Critter silhouettes, above, not to scale.

Middle Rio Grande Bosque Habitat Descriptions

looking toward the river
View of backyard looking toward the bosque.
You can see the levee and its true scale.


40 - 50 years ago this was all alfalfa pasture, the area was subdivided into lots of an acre, or more, and slowly has become residential rather than agricultural. Still many residents have larger lots and many keep horses, sheep, lamas, etc. It is not your typical suburb; it is an island of peace and bucolic pleasures amidst the frantic development farther west and south. It is in unincorporated Bernalillo County.

The backyard is about a half acre of open field, mostly field grasses and weeds, kept mowed. It backs up against a drainage ditch. Along half of one long side are mature fruit trees; along the other side, various deciduous trees such as elm, willow, Russian olive, and cotton wood. There are a few large spruces and a few pines. There is a big, head-high thicket of quince and winter jasmine to provide near-by cover for the birds frequenting the feeders suspended from a medium sized mulberry.

There is a black-oil sunflower seed feeder that attracts mostly house finches, but the nuthatch has learned to use it. There is a thistle feeder frequented by those house finches and goldfinches. Doves, House Sparrows, and seasonally Juncos, White-crowned Sparrows & Towhees, feed on the ground under the seed feeders. There is a suet feeder by the trunk of the tree which attracts Downey Woodpeckers, bushtits, nuthatches, chickadees, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and a few House Finches.

The suet and seed feeders have to be taken into the house every night or "Rocky" the racoon will tear them down, feast on the contents and steal any shiny bits (including the entire suet cage one night.)

In summer there are several hummingbird feeders next to the porch which have been in service every season for probably 30 years or more. Black-chinned hummers are the primary users of the feeder. Rufous and Calliope hummingbirds show up in mid July and an occassional Broad-tail at the end of August.

The ditch after the vegetation was
cleared away.

The "Ditch":

This is a clear running stream, about 5 - 8 feet below grade. The conservancy folks blade or mow the vegetation about every year, between those times grow willow, alfalfa, gourds, and an assortment of weed and/or wildflowers. Recently bamboo and other non-native invasive plants have gotten a foothold.

Within the ditch are various wild critters, such as muskrats, small fish, big bottom-feeding "carp," turtles, frogs, etc. There even was a beaver one year which my dear, departed dad fed with ground-fall apples... that is until the same beaver chewed down one of those apple trees. Ducks love the ditch, too. Seems like there are fewer amphibians in the ditch now, compared to 40 years ago.

The levee with the bosque on the left and
the ditch on the right (in Corrales.)

The Levee:

The earthen, flood-control levee is 12 to 15 feet high and is topped by a service road for use by conservancy and utility vehicles. It provides a vantage point to look for birds in the upper branches of trees and is used by walkers, joggers, equestrians and mountain bikers.

Along the levee grow a collection of weeds/wildflowers, including 4-winged Saltbush and many tumbleweeds. There are also large ant colonies with mounds positioned about every 15 yards along the top edge of the levee.

The levee is merely compacted earth, so a system of "Jetty Jacks" have been placed in the bosque. Installation began in the 1950s and continued into the 70s and 80s in some places. With the completion of Cochiti Dam both the rational and function of the Jetty Jacks has been called into question.

My source in the Open Space District says, "the jetty jacks are currently being removed by the Army Corp of Engineers in the Albuquerque reach. They plan to remove approximately 80% of them, leaving jacks along the river bank and in areas where the river flows closely to the levee (50-100 yards). Their idea is that they will help support the integrity of the levee in the event of the 'big one.' "

An open section of the bosque. You can see
the trail going through a line of Jetty Jacks.

The Bosque:

The bosque has seen better times, though some restoration efforts are on-going in various areas. It is a riparian woodland which consists primarily of a native cottonwood grove and simple understory lining both sides of the Rio Grande. It ranges from less than 50 yards in width to nearly 500 yards at one point, but averages 100 yards or a bit more. There are many other trees, shrubs, grasses, and plants in the bosque, some of which are covered in the links below. The bosque is typically wider and more lush on the west bank of the rio. Fortunately, none of the devastating fires reached this far north.

Flood control measures instituted in the last century derailed the natural life-cycle of the cottonwood resulting in the slow decline in new viable trees. For thousands of years the annual spring floods spread the cottonwood's seeds, covered them with mud and nourished them with water while they were putting down roots. If you walk though the bosque now you see mature cottonwoods, but very few young trees. Efforts are underway now to plant saplings by hand in many areas and there are research projects to find less labor intensive methods. Burnt areas further south have been replanted. Invasive species, such as Salt Cedar (Tamarisk), Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven), and Russian Olive, have taken over many cottonwood areas, as well as invasive species in the understory such as alfalfa and Virginia Creeper. Restoration groups are addressing these issues as well.

Along with a large diversity of birds, the bosque supports a thriving community of wildlife from tiny insects to packs of coyotes.

The rio from the west bosque looking across
at the east side & the Sandia Mountains.

The Rio Grande:

Everyone has heard of the Rio Grande. My cousins from Alabama, when first seeing our rio, remarked with scorn, "You call that a river? We got cricks bigger'n that!" Yet for the dry southwest the rio provides a ribbon of green life though our land and a refuge for many delightful species.

The rio is little changed from that of my youth, though our perceptions have shifted - for the better in most regards. Perceptions aside, the biggest visible change is the diversion dam built just south of the Alameda Bridge as part of the San Juan - Chama Drinking Water Project. The dam is built of metal plates, hinged so that inflatable bladders can raise or lower the plates to adjust the amount of water behind the dam. The plates can even be lowered flat to let the spring-swollen rio flow unimpeded. There is a bypass canal that is supposed to let the endangered Rio Grande Silvery Minnow (Hybognathus amarus) unimpeded access up and down the river. See references on the Links Page.

My mother warned me that it was full of quicksand and it had swallowed up a friend of my uncle's when they were duck hunting. I don't doubt one could stumble into misadventure along its banks, but I've never run across any quicksand.

Without the rio there would be no bosque, although there is little visible life within its waters along this middle stretch.

[Last update: December 25, 2008]