Snow-capped mountains swathed in conifer forest, towering cottonwood stands along the Middle Rio Grande Valley, expansive Chihuahuan Desert grasslands, and large, attractive lakes brimming with wintering waterbirds will form the backdrop for this New Mexican adventure as we explore the many natural treasures this land has to offer!
Along the way we’ll witness one of North America’s greatest wildlife spectacles, as tens of thousands of geese, ducks, and cranes fill the air at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. We’ll have ample opportunities to study New Mexico’s many wintering sparrows and raptors, and hope to encounter all three species of North American rosy-finches high on snowy mountaintops.
We will have two bases for this five-day Rendezvous. We will start in Albuquerque and stay at Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town. Next, we will travel to Socorro and stay at the Holiday Inn Express. Our BWD staffers on this Rendezvous will be New Mexico native, expert guide, and Redstart manager Raymond VanBuskirk; highly skilled bird and nature photographer, who happens to be our production director, Bruce Wunderlich; guide on several Rendezvous and editor of our magazine, Dawn Hewitt; and our events manager, Emily Jones.
CHECK OUT WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA EACH DAY:
Day 1, December 2: The tour begins at 4 p.m. in the lobby of our Albuquerque hotel. We’ll take a short walk into the historical plaza of the city, where we’ll enjoy a welcome dinner of delicious New Mexican cuisine and drinks. Night in Albuquerque.
Day 2: Today we’ll be exploring Sandia Crest with hopes of studying three species (and four subspecies) of rosy-finches. The Sandias are one of a handful of locations in the U.S. where all three “rosies” occur at the same time, offering an unusual chance to learn how to separate these sometimes similar species. This site has been the host of a 17-year banding study of New Mexico’s wintering rosy-finch population, spearheaded by Raymond back when he was 12 years old! With any luck we’ll have the chance to view these birds in-the-hand and learn firsthand all about their natural history. At sunrise, we’ll visit a nearby foothill canyon, where hillsides are covered in pinyon-juniper and montane scrub to search for resident birds such as scaled quail, ladder-backed woodpecker, western scrub-jay, juniper titmouse, bushtit, cactus wren, rock wren, western bluebird, curve-billed and crissal thrashers, and Townsend’s solitaire. The road that winds up to the crest offers good montane birding, and we’ll search for species such as northern pygmy-owl, Steller’s jay, red-breasted and pygmy nuthatches, and possibly American three-toed woodpecker and Williamson’s sapsucker en route for rosy-finches. Other mountain finches are generally plentiful in the coniferous forest here, and most years we encounter flocks of pine siskins, red crossbills, Cassin’s finches, as well as the occasional evening grosbeak. After lunch at the Sandia Crest we’ll begin our drive to Socorro for an early evening. We’ll visit a local brewery for dinner. Night in Socorro.
Day 3: If we have good weather that is typical here, we’ll be in for a real treat this morning at Bosque del Apache. A slight chill will permeate the crisp, still-dark morning air as we stand along the road at the refuge. Just as the first hint of dawn encroaches from the east, it begins: a few isolated bugles and honks at the start and then a rising swell of sound. As dawn takes hold, literally thousands of snow and Ross’s geese begin to leave their nighttime roosts, filling the air with their bodies and our ears with a veritable symphony. Listening to this cacophony and watching the flocks whirl overhead in the early morning light is an awesome experience. After the morning fly-out, we’ll spend the rest of the day exploring the two loop roads around the refuge, refuge headquarters, and a trail into desert scrub just south of the refuge for a host of grebes, ducks and geese, greater roadrunner, passerines such as sage and black-throated sparrow, and raptors such as ferruginous hawk, merlin, and bald eagle. As twilight approaches, we’ll visit a different roosting pond to watch the spectacular evening return of the sandhill cranes. Night in Socorro.
Day 4: We’ll depart early and drive south to areas around Caballo Lake and Percha Dam, some of the best birding locations in the state. Extensive stands of cottonwood and stretches of Chihuahuan Desert scrub attract large numbers of wintering landbirds, and we’ll be alert for such species as Gambel’s quail, white-winged dove, greater roadrunner, black and Say’s phoebes, Chihuahuan and common ravens, verdin, cactus wren, red-naped sapsucker, pyrrhuloxia, and phainopepla. If adequate monsoon rains have occurred, an impressive diversity of sparrows uses the area in winter, including sage, black-throated, Brewer’s, and grasshopper. On almost every visit to these areas something unexpected turns up, and birding here is always exciting. We’ll also look over Elephant Butte Lake, rich in waterbirds and perhaps the best place in New Mexico for wintering gulls. On previous visits we have turned up rarities such as glaucous and lesser black-backed gulls among the flocks of ring-billed gulls. A visit to a feeding station at Las Animas Creek, the only drainage east of the continental divide with native Arizona sycamores, should produce gaudy acorn woodpeckers and perky bridled titmice. Night in Socorro.
Day 5: This morning we’ll visit a native grassland just east of Bosque and look for wintering raptors, several species of grassland sparrows and longspurs, and the distinctive lilianae subspecies of eastern meadowlark . Later we’ll drive to Albuquerque by way of a scenic highway that passes through juniper-clad slopes, expansive grasslands, and deep canyons, where we may encounter birds such as pinyon jay, canyon and rock wrens, and western and mountain bluebirds. The grasslands along this route are often great places to find golden eagles. Night in Albuquerque and farewell dinner.
Day 6, December 7: The tour concludes this morning in Albuquerque. Please arrange your flights for mid- to late morning.
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