Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos, and Northern New Mexico

Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos, and Northern New Mexico

by Judith Liddell, Barbara Hussey


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In their second guide to birding in New Mexico, Judy Liddell and Barbara Hussey share their experiences and intimate knowledge of the best places to find birds in and around Santa Fe and other areas in northern New Mexico.

Following the same format as their book on the Albuquerque area, the authors describe 32 sites organized by geographic regions. 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 poison ivy, rattlesnakes, and bears. Maps and photographs provide trail diagrams and images of some of the target birds and their environments.

A “helpful information” section covering weather, altitude, safety, transportation, and other local birding resources is included along with an annotated checklist of 276 bird species seen with some regularity in and around Santa Fe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781623492540
Publisher: Texas A&M University Press
Publication date: 10/30/2013
Series: W. L. Moody Jr. Natural History Series , #51
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 569,275
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

JUDY LIDDELL is a freelance writer, teacher, blogger, and board member of Audubon New Mexico and the Central New Mexico Audubon Society, as well as president of the New Mexico Audubon Council.
BARBARA HUSSEY is former president, board member, birding field trip leader, and newsletter editor for the Central New Mexico Audubon Society. Liddell and Hussey live in Albuquerque and are coauthors of Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico.

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Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos, and Northern New Mexico

By Judy Liddell, Barbara Hussey

Texas A&M University Press

Copyright © 2015 Judy Liddell and Barbara Hussey
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62349-258-8


North-Central New Mexico's Geography and Habitats

North-central New Mexico is a lure for those who love the outdoors. It has a number of nationally known tourist destinations and boasts a list of 276 species of birds seen on a regular basis, including Bald and Golden Eagles, Lewis's Woodpecker, Pinyon Jay, Evening Grosbeak, and Dusky Grouse. The described hot spots are clustered into eight geographic areas: greater Santa Fe area, greater Taos area, Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway and nearby areas, Jemez Mountains and Los Alamos, along the Rio Chama, Cochiti Lake area, along the upper Pecos River, along I-25 north of Santa Fe, and two high-elevation locations for specialty birds. Sites covered in this guide are located in seven counties: Sandoval, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Taos, Rio Arriba, San Miguel, and Colfax.


The geography of north-central New Mexico is dominated by the rugged and majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southern portion of the Rocky Mountains, with seven peaks towering over 13,000 feet. Sangre de Cristo is the Spanish term for "blood of Christ," reflecting the color the mountains assume at sunset.

Rivers are also an important part of north-central New Mexico's geography. The Rio Grande, which originates in southwestern Colorado, is considered the lifeblood of New Mexico and enters the state north of Taos, where it meanders through the deep canyons of the Rio Grande Gorge, the Española Valley, and south through Cochiti Pueblo. The Rio Chama, the third-largest tributary of the Rio Grande, also originates in southern Colorado and winds through New Mexico along the eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau through sandstone canyons and Abiquiu Lake, before entering the Española Valley, where it joins the Rio Grande at the location of the first European settlement in the Southwest. The Pecos River, also a tributary of the Rio Grande, does not flow into the Rio Grande until after it reaches Texas. Its headwaters are in the Pecos Wilderness high country in the Sangre de Cristos. It flows through the upper Pecos River Valley, crosses Interstate 25, and then snakes through the Villanueva State Park's sandstone cliffs before entering the Great Plains.

Vegetation Zones and Habitats

Birdlife is closely connected to habitat. Various factors affect the type of vegetation and habitat throughout this area. Elevation, latitude, exposure, prevailing winds, temperature, and rainfall contribute to this diversity. For example, a vegetation type on the south side of a slope will occur at a higher elevation than on the north side. Visitors to northern New Mexico are often puzzled when they encounter habitats and bird species at different elevations than they might be used to. For instance, the plateau north of Taos contains Great Basin shrub-grassland and piñon-juniper habitats; surprisingly, the road to the Red River Fish Hatchery descends into ponderosa pine habitat, which is usually at a higher elevation than piñon-juniper.

For conservation purposes, north-central New Mexico is part of the Southern Rocky Mountains Ecoregion. A variety of terminology is used to define habitats or vegetation zones. The New Mexico Avian Conservation Partners, a collaboration of more than 14 governmental and nonprofit organizations, plus university and private researchers, recognizes the following 15 vegetation zones in north-central New Mexico, each defined by its characteristic dominant plants. Some site descriptions refer to ecotones that occur when habitats overlap and species intermingle.

* Alpine tundra: Vegetation at elevations generally over 11,500 feet is dwarfed and gnarled and often referred to as Krummholz. It is found on Santa Barbara Ridge.

* Spruce-fir forest: The dominant plant species are Engelmann spruce, blue spruce, bristlecone pine, and corkbark fir. It can be found at the Santa Fe Ski Area and Taos Ski Valley.

