Monday, July 2, 2007

Journada del Muerto

They call this place the "journey of the dead" for its desolate, waterless landscape, with little shade provided by the tall yuccas that dominate the landscape. The Chihuahuan Desert grasslands are home to a variety of uniquely adapted species able to survive in a harsh climate. It is here, in south-central New Mexico, that the Armendaris Ranch, stretches for over 60 miles from Truth of Consequences, NM north to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuges. It is one of Ted Turner's three majestic ranches in New Mexico, making him the largest landowner in our state.

I was here, searching for raptors, particularly the Aplomado Falcons released in 2006 by the Peregrine Fund. In 2007, two of last year's young paired up and nested, producing 2 nestlings. Both young have now fledged the nest but are still being supported by their parents. Hailed as a great success for the fledgling Aplomado re-introduction program, it is a testament to ranch management practices that produce the overwhelming abundance of insects, birds, lizards and other prey items can enable a successful nesting endeavor by two smallish falcons, only one year old themselves.

The ranch raises bison, and has a herd of about 1,100 free-ranging cows, young, and bulls. There are no interior fences on the Armendaris and the herd is able to move freely throughout the expansive ranch lands. In fact, the ranch supports a wide variety of wildlife. During our surveys there we have seen everything from pronghorn antelope with young, to endangered species of desert tortoise. It is a remarkable place, and I am thrilled that we have permission to conduct avian research on this well-manged private ranch seen by only a few fortunate individuals.

My next trip down will be in early August for more raptor surveys.

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