New Mexico Nature Photo of the Month

Check back each month a great new shot of our lands and waters in New Mexico and the animals, plants and people that need them.

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JANUARY 2018 - It’s a new year and we’re looking forward—just like these Gunnison’s prairie dogs at Valles Caldera National Preserve. Prairie dogs have a complex communication system with calls distinct for different predators. Although once considered pests, they actually benefit the growth of perennial grasses that support both wildlife and cattle. 

Grasslands represent the most threatened habitat on Earth—and the least protected. It will take unprecedented collaboration and resources to protect New Mexico’s prairie and desert grasslands both for natural value and for the benefit of people who need healthy, resilient landscapes for life and livelihoods.

DECEMBER 2017 - Happy holidays from all of us at The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico! Many people look to nature for inspiration and encouragement. This year, nature looked to you.

From protecting drinking water via the Rio Grande Water Fund, to improving habitat for endangered frogs and chubs, to connecting kids with nature, you gave us much to celebrate this year. Thank you!


NOVEMBER 2017 - Standing tall and blazing gold, aspen put on quite a show each year across New Mexico. The Nature Conservancy’s Santa Fe Canyon Preserve—only a few minutes away from downtown and nestled in the foothills adjacent to the spectacular Santa Fe Canyon National Forest—is no exception.

You and your friends can enjoy a family friendly, 1.5-mile interpretive loop and entryway to the 20-mile Dale Ball Foothill Trail System. View a slideshow and plan your visit >>

But don’t think New Mexico’s autumn show stops at Santa Fe Canyon Preserve’s borders. Fall foliage at Hyde Memorial State Park can always be counted on for a brilliant display, too!

OCTOBER 2017 - Water is essential for life—and for brewing beer. Do you know that a pint can be as much as 95% water? Or that 50% of America’s water comes from forests? Healthy forests help improve our water supplies and quality in numerous ways. They shade streams, rivers, lakes and snow from evaporation; the forest floor helps filter sediment; and tree roots help hold soil together so it can store water like a sponge. 

Our forests have become threatened by more severe fires, drought, and increased pest

Damage. The U.S. Forest Service estimates that about half of its forested lands need restored to maintain natural benefits for people and wildlife—and to protect water. The Nature Conservancy-led Rio Grande Water Fund is an innovative collaboration that’s working to restore 600,000 acres of forests to safeguard water for 1 million people living in northwestern New Mexico.

SEPTEMBER 2017 - Found in forests along the Gila River and at the Conservancy’s Gila Riparian Preserve near Silver City, Mexican spotted owls are one of the largest owls in North America. They hunt solely at night on mice, bats, small birds and more, and nest in tree cavities.

As temperatures warm, these birds of prey face an uncertain future, with numbers already dangerously low in New Mexico. Their tomorrow—just like ours—depends on taking care of our lands and waters and the habitats they support.

AUGUST 2017 – How much do you know about where you water comes from in New Mexico? Did you know that the water you see in the Rio Grande this time of year used to be mountain snow? And that healthy forests can store more snowpack than unhealthy ones? That’s one of the reasons why we’re restoring forests with partners via the Rio Grande Water Fund

You can test your water I.Q. by taking our quiz>>

JULY 2017 - Summer brings long, hot days, cool nights and lots and lots of lavender to the Land of Enchantment. This beautiful herb is perfect for the Southwest. Once established it doesn’t require much water, and it thrives in dry heat. People have used this purple-bloomed member of the mint family for millennia as medicine and food, as well as a source of beauty. Can't you almost smell it?

JUNE 2017 - Some of the beauty in nature whispers, not shouts. As summer gets underway, take time to notice the beauty in the tiny, often overlooked things—-like brightly colored dragonflies. Flitting from reed to reed around ponds, lakes and slow-moving backwaters, these spectacular insects depend on the food and breeding grounds that wetland habitats provide.

May 2017 - We couldn't have done it without you! You and fellow supporters made the Conservancy's participation in the March for Science in Albuquerque and Santa Fe a big success. Our scientists and conservation team members were there, connecting with others who spoke out in support of science and its critical role in taking on our planet's biggest challenges.

