New Mexico & Arizona Trip Report

Hwy 89
HWY 89a, northern Arizona

I spent the Labor Day weekend in New Mexico and Arizona mainly looking for chipmunks, ground squirrels and other rodents that I’d yet to see. Once again I was reminded how spectacularly beautiful this area is, and also how rich in wildlife. Its also big: I picked up my hire car late on Friday night and returned it early Tuesday afternoon with an extra 2300 miles on the clock.

Saturday
First stop on Saturday morning was the Manzano Mountains, an hour south of New Mexico, which are wonderful in early September and I’d love to camp there. I spent a couple of hours at dawn looking for the little known or studied Manzano Mountains Cottontail. Its hardly been described though the type locality is from 2900 metres on the north east slope of Bosque Peak. I drove to the 4th of July Campground (from Tajique) along the Tajique Torreon loop road but didn’t see any cottontails. I did see a Rock Squirrel, Mule Deer and Elk. At the township of Manzano – at about 7000 feet – I saw three cottontails along the road, at the edge of the forest, early in the morning and, if the IUCN range maps are to be believed, these were Manzano Mountains Cottontails (no other cottontail is in range). Driving up into the forest from Manzano I saw a beautiful Abert’s Squirrel, White-tailed Deer and several Elk.

Then to Sandia Crest, just to the east of Albuquerque, which has impresive views and impressive numbers of Colorado Chipmunks too more importantly. I saw a couple in the late morning along the trails to the view point from the carpark at the summit and another under the balcony at the coffee shop there. A cablecar runs up the mountain too and I suspect they are even easier to see at the end of the line. Least Chipmunks were also common and there were some Mule Deer on the road. Cottontails here might well be Manzano Cottontails. I didn’t see any but didn’t expect to in the middle of the day.

neotamias quadrivittatus
Colorado Chipmunk

Four hours later I was in Las Cruces, where Coke Smith had found a colony of Mexican Ground Squirrels on the campus of UNM a couple of years ago. I looked around the area he recommended in the mid afternoon (the desert scrub around the junction of Arrowsheads Drive and Wells Street) and found several ground squirrelish burrows but no animals. At about 5pm I spotted my first ground squirrel which I eventually realised was in fact a Spotted Ground Squirrel (a lifer for me). I couldn’t find any Mexican Ground Squirrels but the early morning might be a better time to look for them. The Spotted Ground Squirrel was denning in an old concrete storm drain cover (or something like that) along the dirt track that runs through the patch of scrub bordered by Wells Street to the north, and Arrowshead Drive to the east. There were Black-tailed Jackrabbits here too.

Xerospermophilus spilosoma
Spotted Ground Squirrel

And then it was another 3.5 hours to Carlsbad Caverns.I spotlit up and down the park entrance road slowly from 22.00 to 00.30 and saw 5(!) separate Ringtails, a few Kangaroo Rats (at least one of which was Banner-tailed I think), several tiny Silky Pocket Mice on the road, at least one Hispid Pocket Mouse, Mule Deer and a Striped Skunk. I think the road is likely a good spot for Hog-nosed Skunks, my main goal, though I didn’t see any.

Sunday
Ictidomys mexicanus
Mexican Ground Squirrel

Mexican Ground Squirrels are easy to see in Carslbad City, at least from May to mid September before they hibernate. There is supposed to be a colony in the city park that flanks the river in the centre of town, though I saw several easily on the grass of the Martin Luther King Jr park, along East Plaza street (east of South Canyon Street) at 7.30am.

3 hours later I was in the settlement of Sunspot, about 15 miles from – and above – Cloudcroft. Coke Smith had told me that Grey-footed Chipmunks were everywhere and, sure enought, as soon as I set foot in the forest I saw one: at the start of the 50 metre trail to the Cathey Canyon Vista, about 12 miles up the road from Cloudcroft. It responded well to my squeaking.
neotamias canipes
Grey-footed Chipmunk

I arrived in Portal (Arizona) in the late afternoon, mainly to look again there for small mammals. They didn’t disappoint and I caught more Desert Pocket Mice, plus my first Bailey’s Pocket Mice out in the desert and a Brush Mouse up at Cave Creek.

Chaetopdipus baileyi
Bailey’s Pocket Mouse and its cheek pouches

Richard Webb was, coincidentally, staying at Cave Creek too and it was good to finally meet him after corresponding for 8 years. After looking at some Mexican Long-tongued Bats at the hummingbird feeders at Cave Creek, we spent 2 or 3 hours spotlighting but didn’t see a great deal on the road to Paradise. Down in the desert, along State Line road, there were lots of Kangaroo Rats (I guess a mixture of Merriam’s and Ord’s). I tried to get a better look at a Banner-tailed Kangaroo Rat than I’d had the year before but we couldn’t find any along Sunrise Road, other than one possiblilty among many small kangaroo rats. It disappeared before we could get a good look.

