Sunday, July 12, 2015

Gila National Forest: A Gem of New Mexico

It was getting pretty warm in Rodeo, NM at Rusty's RV Ranch so we thought we'd try to find cooler digs for a week. Our research showed us that Silver City, New Mexico was coming in 10 degrees cooler so we decided to go check it out. Silver City is 90 miles north of Rodeo and is the gateway to Gila National Forest.

We found a great place to park our rig and were delighted to learn how many places there were to bird within an hour of our location. Silver City is located on the Continental Divide making it a confluence of many types of habitats. We had our choice of birding desert, pine-filled mountains, oak woodlands and riparian corridors to name a few. Some of our favorite places turned out to be the Gila River Bird Habitat Management Area and the Gila National Forest, specifically Cherry Creek and McMillan Campgrounds. One day we even visited the Gila Cliff Dwellings, a National Monument.

One thing we learned from our visit to the Gila National Forest is the Continental Divide acts as both a wildlife corridor and home to some of our last wild species. This corridor becomes more and more critical as other wild places are marginalized from development, agriculture and extraction of natural resources. The Continental Divide in the Gila National Forest has two major drainages: the Mimbres River to the east and the Gila River to the west. Both areas have stunning scenery and healthy riparian corridors.

The Gila National Forest comprises some 3.3 million acres of forest with over 2,500 miles of trails!! One pattern that we are beginning to see from our visits to National Forests is, not only do you get to enjoy the surroundings of the National Forest itself, but, there is typically a wilderness area associated with that National Forest. For example, the Coronado National Forest, which incorporates the Chiricahua Mountains also has a large wilderness area included. The same is true with the Gila National Forest. Wilderness areas are special because they are protected from extraction, such as logging, and are off limits to off-road vehicles and machinery. They are typically some of our most wild and pristine country left in the U.S.

The Gila River Bird Habitat Management Area, less than an hour drive from Silver City, is a management unit of the Gila National Forest. It offers incredible birding with easy access and walking among the river willows and cottonwoods along the Gila River. We understand this is a very special place during spring migration, where the combination of riparian habitat and desert foothills bring a great variety of birds together.

A short drive north of Silver City brings you into the Gila National Forest. The Cherry Creek & McMillan Campgrounds include a mix of deciduous and coniferous riparian woodlands and Ponderosa pine forest.

Please enjoy some of our photos of the scenery and wildlife we were lucky to see.

The route up north on New Mexico 15 provides wonderful vistas........

Can you find the bird ?
The Greater Roadrunner, our desert cuckoo, in breeding plumage with nesting material.
A sneak peak of a female Red Crossbill high up in the pines.
Blooms and butterflies at every turn......

The Desert Willow: this is our first time seeing it bloom!

The butterflies love it too
Male Orange Sulfur
Queen Butterfly
Checkered White Butterfly

Lizards everywhere.......
Regal Horn Lizard
Unknown Spiny Lizard?? Any ideas

More birds and baby birds.......

Adult Common Black-Hawk....our first one!

Immature Common Black-Hawk

Summer Tanager female with baby:-)

Cassin's Kingbird flexing its wings.

Violet-green Swallow parent watching over a nest cavity

Here is the baby Violet-green Swallow

A Yellow-billed Cuckoo along the Gila River. The western subspecies has been recently listed as threatened. We will be participating in some cuckoo surveys in the near future.

Female Vermillion Flycatcher

and the male...

Baby American Three-toed Woodpecker.......we came upon this bird peeling away the bark in a manner specific to Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers. This bird must have just fledged.

Look at its skinny little neck?
We think this is an immature Ash-throated Flycatcher--- any other ideas???
Immature Bell's Vireo along the Gila River
Hummingbirds everywhere.......

The battle was on between these Black-chinned Hummingbirds

The victor!

Male Black-chinned Hummingbird
Female Broad-tailed Hummingbird...see the buffy flanks and green back?
Male Broad-tailed Hummingbird: the gorget of the male is the same color as that of Anna's Hummingbird but colors the throat only.

A rare glimpse of a Hummer on the nest:-) The females do everything. After mating with the male, she makes the nest, incubates the eggs, raises the young and continues to feed them after they fledge. All the male does is look pretty!

A recent fledgling still looking for a meal from mom
and getting it....
Bushtits: this is a female since it has yellow eyes. A group came to visit while we were picnicking.

Flycatcher, Juncos & Vireos.......

Cordilleran Flycatcher: the Cordilleran and Pacific-slope Flycatchers were once considered the same species. The species were split by geography and call.  Both love the riparian corridors! 
Baby Dark-eyed Junco that is part of the Red-backed subspecies
Hutton's Vireo in breeding plumage
Male Spotted Towhee defending his territory
Male Western Bluebird with a mouthful for the young

Lucy's Warblers along the Gila River
Still wet after a nice bath
Scratching an itch....
We found Olive Warblers hiking in the mountains of the Gila National Forest. They were right along the trail. Olive Warblers are not a true warbler. National Geographic tells us they have recently been placed in their own family for a few reasons. Unlike wood-warblers, the Olive Warbler has a notched tail and ten primaries. It also flicks its wings like a kinglet and sings a loud titmouse-like song.

Singing Painted Redstart

Red-faced Warbler parent bringing food to the young. They were all along the creeks in the mountains.

The Yellow-breasted Chat in a rare conspicuous moment. Usually heard and not seen, they vocalize with a loud song all day along riparian areas.

Spotted Owls......Mexican subspecies...

A first for us, this was a very special event to see these secretive owls. We were blessed to have fellow birders let us know they had been seen down the trail.

The World is Full of Beauty & Wonder,

Turtle & Hawk

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