Winter Birding at Rio Grande Nature Center

The pond beyond the parking lot blind was relatively quiet – a handful of Northern Shovelers and a few Mallards were swimming lazily in the clear morning air as 33 Central New Mexico Audubon Thursday Birders gathered at the Rio Grande Nature Center – one of the sites in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico. I had agreed to lead the walk for Gale who was ill.

Gale had obtained permission for the group to walk in the area normally off-limits to the public. We squeezed behind a large truck providing supplies to the crew repairing the roof of the Visitor Center and checked out the birds on the observation pond. Again, not many waterfowl were present, maybe a result of the construction.

“Ten-o’clock in the cottonwood directly across from us,” Beth signaled. A Cooper’s Hawk sat silently for a while; and then moved over a couple of trees.

“Raptor circling behind the cottonwood,” Bert relayed. Two Red-tailed Hawks made an elliptical path until they dipped from sight.

At the northwest pond, we gazed at an active Belted Kingfisher as it flew out and back and changed perches several times – all the while calling with its rough rattle.

“It’s a female,” Lefty stated.

She must have decided there was nothing of interest to eat at that pond and flew to the observation pond.

Three Savannah Sparrows were perched on top of a bare tree along the fence line.

“There was a Great-horned Owl reported. For those who are interested, I thought we would walk over to the bosque and see if it has started nesting,” I told the group when we had emerged back at the main part of the park. “They don’t build nests. Instead they take over a Cooper’s Hawk nest, so we will need to check all of the large nests we can see in the bare branches.”

As we started down the trail into the bosque, we stopped to watch several birds. Eastern Bluebirds were perched on the jetty jacks. Their deep blue backs flashed in the morning sun as they flew down to the ground and back up again. They were joined on the jetty jack by six White-winged Doves.

As we reached the Bosque Loop Trail, a woodpecker flew into a tree. “It’s a Hairy,” I told the group. We had an opportunity to observe the differences between a Hairy and a Downy Woodpecker, as a Downy soon joined it.

When we reached the river, there was a Great Blue Heron crouched on a low limb over-hanging the river. A Common Merganser flew by as it headed up river.

We scanned all of the empty nests along the trail, but there was no sign of a nesting owl.

At one point, we encountered a hub of bird activity. A Bewick’s Wren rasped in the undergrowth, a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches called as they climbed under tree limbs, and a Hermit Thrush surprised us be flitting around in a tree at eye-level.

Hermit Thrush - photo by Joe Schelling


“I am used to seeing them foraging in the mud along the drain or one of the ponds in the winter,” I commented.

“Watch its wings as it lands,” Lefty told the group. “See how it flicks its tail and flaps its wings?”

A pair of Northern (Red-shafted) Flickers appeared to be playing a game of chase between the trees.

“Brown Creeper,” Matt signaled. Those of us who had been observing the Hermit Thrush missed it; however, we got another chance further down the trail when it flew in and clung to the underside of a large limb as it foraged. It almost blended in with the mottled bark.

Brown Creeper - Photo by Joe Schelling


When we reached the river again, we spotted two more Great Blue Herons fishing along the river.

After we had gone over the checklist, we were treated to a Bald Eagle flying over the river. Rebecca got out her chart showing the coloration of Bald Eagles from first year to adult. It was definitely a first year eagle.

1st year Bald Eagle - Photo by Joe Schelling


After making a stop at the Visitor Center, I headed out to my car with a couple of others from the morning’s walk. Maureen greeted us in the parking lot and informed us that there was a White-fronted Goose amongst about 250 Cackling Geese.

It had been a wonderful morning at one of my favorite places.

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3 thoughts on “Winter Birding at Rio Grande Nature Center

  1. One of my favorite places! This past November I got out there for only part of a day. Sondra was interpreting the ducks at the big window, and for a moment I felt that I had never moved away from New Mexico.

  2. Great comment log as usual Judy, thanks! Fun to read along and “see” all these birds that your group is finding. And thanks to Joe S. for the photos, those are not easy to get!

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