Bosque del Apache NWR--Flight Deck

Tips for Birding

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge Auto Tour Loop

The Flight Deck is one of the top 25 eBird hotspots in New Mexico, with over 250 species having been sighted here. The observation area is bounded on the south by the Main East-West Road (its own hotspot), on the east by the Seasonal Tour Road (another hotspot), on the north by an east-west ditch maintenance road (which is closed to the public), and on the west by the southern end of the North Loop (also a separate hotspot). To maintain data integrity and facilitate communication, eBirders should consider confining listings for the Flight Deck to the area within these bounds, though observations on the Elmendorf Ditch to the immediate west side of the south end of the North Loop and observations on the east-west ditch marking the north end of the area may also be included (preferably with such location information included in “Details”). eBirders listing for the North Loop, and not wanting to prepare separate lists for more-specific hotspots along the way, can include Flight Deck sightings for that more general hotspot; similarly, eBirders preparing a single list of observations for the entire Refuge may include Flight Deck birds within their overall Bosque del Apache NWR hotspot list. However, entire North Loop or entire Refuge lists should not be dumped into a Flight Deck listing.

The Flight Deck is unique among hotspots on the Refuge, in that there is two-way vehicular traffic on two sides of the hotspot. The large field essentially comprising the hotspot may be viewed from its southeast corner at the Eagle Deck, reached by traveling east along the two-way Main East-West Road, which proceeds directly east from the crossroads just east of the Auto Tour Loop fee station. Alternatively, the visitor may make a left turn at this crossroads, driving north on the two-way segment of the North Loop; this segment passes the Flight Deck itself a half-mile from the crossroads, and a bit less than another half mile the end of the hotspot area is marked by red “DO NOT ENTER” traffic signs where northbound vehicles must turn around. During late November to early January, thousands of Snow Goose (with some Ross’s mixed in) may actually block the crossroads-to-deck road segment as they ingest gravel for their gizzards. Indeed, it is at this time of year that the Flight Deck is at its height of popularity, with wildlife enthusiasts arriving before dawn to see a spectacular flyout of geese and cranes which have roosted on the flooded field overnight; likewise, many visitors gather near dusk to watch the birds return after a day of feeding elsewhere. Vault toilets are located close by the deck itself, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service has provided ample parking to the north and south of the actual deck, on the east side of the road.

The deck, from which lighting is best in the afternoon (with the sun behind you), overlooks a large field that is managed as a seasonal wetland. Typically, the USF&WS mows the native grasses in mid-autumn, and begins to flood by late fall. Fortuitous for birders, the strip closest to the North Loop road seems to be lower and floods earliest, attracting Snow Goose, Ross’s Goose, Canada Goose, Cackling Goose, Sandhill Crane, and dabbling ducks; among the latter, Northern Pintail and Mallard are usually the first to arrive. As the water spreads across the field and becomes deeper in early winter, diving ducks such as Lesser Scaup, Ruddy Duck, and Bufflehead begin to appear, as do Pied-billed Grebe, American Coot, and, in late winter, Neotropic Cormorant. Bald Eagles commonly watch waterfowl from an old dead cottonwood in the center of the field, which at this point looks like a lake or pond. Toward the beginning of spring, the field is drained, in the process creating an excellent feeding area for wading birds such as Great Egret, Snowy Egret, American Avocet, Wilson’s Phalarope, Spotted Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, and White-faced Ibis.

Be sure to examine the cottonwoods, brush, and sunflowers on either side of the deck; occasional and relatively rare species seem to favor this area in fall and winter. Vermillion Flycatcher and Western Kingbird are likely in spring, along with migrating swallows and warblers. These spring species sometimes linger into summer, when Black-chinned Hummingbird, Western Tanager, and Ash-throated Flycatcher can also be observed.

About Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover for migrating waterfowl, the refuge is well known for the thousands of sandhill cranes, geese, and other waterfowl that winter here each year.

Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331-acre refuge harbors a wild stretch of the Rio Grande, a ribbon of cottonwood and willow trees visible on the landscape from distant mesas.

Petroglyphs tell the story of ancient people that lived and hunted here. The river and its diversity of wildlife have drawn humans to this area for at least 11,000 years when humans migrated along this corridor, sometimes settling to hunt, fish and farm. Artifacts and stone tools found nearby tell us that nomadic Paleo-Indian hunters pursued herds of mammoth and bison in the valley.

Today, Bosque del Apache is part of the National Wildlife Refuge System, a national network of lands and waters set aside and managed for the benefit of wildlife, habitat, and you.

Content from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge website, Birding in New Mexico (National Audubon Society), and John Montgomery