Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico

Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico

Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico

Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico


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From pine forest to desert scrub, from alpine meadow to riparian wetland, Albuquerque and its surrounding area in New Mexico offer an appealing variety of wildlife habitat. Birders are likely to see more than two hundred species during a typical year of bird-watching. Now, two experienced birders, Judith Liddell and Barbara Hussey, share their intimate knowledge of the best places to find birds in and around this important region.

Covering the Rio Grande corridor, the Sandia and Manzano Mountains, Petroglyph National Monument, and the preserved areas and wetlands south of Albuquerque (including crane and waterfowl haven Bosque del Apache), Birding Hotspots of Central New Mexico offers twenty-nine geographically organized site descriptions, including maps and photographs, trail diagrams, and images of some of the birds and scenery birders will enjoy. Along with a general description of each area, the authors list target birds; explain where and when to look for them; give driving directions; provide information about public transportation, parking, fees, restrooms, food, and lodging; and give tips on availability of water and picnic facilities and on the presence of hazards such as rattlesnakes, bears, and poison ivy.

The book includes a “helpful information” section that discusses weather, altitude, safety, transportation, and other local birding resources. The American Birding Association’s code of birding ethics appears in the back of the book, along with an annotated checklist of 222 bird species seen with some regularity in and around Albuquerque.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781603444262
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 10/12/2011
Series: W. L. Moody Jr. Natural History Series , #42
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 8.96(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

JUDY LIDDELL is a board member of the Central New Mexico Audubon Society and a bird monitor for the Rio Grande Nature Center in Albuquerque. In addition to being a former president and board member of the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, BARBARA HUSSEY is also a founding member of the Rio Grande Nature Center.

Read an Excerpt

Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico

By Judy Liddell, Barbara Hussey

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2011 Judy Liddell and Barbara Hussey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60344-668-6


Central New Mexico's Geography, Life Zones, and Habitats

Central New Mexico is a premier destination for birders. Over 240 species can be found regularly from the Rio Grande bosque to the tops of the Sandia Mountains and include such specialties as all three species of rosy-finch and thousands of Sandhill Cranes that winter in the area. The region's habitat diversity provides an opportunity to observe such unique species as Crissal Thrasher, Bewick's Wren, and American Three-toed Woodpecker all in the same day.

This chapter describes the area of New Mexico where the sites in this book are located as well as habitat terminology used in the site descriptions.


The sites covered in this guide are in the greater Albuquerque area—along the Rio Grande from Corrales just north of Albuquerque to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) just south of Socorro, as well as sites in the Sandia, Manzanita, and Manzano Mountains and foothills. These sites can easily be visited from a base in Albuquerque. Because of their popularity with central New Mexico birders, most have been designated "eBird Hotspots." See "Local Birding Information and Resources" in chapter 2 for a more detailed explanation.

The described sites are divided into six geographic areas: along the Rio Grande in Albuquerque and Corrales; Sandia Foothills; Sandia Mountains; Manzanita and Manzano Mountains; Petroglyph National Monument; and south of Albuquerque. The sites are located in five counties: Bernalillo, Sandoval, Torrance, Valencia, and Socorro. The map shows where each of the sites is located.

Life Zones and Habitats

Central New Mexico is blessed with a variety of habitats that occur across six of the seven "life zones" and contribute to the rich biodiversity. The concept of life zones, developed by biologist C. Hart Merriam in 1889, is used primarily in the western United States to describe the different plant and animal communities that exist at latitudinal zones with differing temperature and moisture conditions. Every 1,000-foot gain in altitude results in a 3-degree drop in temperature and usually an increase in annual precipitation. For instance, Albuquerque receives an average of 8 inches of precipitation per year, whereas 33 inches may fall on Sandia Crest.

New Mexico's life zones include desert or lower Sonoran—represented in New Mexico by the Chihuahuan Desert (3,000–4,500 feet above sea level)—grassland or upper Sonoran (4,500–5,500 feet), piñon-juniper woodlands (5,000–7,000 feet), transitional or ponderosa pine (6,500–8,500 feet), mixed conifer (8,000–9,500 feet), and spruce-fir (9,000–11,000 feet). Some of these zones have areas of overlap, or ecotones, where species intermingle, often supporting a wider variety of bird species.

