Hawks Aloft Blog
September 4th, 2013
It is not often that we, at Hawks Aloft, take on an activist role in our community. However, we have relatively recently become familiar with the details of the Rio Grande Vision Plan, proposed by Mayor Berry and his design team. That site was updated only yesterday, therefore considerable detail has not yet been reviewed. There is a public meeting tonight
Wednesday Sept. 4, 6 -8 pm
2000 Mountain NW
Albuquerque NM 87104
There will be a second public meeting on Wednesday Sept. 18, 6 -8 pm.
We encourage you to familiarize yourself with the plan, attend the meetings and express your opinions, either through the public meeting venue or by submitting written comments to via email to firstname.lastname@example.org Comments may also be mailed to The Mayor’s Office, PO Box 1293, Albuquerque NM 87103.
As an organization that cares deeply about the health of our bosque, we mailed a letter to the Mayor on September 3, 2013, the same date as the revised Plan was posted on the City website. We urged Mayor Berry and his team to consider the effects of a similar management that has occurred in the Rio Rancho bosque over the past 10 years and the devastating impacts to bird densities as that reach of the bosque has become more ubanized. A full copy of our letter to the Mayor follows below this chart.
Rio Rancho bosque Avian Densities 2003-2012
September 3, 2013
Mayor Richard Berry
City of Albuquerque
PO Box 1293
Albuquerque, NM 87103
Hawks Aloft, Inc. is deeply concerned that the City of Albuquerque’s Rio Grande Vision Plan, if enacted, will have a devastating effect on avifauna and other wildlife that depend on the natural habitat of the bosque. We base our concerns on scientific data collected by Hawks Aloft, Inc. We have conducted avian monitoring within the bosque, between Bernalillo and the La Joya Game Management Area since December 2003. The purpose of our study is to assess avian abundance and species richness (number of different species observed) relative to habitat and management entities. We currently monitor 78 (½ mile long) transects in various habitats. Each route is surveyed three times per month during the summer and winter months, when the birds present are resident, rather than migratory.
As greater detail has been released about the Rio Grande Vision Plan, it is apparent that large portions of the bosque within the Rio Grande Valley State Park will be developed to increase human usage, with hardened riverside trails up to as 8-10’ wide, viewing blinds, benches, and other park-like amenities, many of which are proposed for installation along the river’s edge. The Plan also calls for removal of non-native vegetation as part of a restoration process. All of these sound very similar to the Willow Creek bosque management that has occurred in our neighbor to the north, Rio Rancho.
The Rio Rancho bosque has undergone significant changes, from an unmanaged wild area in 2003 to urban parkland between 2004 and 2012. (Changes have occurred in 2013, but data are still being analyzed). We have documented a significant decline in avian abundance over time as this section of bosque has become increasingly developed.
We provide the history below as potential explanation for the change in bird densities in the Rio Rancho bosque.
2004-2005: Mechanical clearing of non-native woody vegetation occurred in some areas. Sunflower crop was poor, resulting in relatively low bird numbers during winter. Limited human use.
2006-2007: Vegetation re-growth and presence of extensive sunflower patches. The sunflowers attracted large numbers of wintering birds, especially sparrows and finches.
2008-2009: Crusher-fine loop trail installed. Human use began increasing as soon as trail was completed. No winter surveys conducted due to lack of funds.
2009-2010: Clearing resumed, again using heavy equipment, resulting in removal of all woody vegetation except for coyote willow, cottonwoods, and a few, scattered New Mexico olives. Expanded wide, crusher-fine, walking trails, and smaller trails with classroom style seating. Sunflowers were mowed prior to setting seed.
2011-2012: Avian density among the lowest of all transects surveyed.
2013: Additional crusher-fine trails and benches installed. Riverbed altered to shift water flow closer to the Rio Rancho bosque and provide benefit to silvery minnow. Fill from riverbed mounded on west edge. Fill area seeded; minimal planting of shrubs.
Human and dog use of the Willow Creek bosque has grown exponentially since the establishment of the wide, crusher-fine trail. It is not unusual to encounter 20-30 people and up to 10 dogs, many of them off-leash, during a ½ mile long transect. This bosque has become a place for people and a de facto dog park, with little natural habitat for wildlife. Birds that utilize the shrub understory and ground dwelling species have largely disappeared due to the lack of cover and persecution by unleashed dogs. Those birds present are largely canopy dwelling species such as White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, House Finch, and Black-chinned Hummingbird.
