Drought impacting birds in the Bosque


David Parsons, one of the surveyors at a burn site. (Courtesy photo)

I always look forward to the beginning of the summer songbird survey season.

At dawn, when I begin my first transect, it is deliciously cool and the dawn chorus of melodious calls ring in my ears. Most of the birds documented among the 80+ one-half mile Bosque transects between Rio Rancho and La Joya State Game Refuge are identified only via songs, calls and drumming. I’ve surveyed six routes in the Corrales Bosque for many years, such that not only do I know the calls, I am even familiar with some of the long-time territories.

But last week’s survey was markedly different. The silence was nearly deafening, other than the calls of White-winged Dove (a newcomer to this region) and Mourning Dove.

Completely absent were the normally ubiquitous Spotted Towhee, Bewick’s Wren, and Downy Woodpecker. Bosque vegetation, normally filled with young emergent grasses and shrubs in the early summer, looked and felt like winter with dried cottonwood leaves and dried-everything-else that crunched under my feet. It was only when I approached the relatively wetter soils near the Rio Grande that the familiar songs filled the forest with music.

Firsthand experience has a far greater impact than theoretical information.

Just two weeks ago, a wildfire burned over 30 acres in the Bosque south of Montano Blvd., on both sides of the river. It was a crystal clear, cloudless day, with zero chance of lightning, so the cause was most likely human, although that has not yet been confirmed. Bosque fires strike terror among all of us: those who live near the Bosque, those who care about that fragile ecosystem and the wildlife that call it home. Managing the needs of the forest as well as the needs of the community has been an ongoing struggle, often marred in controversy for time immemorial among the many constituents affected.

Anthony Martinez, Corrales Fire Chief

I called Anthony Martinez, Corrales fire chief, to discuss the extreme drought conditions and resulting management decisions. It was an enlightening conversation.

Martinez reported that the whole state is just dry: “Windy. Dry. Hot. Many of the bosque cottonwoods have reached the end of their natural life cycle; Combined with the severe drought and reduced river flows, many of them are dying. We are going to see an ongoing trend of hot and dry with no forecast for precipitation.”

Within the Corrales Bosque, Martinez and his crew have been working to increase access to enable their crews to better respond to fire.

At one site where they worked to clear an open area along the levee, they ceased work early this spring, well ahead of the avian nesting season, due to extreme fire danger. At another restoration project further north, Martinez fills a tank weekly to water the pole plants, much like the Corps of Engineers did when they conducted restoration work back in 2011-16.

It’s a delicate dance to try to find a balance in the management of our Bosque. I asked if it would be better for the Bosque to have it closed to the public or to keep it open. Martinez responded; “Now’s the time to get in there, to be our eyes and ears, and report anything you see. We need people in there all of the time during daylight hours. Do what you like to do in the Bosque. If you see something, say something. Report any wrongdoing, such as camps, smoking, or motorcycles.” Call non-emergency dispatch at 505-898-7585 or 911 if it is an emergency.

Martinez told me of plans to do a Corrales Bosque clean-up in the fall, where citizens can help remove dead and down wood. He said that they are always playing catch up with the overwhelming amount of work that needs to be done.

Can you help? Contact Gail if you would like to become involved in these efforts

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