The Road to Master Naturalist: The Middle Rio Grande Bosque Tour and Lessons Shared by a Nature Journaler 

“From the spillway below Cochiti Dam to the headwaters of Elephant Butte Reservoir, the Middle Rio Grande Bosque is more than a cottonwood woodland or forest. It is a whole riparian (or riverside) ecosystem…..”

This is how “A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque”1 begins, and on June 26th, the Master Naturalists’ trainees spent quality time touring and learning about the nature of this very special area.  

For a full morning, the monsoons took a break, and an eager group of Master Naturalists-in-training soaked up the knowledge of experienced tour guides, as we learned about the wildlife and riparian habitat along the Rio Grande. 

Southwestern Fence Lizard

It seemed there was something new to see around every curve in the Bosque’s trails ….. birds like Summer Tanagers, cormorants, a large family of Wood Ducks and teenaged ducklings, mallards and Canada geese, a beautiful Snowy Egret, a stately Great Blue Heron, and 2 Cooper’s Hawk chicks in a nest high in a cottonwood.  There was a lesson about antlion larvae and their ambush hunting technique, we followed a large hairy-footed scoliid wasp scurrying on the ground perhaps hunting for a 10-lined June beetle to parasitize, then we found a very squished 10-lined June beetle! Plains cicadas were buzzing around us while a Southwestern Fence Lizard tried to hide in plain sight on a tree limb that had been chewed by a porcupine.

Snowy Egret

We discussed the age and health of the cottonwood forest lining the river, invasive plants like Salt Cedar and Russian Olive ever present in the riparian habitat, and the Silvery Minnow that used to inhabit side channels of the river that no longer see water.  

It was an excellent tour that left us with more questions than time allowed.

Summer Tanager

The morning was topped off with an excellent presentation by a delightful Artist and Nature Journaler, Margy O’Brien.  Many of Margy’s journal pages can be seen as interpretative signs featured around the Bosque. She talked about nature journaling as an observation tool and engaged us in some blind contour and memory drawings of cottonwood leaves and feathers. Then Margy shared many of her journals and I was asked to share some of mine!   All great fun, and I’m so happy to have met someone who shares my passion for nature journaling.

1 “A Field Guide to the Plants and Animals of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque” Cartron, Lightfoot, Mygatt, Brantley, Lowrey, University of New Mexico Press, 2008.


  1. sgoodman56 says:

    What a fun outing! Thanks for sharing, Barb!!


    1. It was fun! Learned a bunch too! The best combination! Thanks for the comments Susan.


  2. memnona says:

    Beautiful and interesting, like always ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Aga!


  3. susan malter says:

    I am a friend of Elaine Hills and I almost hosted a visit from you when I was still living in NC!
    My question is – Are there other guided tours of the Middle Rio Grande Bosque for lay people –
    not just the Master Naturalists-in-training?
    I am awed by the “new” to me topography and climate of NM! I grew up in the NE and lived most of my life in CT.
    There are activities around Silver City (which is the closest city to me) that I have been able to take in. I am one of the bird watchers who has a hard time even seeing the bird!!! But, when I do, I’m enthralled!
    I enjoy your Blog…
    susan malter


    1. Hi Susan! Although we’ve never met, I feel like I know you through Elaine. Thanks for reaching out via my blog. I’ll include a link to our local Open Space program that includes a list of events in this area only, and you can also get on their mailing list. It’s through the mailing list that I hear about the guided tours in the area, including those along the Middle Rio Grande. Silver City is quite a distance from ABQ, but if you get up to the area Spring, Summer or Fall, you can visit the Open Space Visitor Center and the Rio Grande Nature Center. The tour we took was from the Nature Center and very good. It’s wonderful you’ve been connecting with outdoors groups down there … what a gorgeous part of the state you live in! Being closer to TX and Mexico, your bird life is very different from ours up here. Anyhow, here’s the link. Hope you can connect up here if you wish to. We love NM!


  4. elainebhills says:

    Loved it. What an eye-opening way to observe ecology in your own back yard. I intend to become more aware of my natural setting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Elaine! Loved your comments …… and I think you’re one of the most aware naturalists I know!


  5. There is so much to see when we slow down, look & observe! A very interesting variety of birds that you observed! Wondering if the ten lined June beetle is shimmery? I like its name – does it have 10 lines on its back? Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is amazing, huh! I think the beetle was named for his 10 lines on the elatra (his back), but this guy was squished and may have had a line or two ground away! Thanks for the comments Karen!


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