Home News Vision Nature — Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: A place of extraordinary life

Nature — Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: A place of extraordinary life

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Roswell Daily Record Archive Photo/Bill Flynt Vermilion Flycatcher at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Steve Alvarez

Special to the Daily Record

Exiting the Joseph R. Skeen Visitor Center, a brilliant flash of red caught my attention. As I looked over at the surrounding landscape, a brightly colored Scarlet Tanager flickered within the branches of a Desert Willow tree. Standing out from the dull desert background of our open fields, I was pretty excited to see such a beautiful red bird flying freely among the visitor center trees. It’s moments like these that make my job so special and interesting.

Several weeks later, while repairing a section of barbwire fence along the west side of the refuge, a co-worker of mine pointed out two birds perching on a string of fence wire. These birds had extremely long tail feathers and we quickly identified them as Scissortail Flycatchers.

Pondering over my recent bird sightings, I was unexpectedly reminded of the uniqueness of the refuge. It became apparent to me that, after 20 years of working at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, I have taken this place for granted.

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Fortunately for me — while working on a research project — I came across some old documents in our refuge files that described the uniqueness of this exceptional biologically rich location.

For one thing, did you happen to know that Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is internationally known for its diverse bird population? In fact over 350 species of birds have been recorded using the refuge. Recognized for its abundant bird life in 2008, the refuge was designated as a Place of International Birding Significance.

Think about that, with over 500 national wildlife refuges, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the very few locations in the United States with such an esteemed designation.

Many of you may also not be aware that Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge holds other prestigious titles. Identified for its nationally significant geological and ecological features, a large section of the refuge has been designated as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. National Park Service. In 2008, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Bottomless Lakes State Park were nominated as Ramsar Sites: Wetlands of International Importance. Only 30 wetland areas in the United States have been designated this title.

I recall talking with the film crew that produced our visitor center orientation film. As freelance filmmakers they had worked on numerous National Geographic film productions that aired on national television. “This place is amazing,” they once told me. “We never run out of subjects to film.” What was supposed to be a two- or three-month filming project turned into a year of filming. They were just fascinated with the natural resources of the refuge.

It’s a common saying that people don’t even know what’s in their own backyard. I have been fortunate to work and live at eight national parks and four national wildlife refuges in my career, and Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge ranks near the top for its bountiful variety of living creatures found within its boundaries. Only seven miles from Roswell, Bitter Lake National Refuge is truly one of New Mexico’s natural treasures. Take a drive around the auto tour at the refuge and see for yourself! The refuge is open seven days a week, one hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset.

As a side note, the refuge has replaced a large section of barbwire fence. Several used fence posts are available for free upon request. Contact the refuge at 575-625-1100 if interested.

Steve Alvarez is Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge’s outdoor recreation planner. For more information, visit fws.gov/refuge/bitter_lake.

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