Here are some of the better birding sites found in the El Paso area. Read below for detailed descriptions and directions. Many of these sites are also included on the El Paso Uplands and El Paso Rio loops on the Far West Texas Wildlife Trail map.
Feather Lake is a wildlife sanctuary maintained by the El Paso/Trans-Pecos Audubon Society. Due to the drought, Feather Lake is closed until further notice. Check back for updates.
Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is a 372-acre City of El Paso Park next to the Rio Grande in El Paso's Mission Valley. It is the site of a long-term project to re-establish meaningful examples of the wetland and riparian-forest habitats historically found along the river in the El Paso Region.
Directions [Map]: From downtown El Paso, travel east on Interstate 10 to the Americas Ave. (Loop 375) exit (Exit 34). Go SW on Americas and take the first onramp onto Loop 375. Travel to the exit (Exit 47) for Alameda Ave., Socorro Rd. and Pan American Dr. Exit here to the frontage road and continue straight ahead, crossing both Alameda Ave. and Socorro Rd.
At Pan American Dr., turn left. After driving approximately 1.1 mil on Pan American, you'll cross a bridge over the Playa Drain. At 1.5 miles, you'll reach a second bridge, which crosses the Riverside Canal right before the gated entrance to the Jonathan Rogers and Roberto Bustamante water-treatment plants. Cross this bridge, then turn left immediately onto the gravel road along the canal. Go 0.75 miles to the north edge of the park and the park's Tornillo Trailhead. There are also two other trailheads--the Wetland and Bosque trailheads--farther down the road along the canal. The Park's visitor center is at the Bosque Trailhead.
Navigation Note: Be wary of using a GPS navigation system to find the park. Many systems will direct you to 10716 Socorro Rd., the Park's designated street address. Unfortunately, at this time there is no access to the Park from that location.
Birds: The main water channel through the Rio Bosque Wetlands Park is a historic meander of the Rio Grande that was cut off in the 1930s when the river was channelized. Up to 5,000 ducks use the Park's wetlands in winter and on migration. Numerous raptors use the Park, particularly in winter. Harris's Hawks are resident. Peregrine Falcons are rate but regular in winter and on migration. Shorebirds can be numerous in spring if water levels are suitable. In summer, the park hosts a number of riparian-dependent Nearctic-neotropical migratory species such as Bell's Vireo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Blue Grosbeak and Pained Bunting. Year-round resident species of the El Paso-Juarez Valley, such as Gambel's Quail, Roadrunner and Crissal Thrasher, are also well represented. For information on birds currently being seen as the Park, click here.
Currently, the wetlands are only reliably flooded in late fall and early winter. In some years, the park is mostly dry in spring and summer. The wetland areas are on the west side of the Park, near the river.
Franklin Mountains State Park
The largest urban park in North America is located where the desert meets the mountain. Birds of both ecosystems can be seen at the picnic area. There are trails that lead into the mountains. Sturdy walking shoes are recommended. Take I-10 (west) to the Transmountain Rd. exit and turn east. Drive toward the mountains for about a mile and a half. The entrance to the Park will be on your left.
Other trails that lead into the mountains can be found along Transmountain Rd. as you drive east over the mountains. The trail heads are not marked except by the parking areas. Again, wear sturdy hiking boots as some of the trails are quite rugged. It is always a good idea to go with a friend or two and DON'T LEAVE THE TRAILS. The mountains are covered with cactus and loose rocks; a slip could result in a serious injury.
Wilderness Park Museum
Continue to drive east along Transmountain Rd. until you have crossed the mountains, a distance of about six miles. The first structure that you will see will be on your left: this is the museum. There are well-maintained and well-marked trails on the museum grounds. Other trails lead into the canyons of the East Franklin Mountains. Ask in the museum about these trails. Some of these trails are long and it's a good idea to take water, snacks, and a buddy. Depending on the season, you should see doves, gambel's and scaled quail, verdin, canyon wren, various sparrows, horned larks, turkey vultures, and, perhaps, golden eagles.
