This New Mexico state park has long been known to local birders as the Old Refuge. It is a remnant patch of formerly common riparian habitat fronting the Rio Grande, and as such, it’s an important protected area for wildlife. Habitat restoration has created a series of wetlands and open saltgrass meadows that attract birds.
Every time I’m in Las Cruces, I make a point of visiting. It’s beautiful any time of year, but it’s especially great in winter, when the bushes are full of sparrows and various raptors circle by, framed by the Organ Mountains to the east. Crissal Thrashers are most easily found in winter, teed up on mesquites and singing their melodious songs. Nearby, the waters of the Rio Grande placidly flow around sandbars containing pipits, egrets, and other water specialists. The dense brush hides Long-eared and Barn Owls, as well as bobcats and javelina, or collared peccary. Marsh Wrens and Song Sparrows patrol the edges of the ponds, while towhees lurk in drier areas.
Last February, a wild Aplomado Falcon put in an appearance and gave the park the recognition it deserves as a great hotspot. — Matthew Brooks
Ponds and marshes with bulrushes, irrigation channels, thick riparian brush, open salt grass meadows, open water on Rio Grande, and adjacent desert scrub.
Level earthen trails.
Residents: Crissal and Curve-billed Thrashers, Great Horned Owl, Cactus Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, Greater Roadrunner, Black-throated Sparrow. Winter: many waterfowl and raptors, Wilson’s Snipe, Marsh Wren, Western and Eastern Meadowlarks, Long-eared Owl, Sora, Red-winged Blackbird, American Pipit, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and several sparrows. Summer: Cave Swallow, Blue Grosbeak, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Western Kingbird, Yellow-breasted Chat, Cassin’s Sparrow. Rarities: White-tailed Kite, Aplomado Falcon, Brown Thrasher, American Bittern, Painted Bunting, White-throated and Swamp Sparrows.
When to go
Fall, winter, and spring are especially productive. Summer mornings are good for breeding birds. Desert species present all year.
Visitor center has trail maps, displays, and bird lists. Restrooms and water are available. The park is occasionally a destination for birding field trips led by Mesilla Valley Audubon on the first Saturday of each month.
State park. Fee: $5 per car. Open 8-5 daily from September through March. From April through August, the hours are 8-5 Monday to Friday, and 7-7 Saturday and Sunday. Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.