All Russian olive (non-native) and junipers (native) have been removed from the Willow Creek bosque. Russian olive is of vital importance to birds in the middle Rio Grande bosque. It is, in general, greatly undervalued by land managers, but provides important nesting substrate for sub-canopy and understory breeding birds as well as an important food and cover resource. While dense stands of coyote willow provide valuable cover for birds, they do not provide a substantial food resource, particularly for seed and berry eating animals; additionally, because coyote willow lacks a complex structure, it is of limited value to nesting birds.
We believe that the Rio Grande Vision Plan, if enacted in its current state, will have a similar, equally devastating effect on bird numbers, as that documented in the Rio Rancho bosque. We sincerely hope that we are able to have a voice at future technical science team meetings. It seems rather odd that the research group that has monitored bird use in the bosque for the past 10 years has not been included in the planning process. Thank you for your attention to our concerns.
From Gail Garber, director of Hawks Aloft:
I am writing to you to request your help in protecting and preserving the Rio Grande bosque within the Albuquerque City Limits. Although Hawks Aloft has not often taken an activist role in local politics, I believe that we must speak out on this issue, using the data we have collected over the past 10 years of avian monitoring in the bosque. Trevor and I are working on compiling the avian numbers for the Rio Rancho bosque, which has undergone a very similar management process with devastating effects on the avifauna of that portion of the bosque. We hope to be able to present a graphic that will show the decline in bird numbers once a riparian forest is developed into urban parkland.
In sending this request, we join with Sierra Club, Audubon, and others, all working toward a common goal.
The City is planning two public meetings, on September 4 andh also on September 18, to present their plans for the bosque. I strongly encourage those of you that can make it on September 4 to attend. However, if you cannot make the September 4 meeting, please try to attend on September 18.
The subject of the meeting will be the City’s schematic designs for the projects between Central Ave. and the I-40 bridge that the City intends to build next year. Richard Barish, of Sierra Club, attended an Open Space Advisory Board meeting this week and got a preview of what the City will present. His two paragraphs below describe only the City’s initial plans for a trail through the bosque.
“The design is for a highly developed trail through the bosque on the east side of the river in this section. The City is considering four possible surfaces for the trail, from crusher fines through graded native soil. The City is not considering an option that would leave the trail as it is in any portions of this section of the bosque. The City talks about varying the width of the trail, but appeared to me to clearly intend that the trail will, for the most part, be an 8 to 10 foot wide trail to accommodate multiple uses. The City is talking about two pedestrian bridges and one, or perhaps two, boardwalks in the bosque in this section. This design is apparently the template for the trail through the bosque in other locations, as well.
“As the direction of the planning becomes apparent, it becomes even more urgent that people show up on September 4 to tell the City that the bosque should left as open space, not turned into a city park. If you love the bosque, it’s time to show up and be counted. We need an overwhelming turnout to turn the tide. Please attend and comment on September 4!”
Community Town Hall meeting
Wednesday, September 4th and Wednesday, September 18th
2000 Mountain NW in Old Town
Bear Canyon Arroyo would seem an ideal wildlife corridor between the Sandias and Rio Grande.
For thousands of years, bears could migrate from the Sandias into the Rio Grande valley for water and alternate food sources.
Today, when bears try to do this, they find our homes, commerce, fences and streets between the mountains and the river. The bears also encounter excited, unprepared homeowners.
Some residents contact wildlife officials to remove the bears, unknowingly giving a possible death sentence to these hungry and thirsty foragers.
The remarkable black bear, prominent figure of Native American lore, is a tri-athlete in its own right. These animals can turn on a dime and run at incredible speeds, climb trees with little exertion and swim effortlessly in lakes and rivers. The giant paws can carry its large mass silently through the night with little or no trace. …
As a friend pointed out, “The state that saved Smokey Bear should now come to the rescue of his relatives.”
I live at the base of the Sandias at the edge of Black Bear country. Our family wants the state animal to stay healthy and survive for coming generations. New Mexicans will have heavy hearts if the Sandia Mountain black bear population disappears due to inaction and lack of perspective and common sense.
The governor and other state officials need to act and act quickly. Time is running out for the bears.
