The desert terrain at White Sands Missile Range may not seem like the ideal area for migratory birds but a green oasis known as the WSMR Golf Course provides the perfect environment for migratory birds who call WSMR their seasonal home.
The WSMR Environmental Stewardship Division does its part to ensure such birds are accounted for and recognized with migratory bird range surveys conducted throughout the year.
“There’s a great diversity of birds at the golf course,” said Trish Cutler, WSMR wildlife biologist. “It’s pretty well known that golf courses are the hotspots for birds so it’s the first place where we started looking.”
The studies are conducted in order to remain in compliance with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The act protects migratory birds and deems it unlawful to harm or take migratory birds. Even a bird’s feathers and nests are protected.
“It really has to do with conservation and keeping our bird population happy,” Cutler said. “Migratory birds are one of the most highly protected groups of wildlife.”
WSMR ECO INC. Senior Ecologist Doug Burkett and Cutler both agree that their most popular migratory bird resident, who is rare to the area, is the Vermilion Flycatcher.
The species is not especially common in New Mexico but over a dozen pair typically breed at WSMR every summer and then fly back to their winter home south of the Mexican border.
For 2015 Burkett said 27 different species were recorded in the winter, 39 in the spring, 30 in the summer and 28 in the fall. Some of the species may overlap over the seasons but less than half of those are new species. He said nearly 300 different species have been recorded on range. There are 30 different locations where the team surveyed bird species at WSMR. Most locations are associated with natural springs and canyons. The golf course is one of the most diverse along with the Texas Canyon located on the other side of the golf course and Davies Playa, east of main post. The species vary from hummingbirds to golden eagles.
“This data contributes additional information about bird species found throughout the range and helps the WSMR Environmental Division better understand and manage ecological resources within the range,” Burkett said.
The golf course is a top spot for the survey.
“The WSMR golf course is a hotspot of bird activity and consistently has some of the highest number of bird species and numbers of birds on the entire range,” he said. “It is a pretty neat and protected area because of its juxtaposition with things like the desert and the arroyo coming together. It really influences bird behavior.”
Goin Coleman, who has worked as a research biologist on the survey, said since he began keeping his own records, he has documented a total of 91 species at the golf course. He said he suspects the grand total to be over 100. The three rarest sightings he said he has experienced during the study is that of the Brown Thrasher, Common Ground-Dove and Zone-tailed Hawk.
“As far as I’ve been able to determine…the golf course is the top spot in the state for the Vermilion Flycatchers,” Coleman said. “It’s one of the best birding spots in Dona Ana County.”