The concept of habitat, or plant communities, is much broader and takes into account slope exposure, prevailing winds, and availability of moisture in addition to altitude and latitude. New Mexico Avian Conservation Partners, a collaboration of more than 14 governmental and nonprofit organizations, plus university and private researchers, recognizes the following types of habitats found in central New Mexico. The list has been modified slightly in this guide for ease in locating specific bird species.

* Spruce-fir forest: Dominant plant species are Engelmann spruce, blue spruce, bristlecone pine, and corkbark fir. Sandia Crest and the HawkWatch site at Capilla Peak are located in this habitat.

* Mixed conifer forest: Primary plant species are Douglas-fir, white fir, ponderosa pine, aspen, water birch, Rocky Mountain juniper, and southwestern white pine. Capulin Spring and the meadow below Capilla Peak are examples of this habitat.

* Transition or ponderosa pine forest: The trees include ponderosa pine in an open forest with grassy openings, Gambel oak, western chokecherry, and New Mexican locust. Sites in this type of habitat include Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long Picnic Areas, Cienega Canyon, and Fourth of July Canyon.

* Piñon-juniper woodland: Dominant plant species are piñon pine, juniper, Apache plume, mountain mahogany, and four-wing saltbush. This habitat can be found at Ojito de San Antonio Open Space.

* Montane riparian: Occurs as a narrow, often dense grove of broad-leaved, deciduous trees. Fourth of July Canyon, where bigtooth maples grow, is an example of this type of riparian area.

* Montane shrub: Habitat is a patch or a strip within other more extensive types of vegetation, such as wash, arroyo, or escarpment, where there is less available moisture than in surrounding areas. There are sections of montane shrub along Tajique Canyon.

* Middle-elevation riparian: A tree- and/or shrub-dominated area along a river or stream, including the cottonwood bosque. Examples include all of the sites along the middle Rio Grande, Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, Cedro Nature Trail, and Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument–Quarai Unit.

* Subalpine meadow: Seasonally wet area at high elevations below the tree line. Examples include the meadow near Kiwanis Cabin at Sandia Crest and the wet, grassy areas near the 10K Trailheads (both north and south).

* Wetlands and lakes: Seasonal and permanent wetlands, marshes, ponds, and lakes. This habitat exists in a number of sites, including parts of Alameda Open Space, Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Manzano Pond, Belen Marsh, Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, Bernardo Wildlife Management Area, and Bosque del Apache NWR.

* Chihuahuan or upland desert scrub (referred to in this guide as desert scrub): Dominated by sand sagebrush in combination with other shrubs and cacti, such as four-wing saltbush, chamisa (rabbit brush), and prickly pear and cholla cacti. This is the primary habitat in all of the sites in the Sandia Foothills and the Petroglyph National Monument.

* Agricultural: Includes areas where crops are planted and harvested. Sites with agricultural areas include Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, Bernardo Wildlife Management Area, and Bosque del Apache NWR.

Site descriptions utilize the concept of life zones in the areas of the Sandia and Manzanita/Manzano Mountains. Most of the other site descriptions refer to the type of habitat.


Helpful Information

How to Use This Guide

The directions in this guide are intended to be used in conjunction with a map of New Mexico. Readers will also benefit from a map of Albuquerque for the sites around the city. State maps are available at New Mexico Tourism Department offices. Several, including interactive maps in the form of PDF files, can be downloaded at This is particularly important when planning to visit one of the sites described in chapter 3, since there are few roads that provide access from one side of the river to the other. All of the written descriptions start from the intersection of Interstate 40 (I-40) and Interstate 25 (I-25).

Six chapters are devoted to distinct areas within central New Mexico: chapter 3 covers four sites on both sides of the Rio Grande north of I-40; chapter 4 describes five sites along the west slope of the Sandia Mountains and one that is accessed from Tijeras Pass; chapter 5 highlights five specific sites at different elevations and describes possible stops while traveling up the mountain; chapter 6 describes six sites along the east slope of the Manzanita and Manzano Mountains; chapter 7 highlights two sites in the geologically distinct Petroglyph National Monument; and chapter 8 describes five sites in the two counties south of Albuquerque, ending with the well-known Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Each description includes general highlights of the site and recommended route; target species; listing of other birds that might be seen by season; driving directions and public transportation route if available; parking; fees; special considerations and hazards; facility information, including accessibility and availability of restrooms, water, and picnic facilities; and general information on the nearest food and lodging.