The highlight of the night were a couple of Rattlesnakes on the road, and my second ever Bobcat running across the road near the Portal store. I saw both a Javelina and a Striped Skunk crossing the same stretch of road during the day too. There were Black-tailed Jackrabbits along route 80.

Peromyscus boylii
Brush Mouse

Monday
The long long drive from Portal to Vermillion Cliffs goes through Tucson so I stopped in at the Sweetwater Wetlands, a sewage treatment works, just off Interstate 10, north of the city centre, to look for Arizona Cotton Rats, allegedly common and often diurnal. I didn’t arrive until 11am so it was perhaps not suprising I didn’t see any during my hour there (there are plagues of lizards here too so its not possible to check out every rusting you hear either). Apart from Desert Cottontails and a Rock Squirrel I also got a great look at a Bobcat (the second in about 12 hours after seeing one at Portal the night before).

Bobcat
Bobcat

It was another 7 hours to Vermillion Cliffs, and the scenery was stunning especially after Flagstaff. There were lots of Kangaroo Rats along BLM road 1065 (see the 2012 report). I suspect most were Chisel-toothed Kangaroo Rats given the habitat they were burrowing in (lots of pebbles and heavy soil – with Ord’s the only other possibility there), though as usual it was hard to get them to stay still long enough for a good look. I did see one well enough to be sure it was a Chisel-toothed. There was a Coyote out there too, and Elk in the forest just a bit further north along Hwy 89a.

Tuesday
It took 6 hours to get back to Albuquerque airport on Tuesday, through more spectacular scenery and past a Gunnison’s Prarie Dog by the side of the road coming into Window Rock.

view

An intense trip, with a heavy carbon footprint, but I saw 10 lifers among 29 species over the long weekend.

Jon

Black-tailed Jackrabbit Lepus californicus
Desert Cottontail Sylvilagus audubonii
F Manzano Mountain Cottontail Sylvilagus cognatus
Abert’s Squirrel Sciurus aberti
F Mexican Ground Squirrel Spermophilus mexicanus
F Spotted Ground Squirrel Spermophilus spilosoma
Variegated Ground (Rock) Squirrel Spermophilus variegatus
Gunnison Prairie-Dog Cynomys gunnisoni
F Gray-footed Chipmunk Tamias canipes
Least Chipmunk Tamias minimus
F Colorado Chipmunk Tamias quadrivittatus
F Brush Deer Mouse Peromyscus boylii
F Silky Pocket Mouse Perognathus flavus
F Bailey’s Pocket Mouse Chaetodipus baileyi
F Hispid Pocket Mouse Chaetodipus hispidus
Sonoran Desert Pocket Mouse Chaetodipus penicillatus
Merriam’s Kangaroo-Rat Dipodomys merriami
F Chisel-toothed Kangaroo-Rat Dipodomys microps
Ord’s Kangaroo-Rat Dipodomys ordii
Banner-tailed Kangaroo-Rat Dipodomys spectabilis
Bobcat Felis rufa
Coyote Canis latrans
Striped Skunk Mephitis mephitis
Ringtail Bassariscus astutus
Mexican Long-tongued Bat Choeronycteris mexicana
Collared Peccary (Javelina) Dicotyles tajacu
Red Deer (Elk) Cervus elaphus
Mule Deer Odocoileus hemionus
White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus

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3 Comments on “New Mexico & Arizona Trip Report”

  1. Steve Linsley Says:

    Jon–
    I was in Portal, AZ, the same night (1 Sept.) that you were, bagging the long-tongued bats at the SW Research Station but striking out on W. spotted skunks behind the Portal P.O. & hog-nosed skunks anywhere. On the night of 31 Aug. we had a fleeting glimpse of an unknown cotton rat not far east of there on the Portal Road. I must have seen the same rattlers & Ord’s & Merriam’s k rats on the highways the night before (31 Aug.) you did, but we also found a very fresh road-kill badger on NM Hwy 80 near the rocky area between Rodeo & Road Forks. Once many long years ago I saw a porcupine waddling along that stretch of road. I completely dipped on Arizona cotton rats at Gilbert Water Ranch in Gilbert early Monday (2 Sept.) morning. Thanks for all the tips you provide on your site.

    • Jon Hall Says:

      Hi Steve – a pity we didn’t meet! And I heard rumours about those Skunks… who told you they were there? And yes I saw the Badger as I drove down the hwy on 1 September cheers Jon

      • Steve Linsley Says:

        Jon–
        It was Reed who told me about the W. spotted skunks. He must have told Richard Webb the same thing, because Richard mentioned them in the trip report he just posted. I was also told that you were supposed to meet Richard at the Ranch before heading off the Portal Store for dining at a certain time that evening, but I had already made previous arrangements with the bat people at the Research Station. Perhaps we’ll meet some other time, as I follow your site religiously.


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