Next to the Wilderness Park Museum is the Border Patrol Museum, which should be seen by the visitor to El Paso. An alternate route to both museums is: Take I-10 to US 54 (Patriot Freeway) north to the Transmountain Rd. exit. Turn west and drive about a quarter of a mile. The museums will be immediately visible on your right.
If you have just left the Wilderness Park Museum, turn left out of the parking lot onto Transmountain Road and go to the Patriot Freeway (US 54). turn left onto the Patriot Freeway and follow it to the end of the freeway. Continue north on Gate North to McCombs Blvd. This is the start of Hawk Alley. Turn north on McCombs and watch electric power lines and poles for the raptors and buteos that hunt in the area. Follow McCombs to Stan Roberts Sr. Avenue (Ranch Road 2529). You can turn either east or west and continue watching the power lines for hawks.
Ft. Bliss Ponds
The official name for this unlikely oasis in the desert is the Fred Hervey Water Reclamation Plant. The Plant has several settling ponds which are filled only irregularly. when they have water, and during the migration periods. the ponds can draw a variety of birds including ducks, wading and shore bords as well as migrating passerines. The surrounding desert offers gambel's and scaled quail, roadrunner and crissal thrasher.
Getting to the Ponds can give the first time visitor the distinct feeling of getting lost. From I-10 take US 54 North to Loop 375 and turn right on the Loop. Follow Loop 375 to the Railroad Drive exit and turn left. You will pass several widely spaced industrial facilities on both sides of the road. When you pass the Millard Refrigeration Services Plant start looking to the right for an industrial facility set back from the road. There is an unmarked entrance to the Fred Hervey Water Reclamation Plant from Railroad Drive. Follow the entrance road until it turns into a dirt road and this will take you up to the levee surrounding the first pond. Start your birding here as the heavy growth of trees and brush attracts flycatchers, warblers and others. Follow the road around to the other ponds. Be sure to watch the skies for hawks attracted to the area.
This slice of the Chihuahuan Desert is located in central El Paso at the foot of the Franklin Mountains. Drive north on Stanton St. to Rim Rd. and turn east. Follow Rim Road past the large homes until you reach the mountain. There is a fork in the road - the right fork takes you up to Scenic Drive (this is worth the trip, especially at night); the left fork will take you around to the east end of Arroyo Park and onto Robinson Ave. Follow Robinson Ave. to the entrance to the El Paso Tennis Club. You can gain access to the park from the tennis club.
The Crossroads Pond is a very easy to find and access birding site, and is well worth the effort of visiting [even if you can only do it for a few minutes on your way elsewhere].
You can reach the site, a few different ways....
If you are at the Mesa & Doniphan junction, be prepared to make a quick turn [towards Sunland Park Mall] onto the dirt area immediately before or after crossing the RR tracks, dependent if you are headed towards or away from, Santa Teresa.
If you are coming from Keystone Heritage Park, drive approximately .8 of a mile towards Mesa, and then make a left onto Sunset Dr. As soon as you cross the RR tracks, make a right onto Charl Ann. After going approximately .1 of a mile, make a left onto Love Rd, go past Emory and then Shorty [a fire station is on your right], and then almost immediately after crossing over a small drainage canal, make a right onto a dirt area.
One side of the pond area is inaccessible, because is immediately behind the backyards of a number of houses. The other three sides of the property are easy to walk or drive along, and it is very easy to view the birds through the chain link fence. Over many years, this site has almost always has water in it [knock on wood].
Most of the birds you will see, are on the water or along the shoreline. Almost all of the local area's water and wading birds have been observed here, including rare/uncommon species such as long-tailed duck [a.k.a. Oldsquaw], common goldeneye, tundra swan, hooded merganser, and white pelican. The Fall and Winter months usually provide the best water bird viewing for overall numbers and variety.
Crossroads Pond is famous for the huge number of wood ducks that favor it almost year round, even though they typically nest elsewhere in the surrounding neighborhood. The shoreline vegetation is usually one of the "best bets" places in El Paso to spot one or more green herons, and you can't help but be amused to watch the coots rearing their "funny-faced" young during the summer months.
