Radium Springs, New Mexico 88054
Leasburg Dam State Park webpage
Leasburg Dam State Park map
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Leasburg Dam State Park offers some of the best birding in Dona Ana County, made especially fruitful due to the year-round presence of water. While the Rio Grande remains dry for much of the year in Las Cruces, springs feed a permanent (though shallow) flow of water in the riverbed at this park, attracting a rich variety of bird species.
The main entrance of the park is located on Leasburg Park Road in the town of Radium Springs, a short drive north from Las Cruces on I-25. A $5 entry fee per vehicle is required and can be paid at the visitor center or at various self-pay stations throughout the park, or an annual New Mexico State Parks pass may be purchased at the visitor center for $40. Park hours are 7:00 am to sunset.
The upland Chihuahuan Desert habitat that surrounds the visitor center and campgrounds is too arid to be of much birding value, though it hosts some of the regular desert denizens such as Cactus Wren, Pyrrhuloxia, Black-throated Sparrow, and Crissal and Curve-billed Thrashers. The main attraction of the park is in the lusher riparian habitat bordering the river, accessible from two riverside picnic areas. During the open season (generally March-September), these picnic areas can be directly accessed by vehicle. To get there, drive Fort Selden Road southwest through the town of Radium Springs towards the intersection with North Valley Drive (NM-185). Immediately before the intersection, you will see Leasburg Dam Road on your right; follow this narrow paved road north for 0.5 miles until you enter the park at a pay booth. After paying the fee, you can park at either of the two picnic areas along the river.
Though directly accessing the picnic areas by vehicle is easier, birders may prefer to walk down from the main entrance of the park (which opens at 7:00 am), since the gate to the picnic areas usually does not open until 8:00 am, well past the peak of bird activity in summer. Additionally, these picnic areas are closed to all vehicles during the fall and winter, and thus can only be accessed by hiking in from the main entrance at this time. To access the picnic areas by foot, park at the visitor center and take the Buffalo Soldier Trail (which starts right behind the playground) until it hooks up with the Mogollon Trail, then take the Mogollon Trail until you arrive at the South Picnic Area. This is about a 0.8-mile walk (one-way) and can be rocky or slippery in spots, so watch your footing.
The two riverside picnic areas are planted with native trees and offer views of the Rio Grande riverbed. The smaller South Picnic Area is the less birdy of the two, though the cottonwood trees are worth checking for migrant passerines, and Phainopepla are regular here. At the southwest corner of this picnic area, there is an access point where you can walk down into the riverbed and look for waterfowl and shorebirds that may be present. The larger North Picnic Area has more vegetation and offers better viewing of the river as well as the park’s namesake dam. Cave Swallows regularly nest here, and the trees and shrubs in the picnic area can host a wide variety of birds at any season. Waterfowl, herons, shorebirds, Osprey, and Belted Kingfisher may be present at the appropriate seasons, depending on water levels. Spring and fall offer a good chance to see a variety of migratory passerines, while winter may bring unusual wintering species, such as locally rare Gray Catbird and Brown Thrasher. Summer birding is a bit slower, though both picnic areas can provide a good chance to find the locally scarce Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Painted Bunting, as well as common breeding riparian species such as Summer Tanager, Blue and Black-headed Grosbeaks, Bell’s Vireo, and Yellow-breasted Chat.
Connecting the two picnic areas is the Lower Mogollon Trail, a narrow 0.34-mile path that takes you through a “tunnel” of dense salt-cedar trees. Walking this path can be very productive in April-May and August-September for migratory passerines, particularly warblers. Throughout the year, Great Horned and Barn Owls may be encountered roosting by day in these dense trees. The two picnic areas are also connected by a paved road, which is generally less productive for birding, though it may be worth a check if you have extra time.
From Joel Gilb
About Leasburg Dam State Park
After a short 25-minute drive from bustling Las Cruces, you’ll arrive at this quiet park along the Rio Grande.
Leasburg Dam State Park offers peace and relaxation, a beautiful cactus garden, several hiking trails, and opportunities for fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and birding. Night sky programs are very popular at this park, which features an observatory.
From Leasburg Dam State Park webpage