When snowpack breaks up and melts into thirsty rivers and streams, New Mexicans know it is time to welcome the coming spring. The greeting begins around mid-March in fits and starts punctuated by cool but gloriously sunny mornings and powerful whirlwinds of dust and debris. The over 500 species of birds traveling throughout the state every year know the signs too, because that means it is time for spring migration.
Spring Migration is the seasonal movement of birds between wintering and breeding grounds following a system of flyways that span continents and oceans. In New Mexico our riparian corridors provide much-needed habitat for foraging and rest along these bird’s migratory journey. Spring flows also help sustain the cultural practices and recreation for human communities who are happy to thaw out after a long winter. This is why Audubon New Mexico’s work is concentrated on healthy and resilient rivers for birds and people here in the arid southwest.
One challenge that we face in New Mexico is with such a vast geography of alpine forests, open desert, urban centers, and rural towns it is all but impossible to track conservation efforts and monitor valuable habitat on our own. This is where partnership comes in – our grassroots network of four state chapters, members, and supporters are heading to their favorite river trail to monitor birds in May and June for the second annual Western Rivers Bird Count.
Using a simple protocol and the eBird application, volunteers sign-up to count birds at several sites in New Mexico along the Rio Grande, the Gila, and other important tributaries. This grassroots effort allows Audubon to track how birds are responding to drying rivers and a warming climate while contributing data about under-monitored sites to a national database. We encourage you to participate by picking a designated survey location and RSVP’ing HERE.
Curious about the selected sites? Here is a quick overview of some priority sites:
Bernardo State Wildlife Management Area
Part of the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex (an Audubon Important Bird Area), Bernardo Wildlife Area is located between Belen and Socorro. Since 1971 it has provided habitat and food for wintering waterfowl and will flood up in the fall to attract thousands of Sandhill Cranes. This spring you might expect to see a variety of songbirds.
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge
Sevilleta NWR is home to four different kinds of biomes: Colorado Plateau Shrub Steppe, Great Plains Shore Grass Prairie, Chihuahuan Desert, and Pinyon-Juniper Woodland. The Rio Grande flows through the center attracting over 251 species of birds. The refuge is working to restore habitat for the state and federally endangered Southwestern Willow Flycatcher by planting native willow and cottonwoods.
Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge
Working with community partners in the South Valley, Valle de Oro NWR was established in 2012 as the first urban refuge in the Southwest. An Environmental Justice Plan, the first in the country, guides the refuge’s management ethic by integrating environmental and economic justice into daily practice as the land is restored for wildlife and developed as an educational and recreational resource for the community. The Rio Grande Bosque flows behind the refuge where you can see Lazuli Bunting, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and Spotted Sandpiper.
The Rio Grande is among the most iconic rivers in the western United States. As the second longest river in the continental U.S., and the fifth longest river in North America, the Rio Grande flows approximately 1900 miles from the San Juan Mountains in Southern Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. For over 1200 miles, the Rio Grande is the border between Texas and Mexico. The Rio Grande ecosystem supplies irrigation for food production in both America and Mexico as well as renewable drinking water to fast growing urban centers on both sides of the international border. At the same time, the Rio supports large-scale ecological processes like continental migration of hundreds of thousands of birds, bats and butterflies, including vital habitat for seven of the eight Audubon priority bird species for riparian areas in the west – Yellow Warbler, Yellow-breasted Chat, Summer Tanager, Bell’s Vireo, Sandhill Crane, Southwestern Willow Flycatcher and Western Yellow-billed Cuckoo.
The Rio Chama was designated Wild and Scenic in 1988 which keeps it free-flowing and brimming with wildlife and opportunities to float its rapids. Colorful sandstone canyons line this corridor providing perches for raptors while swallows skirt the cold water’s edge for insects. It begins in the San Juan Mountains and joins the Rio Grande near Espanola. In fact, it is the Rio Grande’s third largest tributary. You may expect to see the Dusky Flycatcher, Plumbeous Vireo, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Western Bluebird on your count.
Santa Fe River
If you are visiting Audubon New Mexico’s Randall Davey Audubon Center, you might consider beginning your count on the Santa Fe River. The river starts in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range and passes right through Santa Fe providing about 40% of the city’s water supply. River channels will occasionally run dry which makes monitoring bird populations here especially critical.
A tributary of the Colorado River, the Gila River originates in America’s first designated wilderness area, the Gila Wilderness. For years, New Mexico’s first Audubon chapter, Southwestern New Mexico Audubon Society, has fought to protect it from dams and diversions. It is home to seven threatened or endangered species and is proposed for long-term protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. If you are lucky, you might spot a Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, or a Yellow-billed Cuckoo.