* Mixed conifer forest: The primary plant species are Douglas-fir, white fir, ponderosa pine, aspen, water birch, Rocky Mountain juniper, and southwestern white pine. Examples include Aspen Vista Picnic Area, Pajarito Mountain Ski Area, and Apache Creek. Some areas within mixed conifer forests contain large stands of aspens, most of which originated from fire events that decimated the conifers. Aspen is one of the first trees that emerges after a fire, sprouting from dormant rootstock. Other aspen groves border alpine meadows that were heavily grazed by livestock.

* Transition zone 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 with this type of habitat include Black Canyon Campground along Hyde Park Road, Cimarron Canyon State Park, and Jemez Falls.

* Piñon-juniper woodland: The dominant tree/shrub/plant species are piñon pine, juniper, Apache plume, mountain mahogany, and four-wing saltbush. This habitat can be found at Rio Grande del Norte National Monument: Wild Rivers, areas along the Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River, and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

* Montane riparian: This habitat occurs as a narrow, often dense grove of broad-leaved, deciduous trees. Holy Ghost Campground is an example of this type of riparian area.

* Montane shrub: This habitat is a patch or a strip within other more extensive types of vegetation, such as a wash, arroyo, or escarpment, where there is less available moisture than in surrounding areas. Sections of montane shrub occur along Rio Grande del Norte National Monument: Orilla Verde.

* Middle-elevation riparian: This is a tree- and/or shrub-dominated area along a river or stream, including the cottonwood bosque (Spanish for "woodlands"). Examples include Ohkay Owingeh Fishing Lakes along the Rio Grande and Villanueva State Park.

* Subalpine wet meadow: This habitat is a seasonally wet area at high elevations below the tree line. Examples include the meadow at Valles Caldera, Jacks Creek Campground, and areas in the Taos Ski Valley.

* Montane grassland: This habitat is found at high elevation in the upper areas of the Valles Caldera National Preserve and at Jacks Creek.

* Emergent wetlands and lakes: These include both seasonal and permanent wetlands as well as ponds and lakes. Examples occur at Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, Monastery Lake, and Fred Baca Park.

* Great Basin shrub: This is a high-desert habitat in areas that experience snow during the winter and is dominated by a variety of sages. It can be found along Forest Road 151 near Abiquiu Lake and on the mesa north and west of Taos.

* Upland desert scrub (referred to in this guide as desert scrub): This habitat is dominated by sand sagebrush in combination with other shrubs and cacti, such as four-wing saltbush, chamisa (rabbit brush), prickly pear, and cholla cactus. While not prevalent in north-central New Mexico, it can be found along the road to the Tetilla Peak Recreation Area and near La Cieneguilla Marsh.

* Plains-mesa grassland: This type of habitat, sometimes referred to as shortgrass prairie, is primarily grasses, such as blue grama and buffalo grass, and is found near sites along I-25.

* Agricultural: This habitat includes areas where crops are planted and harvested. Sites with agricultural areas include Peña Blanca and the roads into El Vado and Heron Lake State Parks.

The vegetation in north-central New Mexico is undergoing change because of gradually warming temperatures. Several site descriptions include mention of damage or changes as a result of recent wildfires. These fire events that are the most obvious result of forest change are only part of the story. While north-central New Mexico has had alternating wet and dry periods over time, the drought that started in 2000 (and continued through the time this guide was written) has lasted longer and has had more drastic effects on forest habitats than in the past. According to climate scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory, located in this region, forest changes are accelerating. Even during years with the same amount of rain and snowpack as the area experienced in the past, trees are still dying off because temperatures are warmer. As a result of these changes, habitats described in the guide, and their accompanying bird species, may look different in the future.


Helpful Information

How to Use This Guide

The guide includes nine chapters devoted to distinct areas within north-central New Mexico. Each description includes a general account of the highlights of the site and recommended route; counties covered; Internet website or Facebook page, if available; target species; listing of other birds that might be seen by season; driving directions; public transportation route, if available; fees; special considerations and hazards; facility information, including information about accessibility for people with varying abilities; availability of restrooms, water, and picnic facilities; and general information on the nearest gas, food, and lodging.

Target Birds

Target birds are those that local birders have suggested are the species that visitors to an area are most interested in viewing. The seasons for each of the sites are broken down into winter (generally December–March), summer (June–August), and migration, which can overlap these two seasons. Spring migration can begin for some species toward the end of February and continue through May. Fall migration can begin as early as mid-July and finish toward the end of 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, we recommend that you consult the annotated checklist near the end of the book, where specific months are provided for arrival and departure.

eBird Hotspots

Some site descriptions list eBird Hotspots associated with it, not only to assist you in more easily checking on recent sightings but also to encourage you to enter your sightings in existing Hotspots. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society launched eBird in 2002 on the Internet to provide a way for "citizen scientists" (all birders) to contribute to the knowledge base of bird distribution and abundance and has continued to evolve. To obtain current information on eBird Hotspot sightings, click on Explore a Location on the Explore Data tab and enter the name of the Hotspot ( Or use the Find Nearby Hotspots on the BirdsEye app that can be downloaded on a smart phone or tablet.


