Birding in Tierra Amarilla

Last Thursday we headed back north to Tierra Amarilla to meet with the 5th and 6th graders from Tierra Amarilla Elementary. We planned on heading to Heron Lake State Park to test water quality and compare lake and river ecosystems.

This plan ended up being modified a little because the ospreys are back! We pulled the bus over on the side of the road to check out a nest with two ospreys, and we discovered that these students are not only great (quiet) birders… they’re actually very interested in birds!

Quietly checking out a nest with an osprey on it


Learning to use a spotting scope


The view through the spotting scope


Looking up Osprey in the bird book


After this quick detour, we headed to the boat ramp. Once again, we pulled out the spotting scope, and our students were all over it. They spotted many birds, including one in particular that we were very excited to see!

Seeking birds on the lake


Learning how to use the index to look up a bird
A Common Loon!
A Spotted Sandpiper
Students trying to sneak up on the sandpiper


We did discuss water quality and the differences between lake and river ecosystems, but our students learned a great deal about the birds on Heron Lake in the spring, how to use binoculars and spotting scopes to observe these birds, and how to look up birds in a bird guide. This is a perfect example of our philosophy- science is all around us! There’s always an opportunity to learn if you keep your eyes open and ask questions!


2016 Eagle Watch at Abiquiu Lake

Last Saturday we hosted our 2016 Eagle Watch at Abiquiu Lake! This event is held every year in conjunction with our partners the US Army Corps of Engineers. Every year citizen scientists from northern New Mexico come together to count the number of bald eagles on the lake. Data from mid-winter eagle watches all over the country are combined to get an idea of how our national bird is faring.

Enjoying coffee and donuts in the Visitor Center.
John Mueller, Park Manager at Abiquiu Lake, welcomes the citizen scientists to EagleWatch 2016
Katherine Eagleson, Executive Director of NMWC, discusses bald eagles and their habits.

After a brief talk on bald eagles in New Mexico, some threats to these birds, and comparisons between juveniles, sub-adults, and adult eagles, participants headed outside to get a look at at least one eagle. Maxwell is a mature bald eagle housed at NMWC. Unfortunately due to his injuries, he’s not releasable.

Maxwell and his handler, Scott Bol
Maxwell is always a crowd favorite

After learning all about bald eagles, participants broke up into groups. Two groups went out on USACE boats to count eagles from the lake, and several groups went to fixed points on the land. All groups had radio communication and the lake was divided into sectors so that we made sure not to double-count any eagles.

USACE rangers hand out life jackets for people going out on the boat
Watching for eagles

Spotting eagles was a little more difficult this year, thanks to more snow than usual. We ended up spotting 10 eagles, although 2 of those were golden eagles (one adult and one juvenile). Of the 8 bald eagles spotted, only one was a sub-adult. This number is much fewer than last year, but it’s important data that will help us determine how bald eagles are doing as a species.

This event is always held on either the first or second Saturday of January. Join us next year!

Earth Day at Abiquiu Lake

Last Wednesday was Earth Day, but our celebration with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake wasn’t until last Saturday.

We met at the Visitor’s Center at 9 am, where guests got to meet two of NMWC’s most spectacular residents, Grace the Golden Eagle and Electra the Osprey.

Listening to Katherine Eagleson explain the habits of golden eagles.
Listening to Katherine Eagleson explain the habits of golden eagles.
Katherine with Grace, the Golden Eagle.
Katherine with Grace, the Golden Eagle.
Electra the Osprey
Electra the Osprey

After seeing these two, we headed out with the USACE rangers to survey the birds around the east side of Abiquiu Lake.

Water safety is first and foremost!
Water safety is first and foremost!
Braving the wind and chilly temperatures in the name of science.
Braving the wind and chilly temperatures in the name of science.

Below is our final bird list for the day.

Bird List for Earth Day at Abiquiu Lake


  • 1 Great Blue Heron
  • 10 Canada Geese
  • 15 Western Grebes
  • 2 Ring-billed Gulls
  • 5 Pie-Billed Grebes
  • 45 Coots
  • 1 Red-Tailed Hawk
  • 2 Ravens
  • 1 Ruddy Duck (F)
  • 1 Rock Wren
  • 20 Double-Crested Cormorant nests with around 40 Cormorants
  • 3 Goose nests
  • Several Mallards
  • 1 Golden Eagle (not Grace!)
  • 2 Turkey Vultures
  • 1 Osprey (not Electra!)
  • 1 Cooper’s Hawk


Upcoming Event: Intro to Birding

Well, both River Classroom and our trip with McCurdy were cancelled this week. While we are working on rescheduling those, check out this upcoming event in Abiquiu!

We’re exciting to partner with the Abiquiu Inn to present an introduction to birding in the Abiquiu area. Come have dinner at the Inn before the talk and then learn how to identify common local birds. This event will be next Thursday, January 29. This will give you plenty of time to practice birding in your yard before The Great Backyard Bird Count, which runs from February 13-February 16.


Expedition to the Bosque del Apache

Last weekend, NMWC tried out our new 12-passenger van by taking some of our most dedicated volunteers to the Bosque del Apache. We left on Friday and headed down, went birding during the day, and hung around until the evening fly in. Then we got up very early on Saturday, made it to the Bosque in time for the fly out, and drove the loop one more time. We saw 32 species of birds on Saturday, including pyrrhuloxia, which has been on my list for quite some time.

It was a fantastic trip. We hope to have some of these expeditions open to the public in the future- stay tuned for announcements!

A field of sandhill cranes and light geese at Bosque del Apache
Checking out a few birds from the warmth of the visitor center
Morning fly out on the Bosque del Apache
Sunrise at the Bosque del Apache
A trumpeter swan at Bosque del Apache
Pyrrhuloxia, photo by Karen Garcia