We camped near Santa Fe in a great little campground near the bottom of the ski basin road. Black Canyon CG has paved sites with great separation, clean outhouses, no hook-ups. It’s barely an hour from Albuquerque and near 8500 feet. There is a good trail out out of the campground and another to Hyde Park CG. There were lots of birds, lots of hummingbirds, even one magnificent hummingbird (twice the size of more common hummingbirds). See 20 photos.
You should read the entire blog entry, which strengthens my conviction that this pipeline — and the strip-mining that goes with it — must be stopped. Canada, how could you even consider this? peace, mjh
All four major flyways in North America — the aerial migration routes traveled by billions of birds each year — converge in one spot in Canada’s boreal forest, the Peace-Athabasca Delta in northeastern Alberta. More than 1 million birds, including tundra swans, snow geese and countless ducks, stop to rest and gather strength in these undisturbed wetlands each autumn. For many waterfowl, this area is their only nesting ground2.
About three billion birds fly north to the Boreal Forest each spring to build nests and lay eggs. These birds arrive in the Boreal Forest after spending the winter in South and Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and the United States. From the Boreal Forest Fact Sheet:
- 325 bird species – that’s almost half of all the bird species in North America! – depend on the Boreal Forest.
- About 3 billion of North America’s landbirds, 26 million of its waterfowl, and 7 million of its shorebirds breed here.
- There are nearly 100 species of which 50% or more of the entire population breeds in the Boreal Forest.
- Up to 5 billion birds – adults and their new babies – migrate south from the Boreal Forest each fall.
Back in 2008, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) wrote a report titled “Danger in the Nursery: Impact on Birds of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal Forest” which covers various ways tar sand development affects bird populations including:
- Habitat loss
- Trailings ponds and oiled birds
- Fragmentation of habitat from drilling
- Water withdrawals
- Air and water toxins
- High emissions and climate change
Monarchs are on the move, but not yet en masse. We saw our first mourning cloak and cabbage white of the season today in Albuquerque. peace, mjh
Population at Record Low
Mexican officials announced on Thursday that this winter’s population hit a record-low, with butterflies covering only 1.19 hectares. There were twice as many monarchs last year.
If you’re in the market for a photographic birding guide, check out the new guides from Lillian and Don Stokes.
- The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region (on Amazon)
- The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region (on Amazon)
I have The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America put out a few years ago. I like it a lot, although I was slightly disappointed that those photos aren’t nearly as dramatic as photos you’ll see on the Stokes blog. That may be different in the new guides. Be aware that there is an older version of the Western guide you don’t want — get the 2013 versions. peace, mjh
To see the quality of Lillian Stokes’ photos, start by looking at the photos at the following link:
Then, check out:
Finally, see the very detailed review of the books at the following link.
I think these field guides will be a valuable asset to many birders’ field kits and libraries, especially if they have not yet invested in a photographic guide. Beginning and intermediate birders will find the abundance of clear, well-printed photographs of male and female birds, juvenile and adult, perched and flying, extremely helpful in the field, and the emphasis on shape a good teaching tool….
Spike has a home on the Web: http://spike.ahwilderness.com (no www.). That URL will take you to the Spike category of Ah, Wilderness! Not quite a vanity domain name, but if that link sees enough traffic, I’ll consider getting Spike her own domain for her birthday. peace, mjh
We knew others feed roadrunners. A neighbor feeds Spam or Vienna wieners to his pair, who could be Spike’s parents. They nest as close to his door as they can get and don’t roam far. Another neighbor fed “her” roadrunners raw chicken. But, we assumed we were the only ones foolish enough to pay for mice to feed to roadrunners — until we met Sam at Hawks Aloft. She has been feeding roadrunners for over 15 years. She believes Hot Lips, the crossbilled roadrunner, was over 20 years old. Roady lost a big part of his upper bill over 5 years ago, but with Sam’s help, Roady has raised several broods. Sam says she has hundreds of roadrunner grandbabies. Thankfully, she doesn’t have to feed them all store-bought mice. Even so, our rough guestimate of Sam’s running tab has us thinking twice. If Spike outlives us, do we have to provide for her? Maybe she’ll like Spam now and then. She gobbled up the mealworms we bought today.
