Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge

Named for its large alkaline lake, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, in the Pecos River Valley, was established in 1937 to protect a vital desert oasis for migratory birds and resident wildlife.  As the Pleistocene gave way to the Holocene, some 10,000 years ago, the climate gradually warmed and flow through the Pecos River has gradually declined.  Fed by artesian springs from the Roswell Aquifer, the lakes, ponds and wetlands of the refuge have been managed by the use of levees and canals to ensure a range of salinity that provides diverse natural habitat.

Renowned for its large variety of dragonflies, Bitter Lake NWR also provides vital breeding habitat for least terns and snowy plovers.  A wide variety of shorebirds stop here to rest and feed during their spring and summer migrations while wintering sandhill cranes, geese (including Ross's geese), ducks, coot, bitterns and wading birds utilize the preserve from mid autumn to early spring.  Among other birds that breed here are greater roadrunners, northern harriers, American avocets, ladder-backed woodpeckers, Chihuahuan ravens, scaled quail, loggerhead shrikes, black phoebes, vermillion flycatchers and rock wrens.  Mammalian residents include six species of bat, kangaroo rats, porcupines, nutria, kit fox, black-footed ferrets, ringtails, bobcats and pronghorn, among others.

The refuge is best reached via Pine Lodge Road near the north edge of Roswell, New Mexico.  Drive east for 7 miles to the entrance and proceed to the Visitor Center (open Monday-Saturday, 8-4) for an overview of the landscape and its wildlife.  An auto tour loop, 6.5 miles long, is open everyday from dawn to dusk.