More than 25,000 snow geese and 12,000 sandhill cranes winter in the Middle Rio Grande, and Bernardo is an important resting and feeding point. Other wildlife include mule deer, coyotes, raccoons, pheasants, hawks, owls, quail, songbirds, different species of duck and occasional bald eagles.

From I-25 take exit 175 east (Bernardo exit) - and quickly look for the north outer road (NM 116) on the east side of I-25 and take it for about 3.75 miles.  On the east side of the road there will be a brown sign for the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl area.  Turn east and drive straight over the tracks and soon you will see a large black arch gate.  The loop starts straight ahead and signs will tell you how to proceed and where you are not supposed to go.

Belen Marsh
34°41'42"N 106°46'26"W. Pag 135 of Birding Hotspots Central NM
The wetland is 16.5 acres located along Don Felipe Road, just south of Belen’s I-25 Bypass and near Taco Bell/Pizza Hut Express.
It is a depressional wetland, artificially created when soil from the area was taken for local road construction projects. Because the regional water table is just below the land’s surface, excavation caused water to pool and form a wetland.
Belen Marsh has become a winter home for migratory waterfowl and springtime nesting site for a number of species of large migratory wading birds. During my visit the only bird here was a Green-winged Teal and between the trailer homes I found a large group of Sandhill Cranes. I found this area rather depressing.

Los Lunas River Park
34°48'13"N 106°42'54"W. Pag 132 of Birding Hotspots Central NM.
This park is a semi-developed site, shaded by large cottonwood trees along the east side of the Rio Grande. I found it a nice park to walk your dog but totally uninteresting for birding.

Rio Grande Nature Center State Park
35°07'49"N 106°40'59"W. Pag 18 of Birding Hotspots Central NM.
There’s great birding in Albuquerque at this park on the Rio Grande, just northwest of downtown. More than 300 species have been recorded in this relatively small area, thanks to its location and habitats.

The heated visitor centre is a great place to spend some time as it looks out over ponds that usually prove attractive to a wide variety of waterfowl that can include Cackling Goose, Wood Duck, Ring-necked Duck, American Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Lesser Scaup, sometimes even Hooded Merganser, Green-winged Teal, the delightful Wood Duck and American Coot. A series of feeders outside attracts birds such as Downy Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird, Black-capped Chickadee, House Finch, White-crowned and Song Sparrows, and several races of Dark-eyed Junco. What a lovely place! Every morning a Coopers Hawk was sitting in a tree near the entrance.

Sandia Crest (10,600 feet elevation)
35°12'38"N 106°26'58"W. Pag 90 of Birding Hotspots Central NM.
North-East of Albuquerque
Take NM-536 all the way to the top, about 13.5 miles (10,678 feet elevation). Be sure to check the weather and not attempt the drive up the mountain in heavy snow or immediately after a snowfall.
This 10,679-foot peak in the Sandia Mountains northeast of Albuquerque offers the chance to see high-elevation species. The winding road to the top passes through various habitats from pinyon-juniper to coniferous forest, adding to the variety of a visit.

When I visited, the Crest House was closed so there was no chance of seeing the rosy-finches at the feeders at the deck there. Fortunately, there is a feeder near the parking lot on the left side of the Crest House. I spent some time here finding my way to the heavy snow and getting to sit at the metal hand railing near the feeders waiting for the perfect photo.
Sandia Crest is best known to birders as a place to see three species of rosy-finch (Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Black Rosy-Finch, and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch; as well as the distinctive Hepburn’s subspecies) in winter. I also saw Steller’s Jays and Mountain Chickadees.

Leasburg Dam State Park
32°29'34"N 106°55'05"W. 12712 State Park Road.
Leasburg Dam State Park, located on the Rio Grande about 20 miles north of Las Cruces, there are several different kinds of habitat in the area, which means many different kinds of birds can be found at and near the park. There is a 2.5 mile hiking trail (Mogollon Trail) and a visitor centre here.
During migration different warbler and vireo species, along with towhees, grosbeaks, and orioles may be found in the brush along the sides of the irrigation canal (adjacent to the river) as well as in the trees and brush along the river. Also many ducks, cormorants, swallows, sparrows and birds of prey visit the park.
Due to late arrival, I decided not to visit this park. Maybe next time!