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Gambel's Quail

USA - New Mexico in Winter: 

Mountains, Canyons and Congregating Cranes [NA_US002_NMW]


A 10-day, small group birding tour of New Mexico, where spectacular congregations of wintering cranes and waterfowl are complemented by specialities of mountains, grassland and desert.

Our tour of the cool high deserts of central New Mexico takes us through forested mountain ranges, petroglyph-dotted canyons, Chihuahuan desertscapes, vast native grasslands and wetlands along the Rio Grande as we explore this remarkable winter birding destination. We begin in Albuquerque, climbing into the Sandia Mountains before make our way north to Santa Fe and the mountains and canyons that surround the city. We then travel south, through a series of hugely impressive wetland sites including the famous Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and their surrounding desert scrub and grasslands. Birding is at its absolute best here in winter, when thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Ross’s and Snow Geese and other waterfowl overwinter, delivering one of North America’s most incredible wildlife spectacles. Besides this, we hope to encounter a fine selection of montane specialities including Steller’s Jay, Williamson’s Sapsucker and all three North American species of rosy-finch, together with southwestern desert birds such as Gambel’s Quail, Crissal Thrasher, Vermillion Flycatcher and Pyrrhuloxia, and mammals including Elk and Bobcat.




Day 1: Albuquerque

Arrivals into Albuquerque this morning, where we will spend the first two nights of the tour. This afternoon we will bird one or two trails along the petroglyph-dotted canyons that flank the city, where we can expect a good introduction to high desert and Pinyon-Juniper species such as Scaled Quail, Bushtit, Rock Wren, Black-throated, Rufous-crowned and Sagebrush Sparrows, Canyon Towhee, Crissal Thrasher and Pinyon Jay.


Day 2: Sandia Crest

This morning we will drive east, climbing up into colder temperatures of the Sandia Mountain range to Sandia Crest at 3,255m (10,700ft.) within the Cibola National Forest. Here, we’ll look for all three species of Rosy Finch found in North America – Black, Brown-capped and Grey-crowned (including ‘Hepburn’s subspecies), all of which are regular at feeding stations in winter. At the crest, we will look for Steller’s Jay, Mountain Chickadee and the ‘gray-headed’ race of Dark-eyed Junco, and scan conifers that host irruptions of finches such as Evening and Pine Grosbeaks some winters. Good montane habitats flank the roadside, and across elevations we will have the chance of Cassin’s Finch, Red Crossbill, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, American Three-toed Woodpecker, rarer Clark’s Nutcracker, and Northern Goshawk. Later today, we will descend from the mountains to explore wetlands and Cottonwoods along the Rio Grande, where we might find Bewick’s Wren, Say’s Phoebe, Lesser Goldfinch, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Great-tailed Grackle, Belted Kingfisher and a variety of waterfowl such as Wood Duck, Redhead, Canvasback, Ruddy Duck and Cackling Goose.


Day 3 and 4: Santa Fe

On day 3, we will have time for a return visit to Sandia Crest or the foothills if needed, otherwise we will head north to Santa Fe, the historic capital of New Mexico and the oldest and highest state capital anywhere in the United States, for a two-night stay. During our two days here, we will explore the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost subrange of the Rockies, to the east of the city, the volcanic Jemez Mountains around Los Alamos to the west, and Ponderosa Pine-filled canyons in and around the city. We will have the chance of a good selection of typical montane species at elevations up to 3,100m (10,350ft.), including Dusky Grouse, Canada (or Gray) Jay, Townsend’s Solitaire, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted and White-breasted Nuthatches, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Pine Siskin and Golden-crowned Kinglet.


Day 5: Santa Fe to Bosque del Apache

After some final birding in the Santa Fe area, looking in particular for any high elevation species we may have missed so far, we will leave on the drive back south through Albuquerque and on to the small town of Socorro for a two-night stay. The drive will take us through agricultural areas and open country, and we’ll no doubt make frequent stops for species such as Prairie Falcon, American Kestrel, Ferruginous Hawk, Bald and Golden Eagles, and with luck perhaps Chestnut-collared, Thick-billed (McCown’s) and Lapland Longspurs. We will arrive in time to visit the internationally renowned Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge just as hordes of Sandhill Cranes, and both Ross’s and Snow Geese descend on the reserve to roost as sunset approaches.


Day 6: Bosque del Apache

The Rio Grande floodplain and irrigated farmlands at the heart of Bosque del Apache are surrounded by vast grasslands, scrub and desert. This range of habitats is reflected in the variety of species found across the reserve, making this one of the most diverse areas for birds in the United States. In winter months, the sheer numbers of wintering waterfowl make birding here especially exciting. Today, besides enjoying the spectacular fly-out and fly-in of the incredible numbers of cranes and geese at dusk and dawn, we’ll explore the reserve from two motorable sanctuary ‘loop’ roads and birding trails. We can easily expect to see over 100 species of birds today, that may include Pied-billed and Eared Grebes, Green-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Bufflehead and American Wigeon in wetland areas, together with many other more familiar waterfowl whose ranges extend throughout the Palearctic. In surrounding areas we’ll also look for Yellow-headed and Brewer’s Blackbirds, Sage and Curve-billed Thrashers, Marsh Wren, Green-tailed and Spotted Towhees, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Verdin, Western Meadowlark, Horned Lark, American Pipit, several sparrows including Brewer’s and Golden-crowned, birds of prey such as Rough-legged, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, Northern Harrier and Merlin, and mammals such as Elk, Pronghorn, Bobcat and Collared Peccary.