Thank you for making this a powerful Earth Day that sent a strong message about the importance of science in all of our lives. You can rest assured that the Conservancy will continue to champion and celebrate the proven, science-based solutions needed—like water source protection and preparing for a changing climate—in New Mexico and beyond.


APRIL 2017 - Earth Day is this month (April 22), and this year’s global celebration is all about environmental literacy and science. Understanding the benefits that nature provides us all is key to protecting it. That’s why children are a key component of The Nature Conservancy-led Rio Grande Water Fund. More than 500 local students have had opportunities to learn how forests and their water are connected through hands-on environmental education.

Science brings us together to find common-sense solutions that meet the needs of both people and nature. Celebrating Earth Day and science go hand-in-hand. We're sponsoring in Santa Fe and will also be marching in Albuquerque.

MARCH 2017 - The basin surrounding the Mimbres watershed—between the mountains of the Mogollon Rim, the Rio Grande and the Chihuahuan Desert—has been alternatively isolated from and connected with other river systems over time. As a result, the Mimbres River has evolved remarkably diverse animal and plant life. Included is a handful of species like the Chihuahua chub (pictured above in a Smithsonian aquarium), that are found nowhere else in the country.

Thanks to the support from people like you, a recent Conservancy project is providing new habitats for the tiny native fish, as well as the Chiricahua leopard frog. See a slideshow of how the restoration works >>

FEBRUARY 2017 – Home to the second-largest elk herd in New Mexico, Valles Caldera National Preserve’s vast grasslands and forested mountains also safeguard deer, black bear, coyote, porcupine and more.  The Nature Conservancy employed Conservation Canines here—rescued shelter dogs trained to sniff out animals and collect data—to gather data that may help forests adapt to climate change and protect a rare salamander. 

You can explore the preserve via two hiking trails, fishing, limited hunting, seasonal wagon and sleigh rides and more.

JANUARY 2017 - Winter is a perfect time to dream about wildflowers and the warmth of spring, and these spectacular blooms in southwest New Mexico's Gila Lower Box Canyon Wilderness Study Area certainly fit the bill!

The Gila River supports a rich diversity of plant and animal life, including millions of migrating birds each year. It also plays a key role in supporting local farming, ranching and recreation economies. The Nature Conservancy’s Gila Riparian Preserve and Lichty Ecological Research Center serve as living laboratories for important research and ongoing outreach.

See photos of recent preserve highlights>>

DECEMBER 2016 - Santa Fe is beautiful all year long, but December is a special time. As temperatures drop, chaotic crowds are thinning, making way for you to relax and enjoy America’s oldest capital city. While you’re there enjoying paper lantern-lined walkways and galleries, and indulging in delicious foods, why not take a stroll at Santa Fe Canyon Preserve?

Gather your friends and family (or get a little time to yourself!) and explore 525 acres of open space only a few miles from the bustling historic Plaza, enjoying cottonwood and willow trees, a pond, hiking trails and 140+ species of birds.

You can help ensure special places like Santa Fe Canyon always remain. Give nature in New Mexico a gift that all can enjoy—today and for years to come!

NOVEMBER 2016 - New Mexico’s official state animal, American black bear are mostly vegetarian, preying on small animals following hibernation. They're also frequently cinnamon-colored or brown—not black—and can weigh up to 400 pounds each.

American black bear habitat can be wiped out by catastrophic wildfire. They depend on the many benefits healthy forests provide—just like us. The Rio Grande Water Fund is working to exponentially pick up the pace of restoring our forests. See our slideshow for 2016 successes.

OCTOBER 2016 – Every fall tarantulas wander the New Mexico desert with hopes of finding a mate. Male tarantulas march out of their burrows, usually in September and October, while females wait patiently in their own dens for suitors to come knocking. This ritual is much more taxing for the males, who can walk up to 50 miles in their search. Generally males only mate once in their lives, dying from exhaustion or falling prey to cannibalistic females before or after mating. Females, on the other hand, can live as long as 20 years, breeding many years in a row.

