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New Mexico state parks offer great birding opportunities

For a growing number of people, birding is a great adventure at a state park. It doesn’t take much to get started-a pair of binoculars and a good guidebook is all you need. Start your birding adventure on the NM Birding Trail, which lists over 40 locations in southwestern NM. Here are some of the state park sites on this trail:

Pancho Villa State Park

Located near the Mexican border, this park is in the border town of Columbus. The flora and water from irrigation draws many birds including: curve-billed thrasher, cactus wren, greater roadrunner, great horned owl, Inca dove, ladder-backed woodpecker, verdin, pyrrhuloxia, Gambel’s quail, and black-throated sparrow. In summer, look for Bullock’s and Scott’s orioles and bronzed cowbird.

Rockhound State Park

Just south of Deming is Rockhound State Park. Spring and fall are the best times for viewing at both Rockhound and Spring Canyon units. Resident or wintering species include: Gambel’s quail, Hutton’s vireo, western scrub jay, Bewick’s wren, western bluebird, ruby-crowned kinglet, Townsend’s solitaire, phainopepla, greentailed towhee, black-chinned sparrow, and lesser goldfinch. Summer breeding birds include lesser nighthawk and common poor-will. City of Rocks State Park

This park north of Deming has amazing geology with nearby springs. Birds found here include: western kingbird, curve-billed thrasher, cactus wren, scaled quail, western scrub-jay, sparrows, finches, and eastern meadowlark. Also, possible are lesser nighthawk, common poorwill, great-horned owl and blue grosbeak.

Leasburg Dam State Park

This park is located on the Rio Grande about 20 miles north of Las Cruces. Flooded fields can produce: Wilson’s snipe, Franklin’s gull, American pipit, long-billed curlew, and various ducks. A trail runs along the river’s edge between campgrounds and resident species seen include: rock wren, verdin, sparrows, crissal thrasher, canyon towhee, pyrrhuloxia, black phoebe, and ladder-backed woodpecker. In summer look for warblers, phainopepla, Bullock’s oriole and warbling vireo.

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 is good for phainopepla, woodpeckers, flycatchers and vireos. The willow and cottonwood habitat boasts some of the best warbler watching during spring and fall migrations. The half-mile river trail is excellent for birds in all seasons. Watch the river for ducks, shorebirds and kingfishers, the bosque for passerines, hawks, owls and woodpeckers. Within a small woodland at the park, there are commonly flycatchers, woodpeckers and warblers during migration. Accipiters and falcons often seek the smaller birds here.

Caballo Lake State Park

This park is located on Caballo Reservoir, south of Elephant Butte Reservoir along the Rio Grande. The lake provides excellent fall viewing of: grebes, raptors, geese and ducks, quail, gulls, doves, owls, woodpeckers, phoebes, wrens, thrushes, thrashers, sparrows, and finches.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park

This park is prime for waterbirds and shorebirds. Elephant Butte is the largest lake in NM and is best birded between September and May. At the lake, you may see American white pelicans, thousands of western and Clark’s grebes, several terns and unusual gulls. Some of the better birding spots are at the marinas, at Long Point, Three Sisters Point, and South Monticello Point (check for shorebirds, gulls, terns, waders, and ducks). Loons are more common at the southern end of the lake.

Birding on land is best from Rock Canyon south, where tall scrub and houses with plants and feeders attract numerous species. Check migrating horned lark flocks for longspurs. Below the dam, Paseo del Rio is situated in a riparian canyon along the river. Due to many miles of open desert and the lake to the north, it attracts many migrating birds.

The NM Birding Trail was developed through a partnership among NM State Parks, NM Department of Game and Fish and Audubon NM.