Day 7: Magdalena Mountains and Elephant Butte

This morning we will head away from the wetlands, ascending into the Magdalena Mountains to the west of Socorro. Here, we will look for a complementary selection of species like Canyon Wren, Juniper Titmouse, Pygmy Nuthatch, Red-naped Sapsucker, Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay and Northern Pygmy Owl. Later, we will continue our journey south to Elephant Butte Reservoir, a superb site for waterfowl, wintering here in impressive numbers. We will look for Clark’s and Western Grebes, American White Pelican, Hooded Merganser, and several species of wintering gulls that may include Mew and Glaucous. Eventually, we will reach the unusually named town of Truth or Consequences for a two-night stay.


Day 8: Caballo Lake and Percha Dam

An early start will take us into the lush riparian corridor to spend the day birding the area around Percha Dam in Caballo Lake State Park. Besides typical wintering birds, this is a veritable migrant trap for species of both east and west, while the more southerly latitude means we can also expect to find species of the lower southwestern desert here. In Cottonwoods and Chihuahuan Desert scrub, Gambel’s Quail, Greater Roadrunner, White-winged Dove, Verdin, Black Phoebe, Vermillion and Hammond’s Flycatchers, Pyrrhuloxia, Phainopepla, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Hermit Thrush and Chihuahuan Raven are all likely. We will also make a visit to Animas Creek, a good site for the smart-looking Acorn Woodpecker.


Day 9: Albuquerque

Today we will head back to Albuquerque. Although we have a long drive, we will have most of the day available to bird along the way, either at new sites or re-visiting those we have already visited, depending on the species we have seen so far and local information. Night in Albuquerque.


Day 10: Depart Albuquerque

Departures from Albuquerque international airport today.

TBA 2022

with Leio De Souza

Duration: 10 days

Group size: min. 6 / max. 7 with 1 leader

2022: ₹ TBA

$ TBA / £ TBA / € TBA


Single room supplement: ₹ TBA

$ TBA / £ TBA / € TBA

Deposit: $ TBA / £ TBA / € TBA

The tour is priced in US Dollars ($). Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

The tour price includes:

  • Accommodation

  • All meals

  • Ground transportation

  • Services of a guide throughout

  • All birding activities

  • Reserve entry fees

  • Tour info, pre-travel notes and checklists

Estimated flight costs: $ 1110 / £ 800 / € 935

Estimated visa costs: $ 14 / £ 10 / € 12

More information on what's included

Read about our small group surcharges

Custom tours

Best time: November to February

2022: from ₹ TBA / $ TBA / £ TBA / € TBA

(Price per person based on 2 people travelling together; costs for other group sizes  on request)

Tour grading: Moderate.  Most birding will be on foot along quiet, paved or gravel roads or well-worn trails; the tour is intensive in terms of time spent in the field with early starts and long days in cold temperatures. note we bird to 3,255m where altitude makes walking more strenuous.

Accommodation: Comfortable, modern hotels of good standard throughout. 

Birds: 150

Mammals: 10+

Photography: Excellent

Key species: Sandhill Crane, Snow, Ross's, Cackling and Canada Geese, American White Pelican, Wood Duck, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Redhead, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, Ruddy Duck, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed, Eared, Western and Clark's Grebes, Wild Turkey, Dusky Grouse, Gambel's and Scaled Quails, White-winged and Mourning Doves, Greater Roadrunner, American Coot, Killdeer, Long-billed Dowitcher, Spotted Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Belted Kingfisher, Ring-billed Gull, Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants, Great Blue Heron, Golden and Bald Eagle, Cooper's, Red-tailed and Ferruginous Hawks, Northern Harrier, Merlin, Prairie Falcon, Williamson's Sapsucker, Acorn, Lewis's and Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, Black and Say's Phoebes, Loggerhead Shrike, Canada, Steller's and Pinyon Jays, Woodhouse's Scrub-Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Chihuahuan Raven, Mountain and Black-capped Chickadees, Bridled and Juniper Titmice, Bushtit, Verdin, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Horned Lark, Red-breasted, White-breasted and Pygmy Nuthatches, Rock, Marsh, Canyon and Bewick's Wrens, Crissal, Sage and Curve-billed Thrashers, Eastern, Western and Mountain Bluebirds, Townsend's Solitaire, Cedar Waxwing, Phainopepla, American Pipit, Evening and Pine Grosbeaks, Grey-crowned (Grey-crowned and Hepburn's), Brown-capped and Black Rosy-Finches, Cassin's and House Finches, Pine Siskin,  Red Crossbill, American and Lesser Goldfinches, Dark-eyed Junco, White-crowned, Black-throated, Rufous-crowned, Swamp and Sagebrush Sparrows, Canyon and Spotted Towhees, Western Meadowlark, Brewer's and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, Great-tailed Grackle, Vermillion Flycatcher, Pyrrhuloxia, Bobcat, Coyote, Mule Deer, Pronghorn, Collared Peccary, Abert's Squirrel.

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