New Mexico Department of Game and Fish
Media contact: Marty Frentzel, (505) 476-8013
Public contact: (505) 476-8000
martin.frentzel@state.nm.us

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, NOV. 8, 2007:

COMPETITIVE BIRDING FEATURED NOV. 17 AT 'BERNARDO'S BIG DAY'

cranes at sunriseBERNARDO, N.M. -- The 1,573-acre Bernardo Waterfowl Management Area, a snow goose and sandhill crane wintering area south of Belen, is the featured location for an experimental "Big Day" bird count Nov. 17, reports the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.

Big Day bird counts are friendly birding competitions offering prizes for the participants who log the most bird species during a period of time. The top prize is a Gaining Access Into Nature adventure offered by the Department of Game and Fish. Past GAIN trips included tracking Mexican wolves on the Gila National Forest, and observing bugling elk during the rut on the Sargent Wildlife Management Area near Chama.

Each November, cranes, ducks and geese arrive by the thousands to spend the winter in New Mexico. They leave in the spring to return to more northerly locations to breed. Bernardo is one of four State Game Commission-owned waterfowl management areas used by the birds and stretching from Belen to La Joya. They are known collectively as the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex. Bernardo is easily accessible off I-25.

The Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperatively manage the wintering waterfowl habitat throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Their efforts, formalized in the Middle Rio Grande Waterfowl Management Plan, reduce the impact that geese and cranes have while feeding on adjacent private properties, reduce the threat of avian diseases that develop when the birds are confined in large groups, and provide opportunities for hunting and viewing.

A tremendous amount of habitat work has been done at Bernardo using money provided by the New Mexico Legislature, says Bruce Thompson, director of the Department. "We are fortunate that the governor and Legislature can see the value that the state's wildlife adds to the lives of New Mexicans. Wildlife-associated recreation creates nearly a $1 billion industry in our state annually," Thompson says.

Mike Gustin, lands manager for the Department of Game and Fish, says several hundred acres of salt cedar have been cleared and treated to restore native vegetation at Bernardo. An auto tour loop, picnic tables and a birding trail have been developed.

"We were hoping to have our new interpretive signage in place for the November 17 weekend," Gustin says, "but it may not be ready. There will be plenty to see, however, and we hope everyone has a good time." Discovery Exhibits of Santa Fe created the signs and other interpretive materials, Gustin says.

Competition begins at 6:15 a.m. for this event and ends at noon. Winners will be announced at 1 p.m. Hira Walker, endangered species ornithologist for the Department of Game and Fish, says most Big Day counts are conducted over 24 hours, which allows birders the opportunity to locate nocturnal birds such as owls at night. "But this is our first attempt at organizing competitive birding, so we thought we'd keep it simple and see if the birders and the birds show their support. The abbreviated timeframe also will allow birders the opportunity to complete the journey to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in time for the evening flight of geese and cranes." The popular Festival of the Cranes is that weekend farther south in Socorro County.

The existing bird list for Bernardo is 179 species, but dedicated observers could expand on that Nov. 17. Prizes will be awarded to the top three finishers at the Bernardo Big Day, and craft booths will be available for children who want to build gourd birdhouses or make pinecone birdfeeders.

For more information about Bernardo's Big Day or the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Management Area, call the Department of Game and Fish at 476-8000 in Santa Fe.

###