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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

New Mexico in Winter

Santa Fe to the Bosque

Friday 31 January to Saturday 8 February 2025
with Raymond VanBuskirk as leader
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A Bald Eagle searches the marsh at Bosque Del Apache NWR for crippled cranes and waterfowl. Photo: Beth Russell

As we explore the central corridor of New Mexico, we’ll travel through 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. Along the way we’ll witness one of North America’s greatest wildlife spectacles, as tens of 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-finches.

This tour is now one day longer than in past years in order to add a bit more time to explore for birds, and to enjoy the mineral springs found in the town of Truth or Consequnces.

Day 1: The tour begins at 6:00 pm in the lobby of our Albuquerque, New Mexico hotel.

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 Gambel’s Quail, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Western Scrub-Jay, Juniper Titmouse, Bushtit, Cactus Wren, Rock Wren, Western Bluebird, Curve-billed and Crissal Thrashers, and Townsend’s Solitaire. After an early lunch in Albuquerque we’ll check a fabulous local fishing pond that hosts dozens of species of waterfowl in the winter months, if time allows we’ll walk the trails into the adjacent bottomland cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande. In the afternoon we’ll drive south towards Truth or Consequences (T or C), stopping along the way for Sagebrush Sparrow. This drive takes us through the heart of the Chihuahuan Desert where we stand a chance at encountering many wintering raptors, including Golden Eagle, Prairie Falcon, and Ferruginous Hawk. We’ll have dinner in T or C, get checked-in, and then you should have time to shake off the drive in a private hot springs bath at our hotel. Night Truth or Consequences.

Day 3: We’ll have an early breakfast and make our way south to southern New Mexico, near the city of Las Cruces, where the heavily vegetated neighborhoods harbor great wintering birding opportunities; resident species such as Harris’s Hawk, Inca Dove, Cactus Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, Verdin, and Black-tailed Gnatcatcher can be found in the desert scrub while the warmer average winter temps and many bird feeders make it possible for hummingbirds and other exciting vagrants to overwinter. The surrounding grasslands are a refuge for many special grassland species including Chihuahuan Raven, Sprague’s Pipit, Baird’s and Grasshopper sparrows, Lark Bunting, and occasionally Short-eared Owl. We’ll try our chances at locating as many of these species as we can manage to kick out of the grass. After a good long day of birding we’ll make our way back to T or C for more good food and hot springs. Night Truth or Consequences.

Day 4: We’ll depart early and drive south to Las Animas Creek, the only drainage east of the continental divide with native Arizona Sycamores. The unique habitat here should produce gaudy Acorn Woodpeckers and perky Bridled Titmouse. Extensive stands of riparian woodlands 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, Black-throated, Brewer’s, Chipping, and Rufous-crowned, as well as Spotted, Canyon, and Green-tailed Towhees. From here we’ll continue south to areas around Caballo Lake and Percha Dam, some of the best birding locations in the state, and one of few places in the state where Vermilion Flycatchers often overwinter. On almost every visit to these areas something unexpected turns up, and birding here is always exciting. After lunch we’ll 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. From here we’ll drive north to our accommodations near Bosque del Apache NWR. Night in Socorro. 

Day 5: 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 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. The north end of the refuge is productive for Wild Turkey, Greater Roadrunner, and raptors such as Ferruginous Hawk, Merlin, and Bald Eagle. Mixed species flocks of blackbirds congregate in the tens of thousands and often include Brewer’s, Yellow-headed and Red-winged Blackbirds. More often than not there are many wintering shorebirds around on the refuge and we’ll spend some time picking through them for anything unusual. We’ll enjoy a picnic lunch at the refuge headquarters. In the afternoon we’ll visit a native grassland just east of Bosque and look for wintering raptors, several species of grassland sparrows and longspurs, and the recently recognized Chihuahuan Meadowlark. As twilight approaches, we’ll visit a different roosting pond to watch the evening return of the Sandhill Cranes. Night in Socorro.

Day 6: This morning 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, Townsend’s Solitaire, Mountain Bluebird, Sage Thrasher, Horned Lark. The grasslands along this route are often great places to find Golden Eagles. We’ll keep an eye out for the American Pronghorn along this route as well.  After lunch we’ll have our first chance at seeing the wintering Rosy-Finches of Sandia Crest. After some feeder watching we’ll head back downslope and north for the last leg of our trip to northern New Mexico. Night in Santa Fe. 

Day 7: 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 wintering American Dipper and Barrow’s Goldeneye are possible. Night in Santa Fe. 

Day 8: Our final full day will find us exploring Sandia Crest with hopes of studying three species 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. This site has been the host of a long-term banding study of New Mexico’s wintering rosy-finch population, spearheaded by your guide back when he was 12. With luck we’ll have the chance to view these birds, though their yearly occurrence has become much less predictable due to recent changes in winter weather patterns. 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. Night in Albuquerque.  

Day 9: The tour concludes this morning in Albuquerque.

Updated: 19 April 2023


  • 2025 Tour Price $3,750
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $890


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Questions? Tour Manager: Sara Pike. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

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

Group maximum seven with one leader.

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