Experience a journey to a dramatic and beautiful part of the country.
Discover outstanding geological and archeological sites, national monuments, historic trading posts, and modern galleries that feature some of the best Southwestern artists—past and present. By visiting the varied habitats we avoid the crowds typical of other seasons.
Bosque del Apache, in fact the entire Middle Rio Grande valley, is one of the richest wintering areas for cranes and waterfowl in the Southwest. Each autumn and winter, tens of thousands of ducks (17 species!), geese, and cranes pour into the extensive fields, wetlands, and marshes of the valley.
In Albuquerque, we explore the birds and forested habitats of the surrounding mountains, and drive to the crest of the Sandia Mountains (over 10,000 ft) to seek out the three species of Rosy Finches at probably the most reliable place in the country to see them. While there, we enjoy the scenic bird’s eye view of the Rio Grande valley.
- Travel through scenic and historically rich New Mexican villages and landscapes
- Search for three species of Rosy Finches
- Experience Bosque del Apache's tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes
- Witness one of the most population-dense wintering areas for waterfowl and cranes in the Southwest
- Take your taste buds on an adventure with New Mexico’s famous green chili (and learn the answer to the state question)!
Itineraries are guidelines; variations in itinerary may occur to account for weather, road conditions, closures, etc. and to maximize your experience.
Tues., Mar. 5 Arrivals | Rio Grande Nature Center
After arrival we visit Albuquerque’s delightful Rio Grande Nature Center, where we look out over the fields and wetlands with the Sandia Mountains as a backdrop and we take a short walk on trails through beautiful riverside bosque (what locals call riparian cottonwood forest). Behind the large windows of the Antoine Predock-designed Nature Center building, we watch Wood Duck, Gadwall, American Wigeon, coots, and other wintering birds at a beautiful, willow-lined pond.
After birding and exploring the nature center, we settle into our lodgings, then if you wish, explore a bit of nearby Old Town and gather for a welcome dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.
Accommodations at Hotel Albuquerque (D)
Wed., Mar. 6 Sandia Mountains
Today we explore the Sandia Mountains (Spanish for watermelon) on our drive up to the Sandia Crest at over 10,000 feet! We travel up the east side through a variety of oak, pine, and mixed conifer forests. This is a popular recreation area for residents. We stop to bird en-route, with a chance to see Northern Pygmy Owl, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, Pygmy Nuthatch, and Clark’s Nutcracker. A portion of the drive is heavily forested, and at stops such as Cienega Canyon and Capulin Spring, we may find more typically northern species such as Townsend’s Solitaire, Pine Grosbeak, Cassin’s Finch, Red Crossbill, or (if we are really lucky) American Three-toed Woodpecker. Views are spectacular and eventually we reach the tree line and the open, often snowy and wind-swept crest. Here, feeders have been set up that ALL THREE North American species of Rosy Finches (Brown-capped, Gray-crowned, and Black) are attracted to in most winters. We view the feeders from below, in the parking lot, or above from the side of the shop, depending on the wind and weather conditions.
The joy of a Sandia Crest birding day is that atop the world, the birds come to us! We also may have some good raptor viewing, with Merlin and Northern Goshawk both possible. We have lunch in nearby Sandia Park or Cedar Crest.
After our first half of the day in the Sandias with the Rosy Finches, we make our way south to Socorro. Time permitting, we make a quick visit to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for sunset and the evening fly-in. Dinner tonight is at a local restaurant in Socorro.
Accommodations at Best Western Socorro (B,L,D)
Thurs., Mar. 7 Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge | Water Canyon
The Middle Rio Grande, including Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico, is one of the richest wintering areas for waterfowl and cranes in the Southwest. Each autumn, tens of thousands of ducks and geese converge in the extensive wetlands and marshes of the valley. Some years, this area harbors over 25,000 Snow and Ross’s Geese, as well as tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes! In the morning, the noise is deafening as birds fly out of safe roosting areas to neighboring farm fields where they feed. Eagles and marauding Coyotes create quite a stir among the flocks—most often signaled by an explosion of thousands of geese. This is truly an experience not to be missed!
The legendary Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, where we enjoy a picnic lunch filled with a continual chorus of cranes and geese. One admirable feature of this refuge is the layout of the road system, which provides excellent proximity to many species. During the day, we drive the roads of the refuge looking for birds and other wildlife such as Mule Deer, Coyote, and Porcupine. Don’t be surprised if Wild Turkey or a herd of Javelina strut out from the brush! Bosque del Apache is legendary for the rarities that have occurred here over the years, such as the US’s only record of Rufous-necked Wood-Rail! The refuge, too, is at the northern edge of the range of some desert species such as Verdin and Pyrrhuloxia, which sometimes show themselves at the feeders. The refuge and surrounding areas are also excellent wintering sites for many raptors. Bald Eagle, American Kestrel, Northern Harrier, and Red-tailed Hawk are all fairly common. Ferruginous Hawk and Golden Eagle may also be seen in the area.
After lunch at the famous Owl Cafe, we venture our way to Water Canyon west of Socorro. We will have another chance at some ponderosa pine and subalpine fir, species we may have missed in the Sandia Mountains.
