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From Santa Fe to San Antonio: A spring break road trip

Last June (2016), I made a long-awaited pilgrimage to the Hill Country of west Texas to finally see Golden-cheeked Warbler. I went to the best place and spent a whole morning looking and listening—and missed the bird. It was perhaps my greatest failure among many quests to see a breeding bird in the center of its range. The reason for my failure was not aging ears that missed the song. I was simply too late. By late June, male Golden-cheeked Warblers have stopped singing and they are hard to find in the dense Hill Country thickets. Late March is the time to get the bird. Within a few days of my west Texas dip, I was planning a return trip at a better season.

My wife Wendy Hood at Lost Maples Natural Area in the Hill Country of Texas.

Auburn’s spring break fell late this year (2017) by Auburn standards and the end of the spring break week was peak time for the Golden-cheeked Warblers in West Texas. So, Saturday, March 18 became the anchor for a new planned trip. I first considered starting in the Rio Grande Valley and birding my way over to San Antonio for the warbler. But I had visited the Rio Grande Valley for the previous spring break (see spring 2016 blog posts), and I was looking for something different. I started thinking about starting west and driving east. When I mentioned a New Mexico trip for Spring Break to my wife, Wendy, she was instantly interested in joining me. Wendy’s good friend Tigga Kingston is a professor at Texas Tech and Santa Fe is driving distance from Lubbock. Wendy is a workaholic with a lot going on in her research lab all the time, so it is hard to pry her away from the university most of the time. So I was enthusiastic that she was enthusiastic.

A possible glitch was that Tigga and her significant other Danny could only join us in Santa Fe the weekend before March 18. That meant that this would be a long trip, stretching from Friday, March 10 to Sunday March 19. I was good with such a spring break trip but I was afraid it was too much for Wendy. So, I was thrilled when she agreed to the long trip. I plotted out a route that took us from Santa Fe to Albuquerque (where I had lived in the 1980s when I was a master’s student at the University of New Mexico) down to the Magdelena Mountains and Bosque del Apache, across to White Sands and Ruidoso, over to Roswell, and finally to the outskirts of San Antonio for Golden-cheeked Warbler. It was an ambitious plan that would involve over 1000 miles of driving and take us through some of the most spectacular country in North America.

New Mexico was endless vistas and spectacular landscapes like this view near Santa Fe.

I’ve divided reports on our trip across New Mexico and West Texas in four blogs.

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