The weather may be cooling down, but birds are just taking flight for their fall migration. If bird-watching is the name of your game, swoop down to these New Mexico destinations.
Central Road Trip
The granddaddy birding event of them all—the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge’s Festival of the Cranes—celebrates its 22nd year November 17–22, 2009. Located 8 miles south of San Antonio and 87 miles south of Albuquerque off U.S. 380, the Refuge is a prime destination for avian enthusiasts throughout the year. In the summer, hummingbirds, young coots, pheasants, Gambel’s quail, geese, and others can be spotted here.
Every fall the Bosque del Apache is aflutter when 15,000 sandhill cranes return to winter at the Refuge. Photographers and ornithologists alike delight in the cranes’ sweeping, cacophonic flights at sunrise and sunset. There’s plenty of action away from the water, too. More than 100 wildlife lectures, photo and art workshops, guided tours and hikes, and activities are planned during the festival.
While you’re passing through San Antonio, dig in to one of the state’s favorite green chile cheeseburgers from the Owl Bar [77 U.S. 380; (505) 835-9946] or the Buckhorn Tavern [68 U.S. 380; (575) 835-4423]—the battle for bragging rights over the best green chile cheeseburger is epic between these two. For more info on the festival and lodging details: http://www.friendsofthebosque.org
Flit north along I-25 and stop by the Río Grande Nature Center State Park in Albuquerque [2901 Candelaria NW; (505) 344-7240] where 250 species of birds have been observed here throughout the year. After a stop at the visitor’s center, where you’ll observe the pond’s residents, which include ducks, geese, and other wildlife, wend through the cottonwood bosque (riverside habitat) which features two miles of nature trails ripe for bird watching. Contact the Friends of the Rio Grande Nature Center for more info on birding here. After a day of bird watching, relax with a glass of local wine at St. Clair Winery and Bistro [901 Rio Grand NW; 505-243-9916]. Check into the Adobe Nido Bed and Breakfast [1124 Major Ave. NW; (505) 344-1310], a cozy retreat located near Old Town Albuquerque where innkeeper Sarah Dolk will share the secrets of the city with you during your stay.
Northern Road Trip
Continue your northern migration along I-25 to the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge, where you’ll observe birds in picturesque meadows just 6 miles southeast of the town of Las Vegas. The Refuge is located along the Central Flyway—a key migration route—and is a wintering area for geese, ducks, and cranes. The historic Plaza Hotel and Landmark Grill [230 Plaza St., (505) 425-3591]are destinations in themselves while in town.
Located on the plains of northeastern New Mexico 30 miles south of Ratón off I-25 and N.M. 505, the Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge features a mix of lakes, wetlands, and prairies. The prairie grasslands here offer year-round opportunities to see soaring bald and golden eagles, and falcons, and hawks. While in town stay at The Colt Motel [1160 S. 2nd St.; (575) 445-2305], and dine at the Park Avenue Café [240 Park Ave.; (575) 455-9090].
Southern Road Trip
Fly south for the winter (or anytime) to the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which was established to provide a habitat for migratory birds in 1937. Located along the Pecos River watershed 11 miles outside of Roswell off U.S. 285, it’s a rare source of water where some of the state’s most rare and interesting creatures, including the least tern, gather. More than 350 species of birds have been spotted here, including cranes, and about 20 duck species such as pintails, mallards, canvasback, gadwall, and shovelers. Take respite at the Victorian-inspired Country Club Bed and Breakfast [400 E. Country Club; (888) 624-1794] and check out Peppers Grill [500 N Main St., (575) 623-1700] for great local fare.
About 75 miles south on U.S. 285, head to Rattlesnake Springs, adjacent to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, is bounded by Chihuahuan Desert plains and the Guadalupe Mountains. This desert oasis is home to one of the largest collections of Bell’s vireos in the state. You will also find the summer tanager, varied bunting, painted bunting, eastern bluebird, hooded oriole, yellow-billed cuckoo, orchard oriole, and verdin in residence here. You’ll also find the plain-bellied water snake, Pecos western ribbon snake, eastern barking frog, and Blanchard’s cricket frog in the area—all are endangered species. If you’re in search of lodging with historic charm, stay at Casa Milagro [1612 North Guadalupe; (970) 739-4442], and stop in the Blue House [609 N Canyon St.; (575) 628-0555] for baked goodies for your road trip.
For birding info: New Mexico Ornithological Society: http://www.nmbirds.org/
Audubon New Mexico: http://nm.audubon.org
For guided avian adventures: Wings West birding tours: http://home.earthlink.net/~wingswestnm/