Friday, December 21, 2007

Road Block

No, these are not raptors! Along with my survey partner, Chuck, I was back on the Armendaris Ranch to begin the winter season of roadside raptor surveys. One of the largest ranches in New Mexico, this is one of three New Mexico ranches owned by Ted Turner. It is also the release site for fledgling Aplomado Falcons, an endangered species, and subject of intense scrutiny. Will the tiny falcon survive in the harsh climate of the Journada del Muerto? Our job, at Hawks Aloft, is to conduct surveys to assess raptor populations in this desert grassland and, over time, determine change in numbers or in species composition. This is the first winter of surveys, and it is too early yet to report any hard numbers.

On this ranch, the primary grazer besides pronghorn antelope and the exotic oryx, are bison. They run about 1100 head on the vast expanses of grassland mixed with yucca and other shrubs. The ranch is so large that we often see no evidence of the large herbivore. However, this was not the case for the December survey. Fortunately, the herd was quite cooperative and briefly posed for photos. The first image gives one an indication of the immense size of the ranch.

The Armendaris is managed for wildlife as well as bison, and supports impressive numbers of birds, mammals, and reptiles. In fact, during the December survey, we observed no less than 17 Loggerhead Shrikes, a species of high conservation concern due to precipitous declines in its total population size. We also observed 4 Prairie Falcons, another bird that is seldom seen. Both are indicators of the quality of the habitat present and the food resources available for wildlife.

I feel fortunate to be able to spend time in such a beautiful location, far from the frantic pace of life in the city.

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