After looking at all of the water birds, don't forget to look for birds in the vegetation, trees and suspended wires surrounding the ponds. As you might guess, doves love the place year round and swallows are abundant during migration. Belted kingfishers often favor the place and it isn't uncommon to find a raptor or two perched nearby or soaring in the distance.
The smaller perching birds that are typical of the local region, are often seen here. In the Spring & Summer months, you can typically find Say's and black phoebe, phainopepla, and black-chinned hummingbirds, among others. In the Fall and Winter months, ruby-crowned kinglet, yellow-rumped warbler, dark-eyed junco and white-crowned sparrow are often seen. Two of the more rare and unusual smaller landbirds seen here have included red crossbills and Lawrence's goldfinch.
Though this little site seems fairly unassuming, and even if you are very familiar with it and with what you might typically find there, I've learned from my own pleasant experiences that you'll never know what surprise might await you upon your next visit!
To reach this site, drive south on Sunland Park Dr. and head for the State Line Restaurant (for those coming from out of town on Interstate Highway 10, exit at the Sunland Park Dr. exit and go south, away from the shopping malls). Cross Doniphan Drive and the railroad tracks and continue on, checking the pastures for birds (especially when the fields are flood irrigated in the spring and summer). At about the 1/2 mile mark you should be at an irrigation canal overpass and can pull in on the left and park as soon as you cross over the canal. From there, you can check the man-made lake for waterfowl and shorebirds with a spotting scope. During the spring through fall months, black-necked stilts are quite common. During the fall migration Wilson's phalaropes and American avocets are commonly seen and red-necked phalaropes are occasionally seen.
You can also walk through a large gap in the fence and walk along the irrigation canal. During the spring and fall migrations, warblers and other passerines are often found in the salt cedar that grows along the far side of the canal. Various species of herons and waterfowl can be seen in the canal throughout the year, but there is usually not much variety; green herons, black-crowned hight herons, ruddy ducks and coots are common. Scoping out the lake from the canal path usually provides you with a glare-free early morning view of the lake and allows you to get closer to the far end of it. In the late fall and winter months, waterfowl such as ring-necked ducks, gadwall, lesser scaup, northern shoveler and American wigeon are common; a flock of white-phase snow geese can usually be found either at the lake or feeding in the fields in the surrounding area. A Eurasian wigeon was seen here in fall 1994. (This site guide was provided by John Kiseda.)
Hueco Tanks State Historical Park
Although this Park is some distance from town, it is worth the drive for a great look at El Paso area birds. From downtown El Paso, take I-10 east to the Hwy 62/180 exit (Montana St.). Go east 21.8 miles to FM 2775 (look for the "flying saucer building"), then north eight miles on FM 2775 to the park. In just 860 acres, Hueco Tanks offers a rich mix of towering rock formations, relic oak-juniper woodlands, Chihuahuan desert scrub, semidesert grassland and scattered ponds.
Hueco Tanks is year-round home to such birds as scaled quail, white-throated swift, ladder-backed woodpecker, Say's phoebe, verdin, canyon wren, crissal thrasher, pyrrhuloxia, canyon towhee, and cassin's and black-throated sparrows. In summer, they are joined by lesser nighthawk, common poorwill, black-chinned hummingbird, ash-throated flycatcher, cliff swallow, blue grosbeak, and Scott's oriole. Winter brings green-tailed and rufous-sided towhees, Briwer's sparrow, and, in some years, scrub jay, nuthatches, bluebirds, Townsend's solitaire and safe thrasher. Plus, as an island of lush habitat in the desert, Hueco Tanks is alive with migrants in spring and fall.
Important: Call 915-849-6684 for information about hours and reservations for the Park. In an effort to protect Indian petroglyphs, the Park is closed to visitors except during actual operating hours. Information about the Park itself can be obtained by calling 915-857-1135.
Keystone Heritage Park
Keystone Heritage Park is an archaeological site, an archaic wetlands and a botanical garden. The 52-acre park located at 4220 Doniphan Drive, El Paso, TX 79922, is a City-owned property leased to a volunteer Board of Directors who are charged with preserving and developing the Park. Since Keystone opened in 1997, over 200 species of migratory and local birds and 22 rare birds have been found. There in a nominal fee.