Skip to navigation, or go to main content.

WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

New Mexico in Winter - Santa Fe to the Bosque

Monday 6 January to Monday 13 January 2020
with Raymond VanBuskirk as leader

Price Pending

Reserve Now

featured image

A Bald Eagle searches the marsh at Bosque Del Apache NWR for crippled cranes and waterfowl. Photo: Beth Russell

Riverine cottonwood stands along the Upper Rio Grande River, expansive fields and ponds where countless waterfowl and cranes spend the winter, large lakes attractive to wintering waterbirds, and snowcapped mountains swathed in conifer forest form the backdrop as we explore the central corridor of New Mexico. Along the way we’ll witness one of North America’s greatest wildlife spectacles, as thousands of geese, ducks, and cranes fill the air at Bosque del Apache NWR. We’ll also be able to study New Mexico’s many wintering sparrows and raptors, and hope to encounter all three species of North American rosy-finch, which are not easily accessible elsewhere together in winter.

Day 1: The tour begins at 6 p.m. in the lobby of our Albuquerque, New Mexico motel.

Day 2: We’ll visit a nearby 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, Rock Wren, Western Bluebird, Curve-billed and Crissal Thrashers, and Townsend’s Solitaire. After an early lunch in Albuquerque we’ll drive to the Rio Grande Nature Center, a bottomland hardwood stretch along the Rio Grande. Here we’ll encounter large numbers of waterfowl, including Cackling Goose and Wood Duck, as well as a good cross-section of landbirds such as Black-capped and Mountain Chickadees and various finches. Later we’ll drive south to Socorro, where we’ll visit the Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in the late afternoon. Night in Socorro.

Day 3:If we have the 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 and Sandhill Cranes 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, the refuge headquarters, and a trail into desert scrub just south of the refuge for a host of grebes, ducks and geese, passerines such as Sage Sparrow, and raptors such as Ferruginous Hawk, Merlin, and Bald Eagle. As twilight approaches we’ll be back at the roosting ponds to watch the only slightly less spectacular evening return of the geese and 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 use the area in winter, including Sage, Black-throated, Brewers 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 the pretty Las Animas Creek, the only drainage east of the continental divide with native Arizona Sycamores, should produce gaudy Acorn Woodpeckers and perky Bridled Titmouse . 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 Santa Fe 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. Night in Santa Fe. 

Day 6: We’ll spend the morning exploring the road up to the majestic Santa Fe Ski Valley, where we’ll hope to encounter Clark’s Nutcracker, Gray Jay, Pine Grosbeak, and possibly the ever elusive Dusky Grouse. Once done in the mountains we will, weather permitting, drive north to the expansive short grass prairie at the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge or farther to Maxwell NWR. Here we hope to encounter more northerly species such as Rough-legged Hawk, Tundra Swan, Black-billed Magpie, and American Tree Sparrow. Depending upon conditions we may elect to drive north to Taos and Angelfire, along the scenic Rio Grande gorge, where wintereing American Dipper and Barrow’s Goldeneye are possible.  Night in Santa Fe. 

Day 7: Our final full day will find us exploring Sandia Crest with hopes of studying three species (and four subspecies) of rosy-finch. 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. 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. Finches are generally plentiful in the coniferous forest here, and most years we encounter flocks of Pine Siskins and Red Crossbills as well as the occasional Cassin’s Finch and Pine Grosbeak.  Night in Albuquerque. 

Day 8: The tour concludes this morning in Albuquerque.

Updated: 16 December 2014

Share on Facebook

Notes

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Group maximum seven with one leader.