Accommodations at Best Western Socorro (B,L,D)
Fri., Mar. 8 Local Birding | Elephant Butte Lake State Park
Today is filled with stunning spots along the Rio Grande as we work our way south from Socorro including Percha Dam State Park, Caballo Lake, Animas Creek Road. We look for species such as Phainopepla and Vermillion Flycatcher. After lunch in Truth or Consequences, we spend the rest of the day birding the Elephant Butte Lake State Park. One of the richest birding locations in New Mexico, also known as one of the best wintering gull locations in New Mexico.
Dinner tonight is in Socorro at a local favorite restaurant.
Accommodations at Best Western Socorro (B,L,D)
Sat., Mar. 9 Birding the Santa Fe Ski Basin
Today will be an early rise in Socorro, with breakfast in Albuquerque. This saves us time to make our way up to the Santa Fe Ski Basin, with plenty of stops along the way. We are on the lookout for Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee, and Clark’s Nutcracker. After our day on the mountain we make our way back to Albuquerque for a celebratory final dinner.
Accommodations at Hotel Albuquerque (B,L,D)
Sun., Mar. 10 Sandia Crest | Bird Banding | Departures
Our last day in beautiful New Mexico, we get to the exciting process of bird banding. We head back up Sandia Crest so that we can observe a bird banding operation. If time permits, on our way back down Sandia Crest, we can try and fit in a hike at one of the many scenic trails on the mountain. Lunch is back in Albuquerque. Please plan departures no earlier than 3:30 PM. (L,D)
Ferruginuous Hawk by Bryan Calk
Cactus against Adobe home
Group at Bandelier National Park by Bryan Calk
Santa Fe Market
Taos Scenic by Bryan Calk
Williamson's Sapsucker by Bryan Calk
Juniper Titmouse by Bryan Calk
Cost of the Journey
Cost of the main journey is $2590 DBL / $3050 SGL, per person, based on double occupancy, from Albuquerque, NM this cost includes: accommodations for five nights, meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), airport welcome and transfer or hotel shuttle, land transportation during the journey, professional guide services, park and other entrance fees, and miscellaneous program expenses. Cost does not include round-trip airfare to and from Albuquerque, NM or items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar, gratuities for luggage handling or personal services.
Please plan to make air travel plans only after the minimum group size has been met. We will send you a confirmation email as soon as the trip has been confirmed.
Arrival and Departure Airport: Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ)
Arrival Time and Instructions: March 5, no later than 12:00 PM.
Departure Time and Instructions: March 10, after 3:30 PM.
Travel Tip: If you want to arrive a day or two early, Albuquerque is a great city known for its culture, cuisine, and architecture. The Albuquerque Museum is located right in Old Town within easy walking distance from our hotel and is a great showcase of the art and history of Albuquerque. Adjacent to the Albuquerque Museum is the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science has exhibits depicting billions of years of history in the state. Trendy shops and restaurants abound. If you want to go farther afield, Petroglyph National Monument is a great place to spend part of a day and has thousands of petroglyphs that were carved between 400 and 700 years ago. It’s best to have a rental car if you want to visit Petroglyph National Monument, although it is possible to get there with a taxi or Uber/Lyft.
TOP CHOICE: Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town; 866-505-7829. Adding a night to our first night tour hotel makes the best use of your added time in a wonderful hotel and setting. You will need to taxi/Uber/Lyft to get there. We will pick up there for the Rio Grande Nature Center birding. If this is your choice, please book this online and give us the confirmation number that we submit when we send our final room list, the goal being you don’t have to change rooms. If you want to stay near the airport we recommend you book (and we can pick you up at): Comfort Suites Albuquerque Airport (505) 705-6500 Best Western Airport Albuquerque Inn Suites Hotel & Suites (505) 242-7022
Travel Tip: If you wish to extend your stay in Santa Fe, there are plenty of attractions. In addition to the many museums, the Saint Francis Cathedral, built in the late 1800s in French Romanesque architecture, stands out among the traditional Santa Fe architecture and has a rich history. The nearby Canyon Road is home to over 100 art galleries, which is the highest density in the US. The galleries have a wide range of art created by artists from all over the world. If you pick up a rental car, Pecos National Historical Park is only a 30-minute drive from Santa Fe and holds 12,000 years of history. There are numerous hotels you can book, we suggest you first try to add extra nights for you at the Hotel Santa Fe from our tour.
Browse below for trip reports and species lists from past versions of this and other tours from this destination.
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Photo credits: Banners: Sandhill Cranes, Hugh Simmons; Taos Mountains, by Kyle Pontius on Unsplash; Black Bison, by Eric Murray on Unsplash; Primary: Pygmy Nuthatch, Brian Calk; View from O'Keefe Home, Lynn Tennefoss; Gadwall, Northern Pygmy Owl; Brian Calk Secondary: Coyote, Greg Smith; Evening Grosbeak, Brian Calk; Sagebrush Sparrow, Brian Calk Gallery: Ferruginuous Hawk, Brian Calk; Bighorn Ram, Brian Calk; Group Photo, Brian Calk; Northern Harrier, Greg Smith; Scenic, Brian Calk; Williamson's Sapsucker, Brian Calk; Juniper Titmouse, by John Duncan on Unsplash Itinerary: American Wigeon, Tom Dove; Wood Duck, Sandy Sorkin; Red-tailed Hawk, Sandy Sorkin; Sandhill Cranes, Greg Smith; Bald Eagles, Sandy Sorkin; ; Sandhill Crane, Peg Abbott; Sunset, Naturalist Journeys Stock; Taos, by Leon Bublitz on Unsplash.