We recommend supplementing the directions in this guide with New Mexico state and local road maps available through New Mexico Tourism Department offices (, local tourist information centers, mobile phone apps, or GPS devices. All directions to the sites in this guide originate from a city or town easily found on a state road map (Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Taos, and Las Vegas, New Mexico). Some sites have directions from multiple towns. Interstate exit numbers correspond roughly with the mileage distance on that highway from the southern or western starting point of either I-25 or I-40 in New Mexico. As individual vehicle odometers vary, all mileages are approximate. We also suggest stopping at the park, monument, or refuge visitor centers listed in this guide to obtain trail maps when available.

GAIN Permits and HMAV

A few of the sites require a New Mexico Gaining Access into Nature (GAIN) permit and Habitat Management and Access Validation (HMAV). GAIN is a program offered by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF).

These permits are mandatory for birding on trails within the Colin Neblett Wildlife Management Area near Cimarron Canyon and Eagle Nest Lake State Parks (chapter 5); the Rio Chama Trail between El Vado Lake and Heron Lake State Parks (chapter 7); and Bert Clancy and Terrero fishing areas along the Pecos River on NM 68 (chapter 9). GAIN and HMAV permits are not available on-site at any of the birding locations in this guide. They must be purchased in advance at any NMDGF office, online (, or from private license vendors such as hunting and fishing supply dealers or other retail or sporting goods stores.

Annual GAIN permits are valid from April 1 to March 31. NMDGF offers a temporary permit valid for five consecutive days. Permit prices may be different for those with addresses outside New Mexico. HMAV must be purchased with GAIN, as well as with all New Mexico hunting and fishing licenses.

Federal Passes

There are several types of recreational passes issued by the federal government. All of the passes are honored nationwide at all Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Fish and Wildlife Service sites charging entrance or standard amenity fees.


For those readers who have varying abilities, we have tried to describe the conditions present at each site regarding paved or dirt trails, steepness of slope, availability of hand railings and other amenities, loose gravel, exposed tree roots, and possible presence of mud, ice, and other hazards.


Drinking water sources can be scarce in some areas of New Mexico, especially at sites far from towns and in desertlike areas. The availability of drinking water is listed in each site description. Consider all surface water sources to be contaminated. We recommend bringing your own water with you on hikes and in your vehicle.


At most sites in this guide, pets are permitted if they are on a leash. At a few sites, they are not allowed except inside a vehicle.

Gas, Food, and Lodging

For the convenience of users of this guide, we have listed the nearest gas, food, and lodging for each site. It is recommended to refill gas tanks often, as gas stations are often few and far between on many north-central New Mexico roads.

Special Considerations and Hazards

We have listed some of the more important special considerations and hazards birders may encounter at each site description. Many of these are self-explanatory or have brief explanations in the individual narrative. The few that need more detailed information are listed here.

Black Bears and Cougars

Black bears are a concern at many of the birding sites listed. Not all black bears in New Mexico have black fur; some are brown, cinnamon, or blond. It is important not to leave food unattended on picnic tables—even briefly. US Forest Service personnel have been known to confiscate abandoned food. Never behave like prey and run from a black bear. Back up slowly and walk away. If a bear approaches you, make a lot of noise. Remain standing upright. Never lie down to play dead or turn your back on an approaching black bear.

Do not behave like prey and run from a cougar. Cougars hunt for deer, their primary prey, at dawn and dusk and usually avoid people. Hike with a friend if you are birding early or late at the sites where they are mentioned, a good idea at all times.


Several species of rattlesnakes are known to inhabit parts of north-central New Mexico, including prairie rattlesnake and western diamondback rattlesnake, and can occur up to altitudes of 9,500 feet or higher. Unless they feel threatened, snakes will not usually bother humans. Walk in cleared areas where it is easy to see where you step or reach with your hands. Wear sturdy hiking boots. Snakes often seek shade during intense summer heat.

If bitten, remain calm and put a safe distance between you and the snake. Call 911 for transport to a medical facility. Antivenin is the only definitive treatment. While awaiting transport, call the New Mexico Poison Center at 1–800–222–1222 for guidance. If you are out of cell phone range, get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Hunting Seasons

A few of the sites in this guide are also areas where hunting is allowed at certain times of the year. For more information on locations and seasons, visit the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Web site ( or pick up a copy of its free publication New Mexico Hunting Rules and Information, available at most New Mexico state parks and visitor centers.


