Elephant Butte Lake

November 13, 2012

Today was our first day at the Festival of the Cranes. We had booked a boat trip on Elephant Butte Lake, to see grebes and other water birds. It started at 8:30 am – but the lake was about 90 minutes down the highway, near Truth or Consequences. So we got up at 6:30 am, had our breakfast, and headed off down the road. The weather was clear and very cold. When we left Socorro it was 21°F (about -6°C) and the water in a water bottle we had left in the car was partially frozen.

Houseboat on Elephant Butte Lake

Houseboat on Elephant Butte Lake

Our trip was aboard a 44-foot houseboat and there were only 12 people on board, so there was lots of room. Driving the boat was local expert Steve, and looking out for the birds was local bird expert Cathie. The boat puttered around the shore of the lake, which was quite small at the moment because of a long drought. The majority of the birds on the lake were Western Grebes, with a few Clark’s Grebes mixed in, but we also saw White Pelicans, coots, several duck species, and a variety of other birds including a group of Sandhill Cranes flying overhead. The trip lasted about three hours, and once back at the marina we had a quick lunch.

White Pelican

White Pelican

After we had finished our lunch we got into our cars and followed Cathie over to another part of the park, the Paseo del Rio campground. This was a riparian area along the mighty Rio Grande, which at the moment was a green scummy trickle of water. Because of the drought and low water levels, almost no water was being allowed out of the lake.

Shore of Elephant Butte Lake

Shore of Elephant Butte Lake

Birding in the campground started out slowly, but as we came to a section of the river which was a bit deeper we started seeing more birds. There were a lot of White-crowned Sparrows, but the first good bird we found was a male Phainopepla, almost hidden in a tree. Besides the expected Say’s and Black Phoebes, we also saw an Eastern Phoebe. It’s rare to see this species west of the Great Plains, so finding it here was quite a surprise.

Elephant Butte Dam

Elephant Butte Dam

And then in a bushy area we saw a flock of Gambel’s Quail, and to our surprise a Gray Fox which was following them. The fox was really gorgeous, a beautiful shade of grey with a black tip to its tail. Later we saw the quails up in a tree, apparently being hunted by a cat which we guessed belonged to one of the campers. Never a dull moment in the life of a quail!

By now the temperature was actually warm, the sun felt good on our faces, but we still had over an hour’s drive to get home. The drive back along I-25 from Truth or Consequences to Socorro was uneventful. We stopped off at the supermarket to get some fruit and vegetables, and then headed back to the Prickly Pear. Dinner tonight was pasta and sauce with a salad.

November 12: The Turquoise Trail

November 14: Bosque del Apache

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