Sunday, June 2, 2013

Birding The Nature Conservancy's Rancho El Uno Reserve, Chihuahua

I had the privilege to visit the Nature Conservancy's Rancho El Uno Reserve in northern Chihuahua, March 11-14, 2013.  While the main purpose of the visit was for work, as usual it's hard to separate the birding from the work for me!
This region of the Chihuahuan Desert has been in drought conditions for over a decade.  This winter, poor grass conditions even on well-managed El Uno reflect the exceptional drought of last summer.  Range conditions are better on the ranch than the surrounding grasslands, and the birds are concentrated on the ranch as a result.  Predators are also concentrated on the ranch.  One of the research projects we participated in, a Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory radio tracking project looking at winter movements and survival in Baird's Sparrow, had some birds lost to predation by raptors including Loggerhead Shrike and Short-eared Owl.
Jesús tries out the scratching post for the bison

TNC has restored bison to the ranch, with 36 bison roaming one (huge) pasture.  Our first morning we were entertained with the bison herd just outside the building compound, playing, rolling, and shaking the ground.  Discussions are underway about restoring other native grazers including pronghorn.
We met with members of a local ejido who are grazing their cows on Rancho El Uno while the ejido pasture is restored.  Some members of this ejido are quite progressive in their outlook, willing to help with the work of rotational grazing their cows on Rancho El Uno.  The ejido is also receiving ecosystem services payments from the Mexican government while they reduce grazing pressure on a different tract of ejido land.  These funds are from the forestry department!
Rancho El Uno is a great place for Baird's Sparrow, but it's not a great place to study Baird's Sparrow - except in flight!  They certainly don't sit up and pose for you, but they are present in some numbers along with Grasshopper Sparrow, Chestnut-collared Longspur, Sprague's Pipit, and other grassland birds.  Brush-loving birds are found in the surrounding area in numbers, including Vesper Sparrow, Lark Bunting, Brewer's Sparrow, and other birds.  
The last morning as we were heading out to El Paso we were treated by Jose Luis of TNC to a trip to Casas Grandes to see the Laguna Fierro and Laguna Redondo.  These reservoirs hold numbers of Snow and Ross's Geese and other waterfowl, particularly in spring migration.  Flocks of Chestnut-collared Longspurs were coming in to drink, and Western Grebes were present on the water.  My favorite birds were the stately Common Mergansers since I don't see them where I live in south Texas.
The diverse arid grasslands of Rancho El Uno
It was a whirlwind trip, and I can't wait to go back and spend more time at Rancho El Uno!  
Chihuahuan Ravens on the entrance gate to the reserve.