Present in several areas of north-central New Mexico, plague is a disease of wild rodents and rabbits caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is spread among animals and to humans by the bites of infected fleas. Animals that are most often infected include rock squirrels, prairie dogs, pack rats, chipmunks, rabbits, and mice. When an animal with plague dies, the infected fleas must find a new host. This may be another rodent, a pet, or a person. Avoid contact with wild rodents and their fleas, nests, and burrows. Prevent pets from hunting by keeping them on a leash while hiking.

Poison Ivy

Common in New Mexico, the western species (Toxicodendron rydbergii) is the nonclimbing, bushy variety. It can be recognized by its sometimes shiny leaves in groups of three. It is known to be present at nearly half of the locations featured in this guide. The leaves of poison ivy often change to an attractive scarlet color in the fall, resembling Virginia creeper.


Excerpted from Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos, and Northern New Mexico by Judy Liddell, Barbara Hussey. Copyright © 2015 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 xiii

Chapter 1 North-Central New Mexico's Geography and Habitats 1

Geography 1

Vegetation Zones and Habitats 3

Chapter 2 Helpful Information 6

How to Use This Guide 6

Special Considerations and Hazards 9

Local Birding Information and Resources 14

New Mexico Rare/Unusual Bird Report 17

Chapter 3 Greater Santa Fe Area 19

General Overview 19

Randall Davey Audubon Center and Sanctuary and Santa Fe Canyon Preserve 19

State Capitol and Santa Fe River Trail 26

La Cieneguilla Marsh 29

Along NM 475 (Hyde Park Road) 34

Aspen Vista Picnic Area 38

Santa Fe Ski Area 42

Ohkay Owingeh Fishing Lakes 47

Chapter 4 Greater Taos Area 51

General Overview 51

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument: Orilla Verde Area 53

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument: Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and Rest Stop 58

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument: Arroyo Hondo and John Dunn Bridge 61

Fred Baca Park 65

Taos Ski Valley 69

Chapter 5 Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway and Nearby Areas 75

General Overview 75

Red River State Fish Hatchery 75

Rio Grande del Norte National Monument: Wild Rivers Area 80

Along NM 38: Questa to Eagle Nest 85

Cimarron Canyon State Park 90

Eagle Nest Lake State Park 96

Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park and Area 100

Chapter 6 Jemez Mountains and Los Alamos 104

General Overview 104

Bandelier National Monument Visitor Center Area 105

Los Alamos: Upper Rendija Canyon and Perimeter Trail 111

Pajarito Mountain Ski Area and Canada Bonita Trail 116

Valles Caldera National Preserve 120

Along Jemez Mountain National Scenic Byway (NM 4) 125

Jemez Falls 133

Chapter 7 Along the Rio Chama 137

General Overview 137

Abiquiu Lake and Rio Chama Recreation Area 137

Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center and Echo Amphitheater 142

Rio Chama Wild and Scenic River 147

El Vado Lake State Park 154

Heron Lake State Park 157

Chama 162

Chapter 8 Cochiti Lake Area 166

General Overview 166

Along NM 22 and Cochiti Highway 166

Cochiti Lake Recreation Area 172

Tetilla Peak Recreation Area 176

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument 180

Chapter 9 Along the Upper Pecos River 185

General Overview 185

Pecos National Historical Park 186

Monastery Lake 189

Along NM 63 192

Jacks Creek Campground 197

Villanueva State Park 200

Chapter 10 Along I-25 North of Santa Fe 205

General Overview 205

Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge 205

Storrie Lake State Park 212

Springer Lake Wildlife Area 216

Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge 220

Chapter 11 High-Elevation Specialty Locations 228

General Overview 228

Santa Barbara Ridge 228

Apache Creek 232

American Birding Association's Code of Ethics 239

Annotated Checklist 243

Selected Resources 267

Index 269


Map 1 Sites in North-Central New Mexico 2

Map 2 Greater Santa Fe Area 20

Map 3 State Capitol and Santa Fe River Trail 26

Map 4 La Cieneguilla Marsh 30

Map 5 Ohkay Owingeh Fishing Lakes 46

Map 6 Greater Taos Area 52

Map 7 Rio Grande del Norte: Wild Rivers Area and Red River Fish Hatchery 76

Map 8 Jemez Mountains Area 105

Map 9 Los Alamos, Rendija Canyon, and Perimeter Trail 112

Map 10 Abiquiti Lake, Ghost Ranch, and Rio Chama Wild Rivers 138

Map 11 Cochiti Lake, Tetilla Peak, and Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument 167

Map 12 Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge and Storrie Lake State Park 207

Map 13 Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge 221

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