1200 Futurity Drive
Sunland Park, New Mexico 88063
Sunland Park Racetrack webpage
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The Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino offers some of the best opportunities for viewing gulls in southern New Mexico. The horse racetrack at this site surrounds a small lake, which is a regular winter roost for huge numbers of gulls as well as an assortment of waterfowl.
Access the casino from the entrance along Sunland Park Drive, which is open 24 hours. Park on the west side of the casino hotel (there are usually some RVs here) and view the racetrack lake from outside the fence. A scope is essential for getting a good view of birds on the lake; in particular, it is helpful to bring a very tall tripod, as the railings around the racetrack can obscure your view of the lake. Casino security will often stop by and inquire about what you are doing, though they generally have no issue with birders.
The large gull flock that winters at this site is unpredictable and can be difficult to pin down. The best chance of catching them is to arrive just prior to sunrise or right around sunset during peak season (December-early February). The gulls will usually be on the racetrack lake, though there may be a portion of the flock loafing in the parking lot as well. The flock usually spends the daylight hours at a local landfill (not accessible to birders) or at various wetlands in El Paso. On some occasions, the gulls may stay at the racetrack all day (especially in inclement weather), though this is unpredictable.
Ring-billed Gulls make up the bulk of the birds seen here in winter. Herring, California, and Lesser Black-backed Gulls are often present in small numbers, while rarer species including Short-billed and Thayer’s Iceland Gulls occasionally show up here as well. Waterfowl numbers vary, though there is usually a mix of dabbling and diving ducks here, as well as Eared Grebes and Neotropic Cormorants. There are few (if any) birds present here during the warmer months.
From Joel Gilb