Indentifying and Protecting Wildlife Corridors

weather pattern, 4/12/14

Amazing, simply amazing.  The confluence between research science, technology, and volunteers on a massive scale yield these, I’ll say it again, amazing, heat maps of bird migration:  Forecasts : BirdCast.

Without waiting for years of study to become published, and then instantly become irrelevant, this “real time” network of volunteers and bird scientists have been putting together easily readable maps and graphs that show how bird migration not only shapes up for this season, week by week, even day by day, but how it compares to other years at the same time.

To say that bird migration depends on the weather is an understatement, birds must follow weather patterns in order to move the distances they need to arrive at feeding and breeding grounds just in time to continue their life cycle.  When those patterns are too early, birds can “hold on” to their current position to avoid being swept away to an area that is still too cold or dormant.  When the wind and weather is too late, birds may be stranded in inhospitable locations.  Even more complicated is when the seasons get mixed up, as in New England this spring, with winter and summer alternating rapidly, too cold, too hot, with “just right” fleeting fast away.

If you want a graphic example, in real time, of  life trying to adapt to a rapidly changing climate regime, the heat maps of e-bird are a good place to look.

Read this timely article by Laura Paskus here:

LAST EXIT: Wildlife dies by the thousands on NM’s highways.

Wildlife warning signs

Thanks Laura for bringing this issue to light in the Reporter; as people become aware of the dangers to wildlife in these “pinch points”, we have a chance to change history for the better, for animals and ourselves.




Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge

Planting willows

Planting willows



Western Willow Flycatcher habitat was improved last Saturday at the Sevilleta Wildlife Refuge as 22 volunteers with the New Mexico Volunteers for the Outdoors helped by cutting and trimming willows, then planting them in holes that were augered down to the water table.

Willow prep

Willow prep


Satisfying work on a calm, clear February day.  Flocks of snow geese headed south to the Bosque del Apache refuge as we worked on the willow prep. under the budding old growth cottonwoods along the Rio Grande.  Cutting all but the very top branches off the willow rods helps the willow roots get a good start.  By May they will be leafed out and growing into their first season in their new spot along the river.  These Gooding’s willows will grow much taller than the ubiquitous Coyote Willow, and when filled out with new branches in a few years, provide good habitat, along with the Cottonwoods, for the endangered Western Willow Flycatcher.

The refuge manager, Kathy Granillo, also voiced her concern for wildlife pathways throughout the state of NM, and recognizes the importance of wildlife connectivity between all the refuge lands.  Even though Sevilleta is the largest refuge, 200,000 + acres, it still depends on connectivity with surrounding lands to stay healthy.

As we like to say at Pathways, “Life is a moving thing!”

First day beginning

First day beginning


We started out with a calm day on the West Mesa, finding beautifully preserved tracks on the sand dunes.  Eight people took this rigorously designed course of wildlife track and sign identification, in which everyone makes their best effort at identifying the “questions” presented by the animals we find: “who made this track?”, “which foot is this?”, “what gait is this animal in, walk, trot, run?”.  Then, after each person has the time to write their answers and  give them  privately, the space is then created to receive all the information Casey has to give on who this animal is, and why it is not another animal, details on foot structure, natural history, and the mechanics and physical dynamics of gait and speed.  So much information comes pouring out from just these little marks in the sand that you wonder at the richness of the story at your feet, and your eyes open wider.


Casey teaching

Casey teaching


If all this information can be gathered from just a few minutes on the sand, what could we learn from a day, a week, a month of reading these stories?  A fascinating world is opening up for those of us who are learning to read track and sign, for it is not like reading, but more like seeing live action ~ the size, height, length and movement of the animal as it stops, sits, turns, breaks into a trot, starts to hunt or forage, or gives chase.

Bobcat tracks

Bobcat tracks


Our second day was cooler, windier, up in the Tijeras area where Mule Deer and Bobcat tracks, beds and scrapes were found.  These common animals and the traces of their lives help connect us to the real world, the world where we live, where animals live; and help us to begin to see how we are a part of their daily lives.


Tracker Certification








Deer tracks

Deer tracks

This weekend Pathways will be helping with another wildlife track and sign course with professional tracker,

Casey McFarland.  Read some of the history of this course here:  History | Tracker Certification.

There is still room for a couple more people, so contact Casey directly; email: and take advantage of this great opportunity to see another side of animal, bird and insect life here in NM.

Black Bear foraging study

This study comes out of Missoula, Montana, but is applicable here in NM as well.  Read the full report here: ASM Online Journals – Food availability and foraging near human developments by black bears.

The upshot is, if you’ve got fruit trees, you have one of the most reliable attractants for bringing bears to your yard, even more so than garbage cans, this study found.  Surprisingly, even with wild foods nearby or in village yards, the bears still preferred to eat the fruit and other tender greens being grown domestically.  Black Bears are so much like people, which makes their behavior predictable, but still challenging to live with.

With a good soil moisture base coming into the winter, and now with sporadic snows in Dec. and Feb., there may be some good set of wild foods for bears this year.

Come see the Black Bear program at Cerrillos Hills State Park this Saturday, link here: The Bear Facts | Cerrillos Hills.

A Black Bear cub was seen several times in Cerrillos last summer/fall, and the island Ortiz Mts. attract these bears with their forests of Gambel Oak acorns as well, so there are pathways bears use between the big mountain ranges of Sandia, Jemez, and Sangre de Cristo.  Its just that people don’t expect to see bears away from the big mountains, but they do travel, far and wide, and every time people seem amazed, as if we’re the only ones who need to get someplace.


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