Newly Restored Important Bird Area Dedicated

There it is,” Barb stated as we were driving east through the flat prairie from Ft. Sumner mid-morning September 18. The sparse stand of trees, an Audubon New Mexico (now Audubon Southwest) designated Important Bird Area, is a beacon of refuge to migrating birds each spring and fall. Barb and I were on our way to Melrose Woods for the dedication ceremony to mark the restoration of the area.

My first visit to what used to be called Melrose Trap was in September 2007 when Central New Mexico Audubon sponsored a Saturday field trip, and I learned why so many migrants, both regular species and those that got blown off course, depend on this vital stand of trees in the midst of the otherwise barren prairie. After flying all night, the stand of cottonwoods and poplar trees provides a beacon of hope – food and shelter during the daytime.

I have always been thankful that someone spotted a Prairie Rattlesnake curled up in the leaves next to some old logs.

Prairie Rattlesnake

The memory always makes me very cautious when exploring at this spot.

The dense understory

birders looking through dense understory

provided kindling for the lightning-sparked fire that roared through the stand of trees in 2011, a year of extreme drought when the grasses and shrubs were not as green as when this picture was taken.

In 2013 the Thursday Birders included Melrose on their Birdathon and I was shocked to see the blackened trees.

blackened trees

Despite the damage to the trees, it remained a magnet for migrating birds, and our group was delighted to see a species not normally viewed in New Mexico, a Blackpoll Warbler, striking in its breeding plumage.

Blackpoll Warbler

And Joe’s capture of a Sora, normally only seen in wetlands habitat, provided evidence to the area’s haven for all types of migrants.

Sora finding refuge – photo courtesy of Joe Schelling

When I returned in 2018 for another Birdathon, the trees were starting to recover.

Melrose 5-2-18

When we arrived at the site on September 18 2021, several birders were clustered around Robert’s scope trying to ID an empid.

Later we gathered near the north side of the restored area.

some of those in attendance

Robert Munro, Board member who had shepherded this project through the process of restoration, provided an overview of the project and introduced collaborating partners from Audubon Southwest and the New Mexico State Land Office.

Robert Munro talking to group

While most of us at the dedication were visiting ‘an old friend of many years’, some were making their first visit and discovering what a gem this oasis on the prairie is for birds.

Afterwards, I wandered along the recently leveled trails, noticing the new growth springing up from existing trees

new growth on existing trees

and newly-planted trees,

newly planted trees with their protective mesh

the resilience of scorched tree bark,

 and admired the new signage.

new sign

As Barb and I began our trek home, we were grateful for the hard work and dedication of many who made the restoration possible.

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