Even though these hairy critters may give some people the creeps, they don’t typically bite without being provoked. Plus their bites are only painful, not particularly dangerous (to humans anyway). They’re also nocturnal, so the chance of running into one isn’t too high—unless, of course, you go looking!

SEPTEMBER 2016 – Can you name this bird? Have you seen it in New Mexico? It’s a summer tanager (Piranga rubra), a neotropical bird that migrates here each year, including to the Conservancy's Gila Riparian Preserve.

While not currently considered threatened, these colorful birds only nest in trees along river and stream banks. If their habitat is degraded, populations decline—like they have in California and the lower Colorado River Valley.

AUGUST 2016 – People living in New Mexico have been connected to nature for thousands of years. Today is no different. We still need clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe, energy to power our lives, and outdoor places to recreate and reconnect.

The Nature Conservancy has been working in New Mexico for almost four decades. Explore our work to protect our most fragile landscapes, to restore our forests, to support healthy freshwater systems, and to forge practical solutions to prepare for a changing climate.

JULY 2016 – Beavers (like this one at Ohkay Owingeh Fishing Lakes north of Santa Fe) use large, flat tails to control their speed and direction while swimming. Sometimes they even loudly slap them on the water’s surface to warn other beavers of danger. Other times, they do it just for play.

Do you have any fun New Mexico plans this summer? If you want to see a beaver in person, you can visit Santa Fe Canyon Preserve. You might just spot one while exploring our hiking and biking trails!

JUNE 2016 - A rare native of the Southwest, Chiricahua leopard frogs have a snore-like mating call and feed on a variety of insects. Flowing through Mimbres River Preserve, Moreno Springs hosts the second-most important Chiricahua leopard frog population in all of New Mexico.

A recent restoration project is providing new open pool habitats that both the threatened frogs and Chihuahua chubs need to thrive. See a slideshow of the project >>

May 2016 – Growing among burned ponderosa pines, aspen are one of many species in New Mexico coming back to life after the catastrophic Las Conchas fire, when thunderstorms brought rain to the burned areas and created massive ash and debris flows in surrounding canyons. The Rio Grande turned black with sediment, threatening wildlife and drinking water supplies for people in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Rio Grande Water Fund was created to restore health to our forests and help prevent similar devastation in the future.

Are you interested in helping scientists figure out how habitats and the species that depend them are recovering from the 2011 fire? Sign up for this month’s Bandelier National Monument Centennial BioBlitz, where volunteers will survey plants and animals in the Frijoles Creek watershed and enjoy a cultural and biodiversity festival. This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and the family-friendly celebration should be a blast!

APRIL 2016 - Spring is here, so make sure to take a break, connect with nature and smell the flowers! Santa Fe Canyon Preserve is a 525-acre oasis located only minutes from the bustling historic Plaza. While hiking or biking, you can enjoy lots of seasonal blooms like this "volunteer" apricot tree along the interpretive loop trail.

And if you have a road trip in your future, visit these Conservancy preserves across the U.S. for a spectacular explosion of spring!

MARCH 2016 – Fire and ice rarely mix, but when they did this winter in the Aztec Springs area of Santa Fe Canyon, it was good news for nature and people.

In January, Conservancy staff from the Fire Learning Network led a controlled burn of woody debris leftover from thinning overcrowded forests. When too many trees grow closely together, they can act as fuel and feed catastrophic fires that damage wildlife habitat, water quality and community safety. The snow surrounding the slash piles above kept the risk of flames spreading extremely low.

The Nature Conservancy has partnered with the City of Santa Fe before, but this was our first collaborative burn. Projects are selected to provide firefighters with important training while also reducing restoration costs.

FEBRUARY 2016 – Love is in the … feathers! People may spend hours creating the perfect Valentine for their loved ones, but Mother Nature, she does it without effort! This sandhill crane is more than happy to share the love.

Each winter you can see more than 14,000 sandhill cranes flocking to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. These spectacular birds are just one of many animals—along with jaguars, thick-billed parrots, and bison—who rely on New Mexico’s desert grasslands. We’re working to protect more than 6 million acres of desert grassland near the U.S.-Mexico border.

JANUARY 2016 - It's pretty simple: nature makes people happier. Start your year off on the right foot and resolve to explore the rich natural splendors offered across The Land of Enchantment!