Merri notes, “After reading Judy Liddell’s bird report for the Estancia Basin, we headed to Clements Road just south of I-40 and just outside of Estancia. Wide-open ranches dominate the landscape out there. Driving and walking down dirt roads, we saw more than TWENTY ferruginous hawks, 4 rough-legged hawks, 2 red-tails, 2 golden eagles, some kestrels, a merlin, 2 shrikes, tons of horned lark, and 30+ antelope. We walked across ranch land and down a country road.”
I’ll add that we had never knowingly seen ferruginous nor rough-legged hawks, making these lifers for us both. In fact, we saw so many of each in so many poses that it was a field-lesson. It made for a beautiful day trip.
After seeing all those hawks on our main walks of the day, we looked for Cienega Draw on Willow Lake Rd, which seem to me imaginative, not descriptive, in this oh-so dry landscape. That detour did take us past the Thunder Chicken Ranch, a great name for an ostrich farm.
We drove farther south toward the two large-ish lakes that appear on the map south of the correctional facility. One lake was full of snow — surprising with the temp above 50 — but no liquid. Before we got to the second lake, a Cadillac Esplanade pulled up next to us. The woman driving asked if we were lost. No, I said, we’re bird-watching and thought the lakes might have something. She seemed surprised, then said sometimes they see cranes. I said I thought this was a public road and she said, yes, a little farther until the gate to the Wrye Ranch, which we saw the northern edge of at Clements Rd — quite a large spread. She drove on and immediately after her Mr Wrye stopped in his truck, "You need help?" he asked and I said, no, we’re just out for a drive. They were polite and offering help is neighborly but they were likely suspicious of strangers on "their" road. After they passed, we went on to the gate and turned around. If there is a second lake, it is behind a very high berm on the south side of the road.
Returning to pavement, we stopped where cottonwoods bordered what may have once been a house, now just some rubble. Mer saw a bird land. She got out and took photos of a merlin, yet another bird of prey to end our day. peace, mjh
PS- I recommend Judy Liddell’s blog, It’s a Bird Thing…, as well as her book, Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico. If you can’t join her on a weekly birding trip, you can walk in her footsteps, as we have several times.
PPS- Real birders or twitchers (in Great Britain) keep lots of lists, including at least one Life List. I’m a bird watcher, not a birder. My Life List only includes birds I’ve photographed.
Spike says, “Keep your cat indoors.”
Cats that live in the wild or indoor pets allowed to roam outdoors kill from 1.4 billion to as many as 3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year, says a new study that escalates a decades-old debate over the feline threat to native animals.
The estimates are much higher than the hundreds of millions of annual bird deaths previously attributed to cats. The study also says that from 6.9 billion to as many as 20.7 billion mammals — mainly mice, shrews, rabbits and voles — are killed by cats annually in the Lower 48. The report is scheduled to be published Tuesday in Nature Communications.
“I was stunned,” said ornithologist Peter Marra of the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute. He and Smithsonian colleague Scott Loss, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Tom Will conducted the study.
We wiped out the elk and wolves in this area. Then we brought back elk. Time to let the wolves restore balance, just as they have done in Yellowstone.
Elk, once a rare sight at the national park, now regularly jam up the park’s roads, graze on hotel lawns and aren’t too shy about displaying their power, provoked or not. They’ve broken bones and caused eye injuries in the most serious circumstances, and give chase to the unsuspecting. …
Elk brought in by train from Yellowstone National Park helped re-establish the Arizona populations after the state’s native elk became extinct around 1900.
They’re now too close to the Grand Canyon’s most popular areas for comfort.
A Wolf Awareness Relay Hike in the path of natural dispersal from the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area to the Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project is excited to host our second wolf advocacy campaign relay hike from July to October 2013 that will follow a natural dispersal corridor, connecting the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (where Mexican gray wolves currently live) to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon (where we are advocating for their return). Mexican wolves are capable of traversing hundreds of miles, and need room to roam in order to establish a metapopulation structure to preserve remaining genetic diversity.
We’ve been interacting with Spike the roadrunner for about 6 months. We see him almost daily. He’s not a pet – he’s leery of us, as he should be – but we know each other.
Spike has recently started calling, a sound we’ve never heard before. We’re familiar with the roadrunner call that sounds much like a mourning dove only more mournful. This call is a loud whoop. You can hear it in the first short video. I took the second video immediately after the call.
It’s warm and rainy in Albuquerque today – to call that unusual is tragic understatement. Spike has hunkered down on his rock in the front yard in a pose that reminds me of green herons or black-crowned night herons – no neck.