Friday, July 1, 2011

El Paso Day 2: Rio Bosque Wetlands Park

Burrowing Owl, El Paso, TX
I had a couple hours in the morning between sunrise and the start of the conference to do some exploring (and I'd been up since 4:30 anyway, given the two-hour shift to Mountain Time) so I headed out to Rio Bosque Wetlands Park. I would end up visiting the park three times during my trip, one time as part of an official conference activity, so I ended up knowing the park (and the route there) pretty well.

Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is only really a "wetland" during the moister winter months. During the summer, as I overheard a colleague say, it is a wetland without water, a riparian environment without a river. Actually that's not entirely true. A small section of the river, the original river bed of the Rio Grande, is kept wet by well water. Enough to satisfy the pair of mallard ducks I flushed as I walked the trail.
This is no desert. It is carefully managed as a wetland awaiting a more consistent diversion of water. Typical southwest invasives have been removed and native trees and other vegetation flourish. As do feral budgies, apparently.
Birdlife generally is rich, from Bell's vireos singing along the tree line and Cassin's sparrows singing in the long grass, to brief flashes of brilliant blue grosbeaks. And verdin feeding their quivering fledglings.

My favorites were the burrowing owls, easy to see throughout the area, essentially prairie dogs with wings.
Burrowing Owls, Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, El Paso, TX
And a group of Harris's hawks, not as happy to see me as I was to see them.
Harris's Hawks, Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, El Paso, TX
Harris's Hawk, Rio Bosque Wetlands Park, El Paso, TX
These are the "smart" hawks, a social bunch, constantly communicating to each other the fact that I was coming.

And it wasn't just the Harris's hawks warily monitoring me. The U.S.-Mexico border fence runs along the edge of the wetland (actually through it in some parts) and a border patrol cruiser followed me along the fence line as I traveled through.

Roadrunner? Alas, no. But I did see a set of roadrunner footprints in the trail dust.
They were there! Maybe I would have better luck another time.

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