Birding Bitter Lake NWR and Roswell, New Mexico


Ann and I decided to take off a couple of days and head to Roswell, New Mexico.  We had read about Linda Rockwell’s visit to the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge and had also read about it.  We left early Monday morning and headed northwest.   We had about 200 miles to the Texas/New Mexico state line, then about another 100 miles from there to Roswell.  We were hoping to see some new wildlife along the way, because although we have lived in Texas for 50 years we had never made it to that area, the western part of the panhandle.

After hitting the state line, we headed west on highway 380.  We were somewhat bored with the scenery.  A lot of flat farming type of land, and nothing growing taller that six feet, or at least it felt like that anyway.  About 45 mile east of Roswell we came upon a dead tree on the right side of the road, and in it was an adult Swainson’s Hawk sitting on a nest with a baby.

Swainson’s Hawk on nest with chick.

From there we continued on west.  John English, a friend in Abilene had told me about a highway rest stop a few miles further on.  We found it at about 40 miles east of Roswell.  He said that it was like an oasis in the desert, and that was about right.  There were a lot of birds there, mostly a lot of Western Kingbirds, but there were many others in the brush along a large chain fence.  Unfortunately, a maintenance crew was busy working and they had a noisy generator going that was keeping the birds away.  We did spot a gorgeous Western Tanager, but it was gone as fast as it arrived and I did not get a chance to get a photograph.  John had also told me about a Burrowing Owl that he knew I could find in Clovis, New Mexico.  Clovis was about 100 miles to the north.  Apparently John didn’t get a chance to see the Burrowing Owls in Roswell that I told you about in my previous post.  Sorry, John.  On that note, here is an image that I got of two owl chicks that were sitting on one of the prairie dog mounds.  I took if from quite a distance, so the quality isn’t real great.  You saw my adult images in that previous post

Burrowing Owl chicks on prairie dog mound.

We arrived in Roswell about 1:00PM, forgetting that we would gain an hour, traveling from the CST time zone into the MST zone.  So actually, by Roswell’s clock we were there about noon.  We didn’t want to try to check in to our room yet, so we investigated the Bottomless Lake State Park nearby.  It was hot and dry there, as some of the little lakes there were empty from the drought.  However, one large one was pretty neat.  It had been improved to provide a large swimming area and visitor center.  We didn’t loiter as we were just checking it out for later journeys.

American Robin

We had reservations at the Enchanted Farm Retreat, a bed & breakfast in Roswell.  It was at the edge of town, but felt like it was further away.  Very quiet, a large pond surrounded by trees and shrubs contain lots of birds.  Blackbirds, doves, robins, swallows, etc.  Before I forget, it was Linda Rockwell, again, that recommended this lovely place.  There was a large porch attached that ran all around the cottage on three sides.  We ended up spending most of our late afternoons and evenings sitting out there watching birds and just relaxing.  I might add that the relaxing was accompanied with a little “toddy” and a batch of nachos. :-)

Barn Swallow

Susan and Michael Richardson, the people that owned and ran the place are indeed great people.  Their service was top-notch.  The refrigerator was well stocked with food so we were pretty well fixed up.  On Wednesday, Michael did take Ann and I, and another friend of his, Steve Smith, on a little birding tour.  I referred to that in my previous post.  It was on that little tour that we saw, in addition to those Burrowing Owls, this Swainson’s Hawk.

Swainson’s Hawk

But of course, I have been getting ahead of myself.  Our main objective on the trip was to visit Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

We woke early on Tuesday morning, so we could get there early before it started getting too hot.  It was only about 7 miles from town and we arrived there a little past 7:30AM.  The visitors’ center was closed so we just started taking the driving tour.  It is well marked and it is an approximate eight mile drive.

The first part of it was rather void of any avian wildlife to speak of.  We saw a distant dead tree with a Great Horned Owl perched in the top of it.  That tree was probably the tallest thing in the area.  That is not meant as a derogatory remark.  It is just the nature of the refuge.  It is an area of marshy wetlands, that shelter many types of water birds, etc.  However, most of the areas were pretty dry with no water.  Upon visiting with the rangers later on, they told that they had drained a lot of the ponds to assist in the making of some satellite imagery.  Why that was, they didn’t explain.

Western Meadowlark

We eventually came upon some larger bodies of shallow water, and saw many species of water birds.  Here are a few select images of some of them.

Black-necked Stilt

American Avocet – sleeping

White Ibis

A few of the images were shot from a distance away, so the quality is a bit poor in them.  The White Ibis, we found out, was an unusual sighting for the area, as was a Least Tern that was seen.  So many of the species were so far away, it was only with a scope that we could see them clearly.  By the way, click on any of the images to see much larger enlargements.

During the two full days that we spent in the area, we saw a total of 50 different species.  Here is a complete list, if you are interested.  We didn’t keep a count of each specie, but I will say that there was on one each of the White Ibis and Least Tern.

  1. Mississippi Kite
  2. Northern Mockingbird
  3. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  4. Western Kingbird
  5. Northern Cardinal
  6. Common Raven
  7. Turkey Vulture
  8. Chihuahuan Raven
  9. Swainson’s Hawk
  10. Western Tanager
  11. House Sparrow
  12. Greater Roadrunner
  13. Barn Swallow
  14. Red-winged Blackbird
  15. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  16. Eurasian Collared Dove
  17. Lesser Nighthawk
  18. House Finch
  19. Great Horned Owl
  20. Mourning Dove
  21. Lark Sparrow
  22. Western Meadowlark
  23. Blue Grosbeak
  24. Great Blue Heron
  25. Black-necked Stilt
  26. Killdeer
  27. White-faced Ibis
  28. White Ibis
  29. Black-crowned Night Heron
  30. Snowy Egrets
  31. Least Tern
  32. Snowy Plover
  33. American Avocet
  34. Blue-winged Teal
  35. Lesser Yellowlegs
  36. American Robin
  37. Burrowing Owl
  38. Purple Martin
  39. Black Phoebe
  40. Common Grackle
  41. White-winged Dove
  42. Scaled Quail
  43. American Kestrel
  44. Great-tailed Grackle
  45. Cave Swallow
  46. Bobwhite
  47. Gadwall
  48. Ruddy Duck
  49. Northern Shoveler
  50. Red-tailed Hawk