The seasons for each of the sites are broken down into winter (generally December–March), summer (generally June–August), and migration, which can overlap these two seasons. Spring migration can begin for some species near the end of February and last through May. Fall migration can begin as early as mid-July and end in late November, depending on the species. As you read the list of species at a specific site and find one that is a target species for you, it is wise to check the annotated checklist near the back of the book, where specific months are provided for arrival and departure.

At many sites, we suggest specific clues for locating a species, for example, a plant or geologic/human-made structure. This is not meant to suggest that the species can only be found on that plant or structure.

For definitions of words commonly used in the field of birding, please refer to a field guide of birds of North America. Subspecies of some birds are important to birders. Where more than one subspecies is possible at a site, the specific subspecies will be indicated. The annotated checklist in this book provides subspecies information. If no subspecies is mentioned, for example, for Western Scrub-Jay, it can be assumed that the "Woodhouse's" form is the one found in this region.

Weather and Altitude

It seems no matter what preconceived ideas a person has about New Mexico, the first-time visitor frequently is surprised. When someone is traveling at 65 or 70 miles per hour on an interstate highway, central New Mexico seems monochromatically brown, arid, and dusty. Upon a closer look, the subtleties of its cottonwood-edged valleys and evergreen-shaded or snow-covered mountain trails become apparent. For those who envision Albuquerque as a parched desert, the cool, verdant haven of nearby Sandia Crest can be startling.

Central New Mexico is blessed with an abundance of sun, but snowy winter days are not uncommon. At an altitude of 5,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level, Albuquerque has annual high and low temperatures ranging from an average of 92°F to 65°F in July and 48°F to 24°F in January. At 10,678 feet, Sandia Crest has average temperatures that are a little different, varying from 66°F to 47°F in July and 28°F to 12°F in January. As in most high deserts, the difference in temperature between day and night is significant. New

Mexico's thinner atmosphere and low humidity allow the sun-heated air to escape into space on most nights, but not without the breathtaking reward of a sky full of stars. Albuquerque's average annual rainfall is less than 9 inches, while the adjacent mountains receive over 25 inches of precipitation.

We recommend that you prepare for central New Mexico's variable weather by dressing in layers. It is important to wear a hat with a brim because of the intense sun and to apply sunscreen conscientiously. Long pants and sturdy shoes help ward off cactus thorns and other prickly desert plants, as well as provide traction on loose granite trails. If you plan to visit Sandia Crest in winter seeking rosy-finches, be aware that you may find yourself walking on icy pavement. Mountain trails can be snowy as early as October and as late as May. The snow may linger in the mountains between storms, but valley and foothill areas can experience a storm one day and all evidence will be gone the next.

Check the media (newspapers, broadcast, Internet) for impending weather changes both winter and summer. The late-summer weather pattern of regular afternoon thunderstorms is known as the monsoon season, often accompanied by lightning and flash floods. When storms are nearby, avoid hiking, driving, or parking in arroyos, even if dry. It may be sunny at your location, but an upstream deluge could fill a dry wash in seconds. Conversely, you may see rain falling as virga, vanishing completely before it touches the ground. High winds in the spring increase the danger in montane forested areas from falling trees killed by insect infestation. Stay clear of leaning timber or broken limbs. Rio Grande cottonwoods are considered a self-pruning tree species, so watch for falling branches in the valley as well.

After you fly in from sea level, catching your breath while hiking at 10,000 feet may not be as easy as expected. Sometimes the difference is noticed even at 5,000 feet. Altitude sickness is best avoided by staying hydrated. In the extremely dry air, you are unaware of the perspiration evaporating directly from your skin. Carry water in the mountains, valleys, and deserts—and drink it! Consider all surface water sources to be contaminated.

Safety, Animals, and Pests

A few of the sites in this guide are a considerable distance from gas stations. Start with a full tank, especially in the areas along the Manzanita and Manzano Mountains. Other driving cautions include icy roads; unexpected mountain road closures in winter (or possible tire-chain requirement); and deep, impassable, muddy ruts in dirt roads after summer rains. High-clearance or four-wheel-drive vehicles may be required at some sites in this guide.

