Albuquerque can be proud of its commitment to birds and wildlife through funding and setting aside tracts of land to preserve habitat and to allow local residents to enjoy nature. Two recent events capture this commitment. At a time when the local press is filled with stories about crime, the media focused this past weekend on the Valle de Oro NWR and the 30th anniversary of Open Space.
A large crowd gathered August 8 to celebrate the final land acquisition for the Valle de Oro NWR, Albuquerque’s Urban Wildlife Refuge. A quote from someone who attended sums up the community support – “this Refuge was not possible without the community action and funding of New Mexicans!” In fact, the local community support was so robust that the ‘friends’ group was formed before the refuge became official.
This gem in Albuquerque’s south valley originally was Valley Gold Dairy, and more recently Price’s Dairy. Friends who grew up in Albuquerque remember fondly driving to the Valley Gold Dairy to get bottles of fresh milk.
The children of Price’s Dairy had their own careers and didn’t want to operate a dairy; however, they were clear that they didn’t want the land turned into residential housing. It was the largest tract of undeveloped land left in the south valley.
I, along with scores of local birders, have enjoyed the opportunity to observe the seasonal bird-life along the periphery of the property, as well as from the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy’s service road the cuts through the land. From these vantage points, we have admired wintering Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese feeding in the farm fields.
Since the refuge is on the approach to the Albuquerque Sunport, the final plans won’t include habitat for cranes and geese.
During spring migration, Bobolinks,
and White-faced Ibis have stopped to feed and rest.
Cliff and Barn Swallows feed and nest during the summer,
along with Western Kingbirds,
and Snowy and Cattle Egrets.
And, year-round Cooper’s Hawks and
This spring, an access path was finished that allows nature lovers to walk in the bosque and along the drain to the west of the refuge.
I can’t wait to see what is in store as the refuge grows and develops.
The following day, Albuquerqueans gathered at the Open Space Visitor Center to listen to music and eat cake celebrating 30 years of the Open Space Division; however, Albuquerque’s commitment to open space dates back almost 50 years when the city first began acquiring land. According to their website, Albuquerque is listed as having the highest percentage of parkland and Open Space per person for small cities in the United States.
Open Space lands border the city on all sides, from the numerous sites dotting the foothills, nestled along the Rio Grande, on farm lands, and on the West Mesa.
In the winter, I like to prowl the trails at Elena Gallegos Open Space (one of the sites in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico) for the opportunity to watch Townsend’s Solitaire
and Western Bluebirds that descend from the mountains from their breeding areas above 10,000 feet.
While Cactus Wren,
and Curve-billed Thrashers
can be found year-round at Embudito Open Space (featured in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico) – my local ‘patch’ – I love to look for these charismatic and vocal birds as they get active in early March and start singing on territory calling out for mates.
It is also a good time to listen for both Gambel’s
and Scaled Quail, particularly near the trailhead.
Alameda Open Space (featured in Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico) is one of my favorite winter birding locations. The deep water on the river just south of the pumping station attracts Common Merganser.
Gulls rest there on the sand bars, and often there is a rarity mixed with the Ring-billed Gulls.
The Rio Grande near the Alameda Open Space is a good location to spot a Bald Eagle.
Los Poblanos Open Space is the place to go to enjoy Western Meadowlarks
and watch Sandhill Cranes feeding in the fields. You can walk the trails and observe them fairly closely.
In the spring, I head to Embudito Open Space to observe Black-throated Sparrows pop up from the cholla cactus.
and Black Chinned Sparrows singing from three-winged salt bush.
Back at the open spaces along the river, Ash-throated Flycatchers arrive in April,
and by Mid-May you can look for Blue Grosbeak
and Summer Tanager.
We are truly blessed that the citizens of Albuquerque have chosen to preserve an array of Open Space and rallied behind the creation of an Urban Wildlife Refuge – truly a cause for celebration.