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Birding enthusiasts and travelers in search of true natural beauty will flock to Socorro, New Mexico's Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge each fall for the annual Festival of the Cranes. There, they can watch as snow geese lift off en masse at sunrise and return along with sandhill cranes for a spectacular sunset "fly-in." Special hikes, tours and workshops will also be offered.

"The Festival is a great introduction to the wealth of birdwatching opportunities we have here year round," said Tourism Cabinet Secretary Monique Jacobson. "Birding offers a unique way to experience the color, serenity and majesty of the New Mexico landscape." New Mexico counts some 500 different winged creatures on its state bird list and offers the growing ranks of birders a rich assortment of venues, from riparian habitats along the Rio Grande to high mountain forests.

"Birding can be as easy as sitting at an observation site or as active as hiking, canoeing or kayaking," said Liddell, also the co-author of Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico and the forthcoming Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos and Northern New Mexico, to be released in spring 2015. "Events like the Festival of the Cranes provide an organized way to travel to a new location and see birds as part of a group."

How to get started? "The best way is to accompany experienced birders into the field," Liddell said. "Local Audubon chapters sponsor birding walks where experienced birders are eager to share their knowledge with novices. All you need in terms of equipment is a pair of binoculars, and they need not be expensive."

Besides Bosque del Apache, a refuge for all seasons, other top recommended birding spots in New Mexico include:

Albuquerque Area:

  • Sandia Crest – At an elevation of 10,678 feet, the Crest House is an easily accessible spot for observe all three species of rosy-finch during the winter. The Sandia Crest area is also a prime year-round location for observing such sought-after birds as the American three-toed woodpecker, Cassin's finch, and red crossbill.
  • Rio Grande Nature Center State Park – Located within the city and along the river, this park boasts almost three hundred documented species and is a perfect place to see New Mexico's state bird, the greater roadrunner.

Southwest New Mexico:

  • Gila Bird Area – Situated along the Gila, New Mexico's only free-flowing river, this expanse is designated an Important Bird Area by Audubon New Mexico.
  • Percha Dam State Park – Located north of Hatch along the Rio Grande, this is one of the best places in the state for bird watching. The central area is an open bosque and good for phainopepla, woodpeckers, flycatchers, and vireos. The half-mile river trail is excellent for birds in all seasons. Within a small woodland at the park, there are commonly flycatchers, woodpeckers, and warblers during migration.

Southeast New Mexico:

  • Rattlesnake Springs – Part of Carlsbad Caverns National Park and an Audubon New Mexico Important Bird Areas, this is an oasis in an otherwise rugged setting. In spring, vermillion flycatcher, yellow-billed cuckoo, Bell's vireo, and painted bunting can be found. Cave swallows, which summer in the caverns, can also be seen foraging over the area.

Northern New Mexico:

  • Orilla Verde Recreation Area – Located at the southern end of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and an Audubon New Mexico Important Bird Area, this seven-mile expanse winds through a steep-walled canyon along the river with both piñon-juniper and riparian habitats. Golden eagle nests on canyon ledges and bald eagles can be spotted in winter. Other attractions include American dipper, rock and canyon wrens, and sagebrush sparrow nests on the plateau above.
  • Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge – Strategically located at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the edge of El Llano Estacado, the 8,672-acre refuge overlaps three unique landscapes, including the Rocky Mountains and eastern prairies. The sandhill cranes arrive in the fall as they migrate to their winter home. Bald eagles, northern harriers, and American kestrels are frequently sighted soaring above the refuge scanning the grasslands for prey or attracted to the hundreds of ducks and geese on the refuge's open waters. Migrating shorebirds like long-billed dowitchers and sandpipers probe the mudflats in early fall and spring.

North-Central New Mexico:

  • Randall Davey Audubon Center and Santa Fe Canyon Preserve – The combined area totals 660 acres and has been designated an Important Bird Area by National Audubon. It contains a variety of habitats including wetlands and ponds, montane riparian, desert scrub, piñon-juniper, ponderosa and mixed conifer, each attracting more than two hundred regular and rare bird species, including black-capped and mountain chickadees and stellers, pinyon, and western scrub-jays, as well as wintering Townsend's solitaire.

Visit New Mexico True to begin planning your visit!

 Photo courtesy of Jim Orr.

 

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