While central New Mexico's low humidity levels keep the biting-insect and mite populations low, mosquitoes are found along the river, especially in late summer. Any gnats encountered are easily warded off with long sleeves and, possibly, insect repellent. Chiggers are known to occur at Los Lunas River Park. Tucking your pant legs inside your socks will minimize their siege. Bees, yellow jackets, and wasps can be found along any of the trails described in this guide. You literally may stumble upon an occasional harvester anthill in the Sandia Foothills and along the Rio Grande valley. Their firelike sting can leave welts that last for days. Before standing still to view a bird, look down to make sure you are not standing on an anthill.

Poison ivy grows in New Mexico. The western species Toxicodendron rydbergii is the nonclimbing variety. It is known to be present at the Ojito de San Antonio Open Space, along the path in Sulphur Canyon Picnic Area in the Sandia Mountains, and in sections of the Cedro Creek Nature Trail in Otero Canyon, among other places in the state.

Several species of rattlesnakes occur in central New Mexico. It is probable that you will never see one. On the other hand, when alarmed, they can generate a buzzing rattle that might be mistaken for a wren or chat vocalization. Avoid advancing unless you are certain you are not walking toward a rattlesnake poised to strike.

Black bears are a concern at some of the birding sites listed. It is important not to leave food unattended on picnic tables, even briefly. The U.S. Forest Service has been known to confiscate abandoned food. Never behave like prey and run from a black bear. Back up slowly and walk away. Similarly, running from a cougar may elicit the same response. Cougars hunt for deer, their primary prey, at dawn and dusk. They usually avoid people. Hike with a friend if you are birding early or late at the sites where these animals are mentioned.

Vehicle break-ins are possible anywhere, but they are more common at a few of the sites listed and are indicated under "Special Considerations and Hazards." Lock your car and take your valuables with you at all locations.

Please respect private property and close all gates you open. Be a courteous birder. (See the ethics guidelines in chapter 9.)

Public Transportation

Visiting several of the birding sites described in this guide without a car is possible by using Albuquerque's city bus transit system (sometimes referred to as ABQ Ride). Bus fares (2010) are $1.00 for adults and $0.35 for students and adults age 62+ with identification. If you need to transfer to another bus route during your journey, ask the driver for a one-day pass when boarding to avoid being charged full fare to change routes. Paper transfers are no longer issued. Multiple-day discount passes are also available. Bus routes, schedules, and maps are available at

Albuquerque city bus routes provide service through most of the day. Exact times vary, but most of these routes operate between about 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., and some run later. Local routes have stops about every two blocks. Some route schedules vary throughout the day. Check the route schedule for exact times.

Note that some Albuquerque bus routes do not run at all on weekends. Those that do run usually have different schedules than on weekdays. For routes that do run on weekends, the schedule is generally different on both Saturday and Sunday.

Many bus routes that pass near the birding sites in this guide are only a commuter service. These buses run only in the morning and afternoon at rush hours. Route times vary, but most of these routes operate between about 6:00 and 9:00 a.m., and again between about 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. Buses on commuter routes make fewer stops than on other routes and only at stops marked with a red "Commuter" sign. It would be possible to use these routes to some of the birding sites on a weekday morning, but you would not be able to catch a return ride until late afternoon.

The following sites are within a reasonable walking distance from a city bus stop.


Excerpted from Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico by Judy Liddell, Barbara Hussey. Copyright © 2011 Judy Liddell and Barbara Hussey. Excerpted by permission of Texas A&M University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Maps IX

