Memories of Bitter Lake NWR, New Mexico

Scaled Quail - Callipepla squamata
I enjoyed my Monday morning visit to Bitter Lake NWR near Roswell, New Mexico so much, I spent Tuesday morning there as well. I found these Cock-Of-The-Walk Scaled Quail were even more cooperative than they were on Monday.

After four days on the road from Brownsville, I followed the Pecos River upstream from Texas and crossed into New Mexico on Sunday, May 10th of 2020, and found a Walmart parking lot in Roswell where I boondock camped for the night. My Texas travelling was rewarding on so many levels, but now all that was behind me. The rigors of the day’s drive out of West Texas wore me down, and by the time I hit Roswell it was mid-afternoon. Though there was still enough daylight left for me to have explored the surrounding area, that would have required an energy expense I wasn’t prepared to invest. Instead I settled in to work from inside the RV on the stories and pictures from my Texas Exodus.

New Mexico and Arizona lay before me on my return to Southern California. I’d become accustomed to life on the road and if not for the temporary duties that called me home, and the restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I might have just kept going on my quest to investigate the whole of the North American continent.

My past expeditions to New Mexico were focused along the Rio Grande Valley and the western side of the state. Never had I crossed into the Pecos River Valley and sought its treasures. This is one Western State I look forward to seeing more of in the future.

I told my friend Jerry in Albuquerque of my planned route, and he recommended a stop at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, a few miles east of Roswell. Early Monday morning I broke camp and drove 8 miles east to the reserve. As I travelled the route past the fence lines where homesites lined the roadway, I noticed Scaled Quail crossing the road and perched on the fences. I got excited because I’d not met Scaled Quail before, even though many places in West Texas where I’d been travelling had hosted them. Now here they seemed as common as House Sparrows at a strip-mall food court.

My first stop after arriving at the reserve was at the Visitor Center. As expected the services normally found here were unavailable due to the pandemic, but the auto tour road around the wetlands was open for public enjoyment. I walked the grounds looking and listening to the local birds and I heard Say’s Phoebes, Northern Mockingbirds, Eurasian Collared Doves, and Bullock’s Orioles. Barn Swallows nested in the rafters of the building’s entry. Then I heard the quail and my optimism soared.

Cassin's Sparrow - Peucaea cassinii
I enjoyed my Monday morning visit to Bitter Lake NWR near Roswell, New Mexico so much, I decided to spend Tuesday morning there as well. I found these Cassin’s Sparrows were even more cooperative than they were on Monday.

I launched my exploratory four-and-a-half mile drive on the auto tour road around the lakes and wetlands below in the Pecos River Valley. Before making it 100 yards, I met a pair of the quail I longed to meet, though these birds were too shy for the satisfying images I hoped for. But the day was young, and before long I found several more of them along my route, plus several other species I enjoyed.

Many of the wetland birds I discovered here were too distant for the images I prefer capturing, yet enjoyable none-the-less. I made a clockwise circle on the two-way auto tour road and three-quarters of the way through the drive I found my way northbound on the west side of the valley. Here the brush-covered slopes produced several memorable meetings. Blue Grosbeaks and Cassin’s Sparrows sang from perches on the mesquite and low brush. The sparrows I found along the roadside were posing in the warm sunlight and provided me with some of the nicest images I’ve ever gotten of the species. This leg of the tour also gave me my best meetings with the Scaled Quail.

I finished the morning at Bitter Lake feeling this place was worthy of investing more of my time. So after resting in the Visitor Center parking lot through the mid-day, I returned to the refuge for an afternoon round with the birds. When I finished my second tour, I drove back to Roswell and camped in an empty parking lot in the back of a theater that seemed closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Later that afternoon I experienced a powerful blow-and-rain event that rocked the van for several hours, and produced a memorable sunset. Early Tuesday morning I drove back to the reserve for several more enjoyable hours before resuming my drive towards Albuquerque to visit my friend.

I’ll bet that through the seasons, bird meetings here will vary. I hope to return to this location someday and put my theory to the test. The gallery below will provide the reader with a sample of what I saw during this visit.

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