DECEMBER 2015 - Usually brown, the long-tailed weasel’s fur can turn white in winter, providing protective camouflage from predators. But in order to thrive, these cuties—sometimes referred to as a “farmer’s best friend” for eating pocket gophers and other crop-damaging rodents—need a lot of nearby water (up to 0.85 fluid ounces a day). Providing clean, ample water for wildlife and people is the main goal of the Rio Grande Water Fund.

From the glaciers in Alaska to the Colorado Rockies, you can find many other animals prepared to feast and fight the cold.

NOVEMBER 2015 - Pollinators are beautiful—and extremely important to food supplies for wildlife and people across North America. In New Mexico, most fruit trees and many vegetables and seeds such as apples, plums, squash and sunflowers require or benefit from bees. Monarch butterflies, one of the most recognized insects in the world, are critical to our state’s unique beauty, too, migrating here and pollinating wildflowers during their annual stay.

The Nature Conservancy has been protecting and restoring pollinator habitat for more than twenty years. We also host citizen scientists from the nationwide Monarch Larva Monitoring Project at some of our preserves. The butterfly really needs just one thing to thrive—open sunny habitats with abundant milkweed.

OCTOBER 2015 - Bats are essential to the health of our natural world. They control pests, ensure production of fruits through pollination (pictured), and disperse seeds for countless plants in New Mexico and beyond. Losing bats would have devastating consequences for nature and the economy. That’s why Conservancy scientists and partners are helping our little friends in the fight against white nose syndrome. You can see bats for yourself at Jornada Bat Caves in southern New Mexico, hear them in a recent KUNM story, and learn more cool facts about bats!

SEPTEMBER 2015 - Weighing only 1.5 to 2.5 pounds, black-footed ferrets are so well camouflaged, they quickly disappear into the many hues of New Mexico prairie and grasslands—including at the Janos Valley Grasslands south of Ciudad Juarez. Their ability to disappear is a critical hunting technique since more than 90 percent of the animal's diet is comprised of fast-moving prairie dogs. Endangered across the Southwest, the imperiled black-footed ferret is finding recent population success via a reintroduction program in Colorado.

AUGUST 2015 - Summer nights offer opportunities for rest, relaxation and recreation in the vast wonders of the natural world -- here in New Mexico and far beyond! Plan your visit to a Nature Conservancy preserve today.

JULY 2015 - An increasing number of studies illustrate that kids who spend time outdoors are happier, healthier and smarter. That’s one of the reasons why The Nature Conservancy started the Leaders for Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program over 20 years ago. We’re engaging urban youth—like this high school team from the Science and Math Institute in Tacoma, Washington, who interned in New Mexico last summer—in conservation activities now so that they will become stewards for our planet tomorrow.

JUNE 2015 - All life needs food and water—that’s why your hummingbird feeders have likely been busy this spring. Leaving their Mexican winter home every year, these tiny high-energy birds migrate to New Mexico and beyond, returning south in the late summer and early fall. This little guy enjoying a cool bath is a male black-chinned hummingbird.

MAY 2015 - Don’t be fooled by Russian olive's beauty. Fragrant blooms hide thorny branches and spread this invasive weed across New Mexico, where we’re actively removing it to protect important waterways. Growing in dense stands, the damaging weed crowds out native plants and reduces natural diversity. Plus, it's toxic to many animals, including horses.

APRIL 2015 - Spring is here, so let's get outside and connect with the wonders of nature we all love and need! This boy is showing his sister a horned lizard found in southeastern New Mexico.

MARCH 2015 - Forests store and filter a majority of New Mexico’s water supply. The Rio Grande Water Fund supports large-scale thinning, stream restoration and more.

FEBRUARY 2015 - Love is clearly in the air—and New Mexico’s wetland habitats. Just look at these sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Reserve!

JANUARY 2015 - We're restoring rivers across New Mexico for people and wildlife, including river otters. Explore our work on the Rio Grande, Gila and Santa Fe rivers.

Your generous support today makes a real difference for these animals and places—and the New Mexicans that enjoy and benefit from them. Thank you!


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