Preface XI

Acknowledgments XV

Chapter 1 Central New Mexico's Geography, Life Zones, and Habitats 1

Geography 1

Life Zones and Habitats 4

Chapter 2 Helpful Information 7

How to Use This Guide 7

Weather and Altitude 8

Safety, Animals, and Pests 9

Public Transportation 11

Local Birding Information and Resources 13

New Mexico Rare/Unusual Bird Report 16

Chapter 3 Along the Rio Grande: Albuquerque and Corrales 17

General Overview 17

Rio Grande Nature Center State Park 18

Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center and Bosque Trails 23

Alameda Bosque and Open Space 28

Corrales Bosque 33

Chapter 4 Sandia Foothills 39

General Overview 39

General Directions 39

Elena Gallegos Picnic Area 39

Bear Canyon-Michial M. Emery Trailhead 44

Embudito Canyon and Open Space 46

Embudo Canyon and Open Space 51

Copper Trailhead Open Space 57

Three Gun Spring (Tres Pistolas) and HawkWatch Trails 62

Chapter 5 Sandia Mountains 68

General Overview 68

General Directions 68

Ojito de San Antonio Open Spac 69

Along the Sandia Crest Highway 73

Sulphur Canyon and Doc Long Picnic Areas 78

Cienega Canyon Picnic Area 82

Capulin Spring Picnic Area 86

Sandia Crest 90

Chapter 6 Manzanita and Manzano Mountains 97

General Overview 97

General Directions 98

Along the Manzanita and Manzano Mountains 98

Sandia Ranger District Visitor Center 103

Otero and Cedro Canyons 105

Tajique and Fourth of July Canyons 110

Capilla Peak and Manzano HawkWatch 114

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument-Quarai Unit 117

Chapter 7 Petroglyph National Monument 22

General Overview 122

Rinconada Canyon 122

Piedras Marcadas 126

Chapter 8 South of Albuquerque 131

General Overview 131

General Directions 131

Los Lunas River Park 132

Belen Marsh 135

Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area 138

Bernardo Wildlife Management Area 143

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge 147

Chapter 9 American Birding Association's Code of Birding Ethics 157

Annotated Checklist 161

Selected Resources 189

Index 191

What People are Saying About This

Rebecca Gracey

Birding enthusiasts will find Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico helpful in locating birds when visiting Albuquerque and the surrounding area. The authors not only list the expected bird species for each hot spot, but detailed directions for reaching the location. They also make good use of the internet and give web sites for many of the areas mentioned. Readers will discover that there is a variety of habitats in central New Mexico which translates into a large variety of bird species to be encountered."—Rebecca Gracey, Central New Mexico Audubon Society Thursday-Birders Coordinator

Sei Tokuda

Birding Hot Spots in Central New Mexico by Judith Liddell and Barbara Hussey is a must-have guide for the serious out-of-town birder who comes to Central New Mexico. The guide is practical, user-friendly and comprehensive. It starts off with an overall description of Albuquerque area's landscape, life zones, birds, possible hazards such as snakes, poison ivy, weather and altitude, etc. These factors are then applied to each selected site with the seasonal variation in bird species included. The information is presented clearly and logically thus adding to the fun of birding in the Albuquerque area."— Sei Tokuda, retired professor of immunology and former chair of the Department of Microbiology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine

Kenneth C. Schneider

Birding Hotspots of Central New Mexico draws upon the authors' familiarity with six clusters of the 29 very best birding locations within easy driving distance from downtown Albuquerque. Each of the concise site descriptions stands alone, thus avoiding cross-references and conveying a marvelous sense of place. This assures most efficient use of the visitor's time— by suggesting the best way to follow a trail, providing locations of the nearest rest rooms, drinking water, lodging and gas stations, and even spots for a picnic lunch.
Road and trail conditions and elevation changes are carefully noted, as are hours of operation, any entrance fees and proximity of public transportation if available. Particular hazards are pointed out as may be necessary, as well as wheelchair accessibility and obstacles for those with limited mobility, At some sites, the visitor will know what time of day is most favorable for birding, and where to get the best views when the trees are bare or fields are flooded. Nearly a dozen maps complement site-specific driving directions that all start from the intersection of I-40 and I-25 in the heart of Albuquerque. There is a strong emphasis on how to most efficiently locate target species, some of which may be found almost exclusively at one or a few of the hot spots. All of the expected species are listed in an annotated checklist that references only the best locations for finding them. Unlike some bird finding guides, the text is not cluttered with aging reports of rare and unusual birds. Instead, the reader is sensibly advised to consult the latest eBird and rare bird alerts before setting out. Nearly all of these locations are already indexed by name in eBird. Whether planning an extended trip or a few hours' escape from a business meeting, birders with all levels of experience will find Birding Hotspots of Central New Mexico
an invaluable traveling companion."—Kenneth C Schneider, retired physician and lifelong birder

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