Rosyfinch Ramblings
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March 2008
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Capulin Spring “Bird Log” Construction
Filed under: General, Birding & Outdoors, NM & SW US, Sandia Crest, Capulin Spring
Posted by: Ken @ 10:56 am
Waving Flag-- Rosies have returnedUpdate on the Rosy-Finches of Sandia Crest, New Mexico.  The flag is waving–
small flocks of Rosy-Finches are still visiting the feeders at Sandia Crest House.

US Forest Service Announces Decision on Construction Involving the Capulin Spring “Bird Log”

As this winter’s rosy-finch season winds down, our thoughts turn to the marvelous “Bird Log” at the Capulin Spring Picnic Area, located at 8,840 feet elevation, at the 8.1 mile mark just above the base of the ski run, on the way up to Sandia Crest. Beginning with spring migration, and continuing through the breeding season and into the fall, until deep snow forces closure of the access road, this peaceful spot is THE place to relax and let the birds come to you.

At both ends of the day, Northern Saw-whet and Northern Pygmy-Owls may be heard and seen, and early summer evenings and nights are usually filled with the calls of Flammulated Owls, Poor-wills, and the occasional caterwaul of a Mountain Lion. Every bird and most mammals that live anywhere near the spring utilize it, as it is the only constant source of water in an area of several square miles. It is a reliable spot for Band-tailed Pigeons, McGillivray’s Warblers and all of their cousins that breed and migrate through: Black-headed Grosbeaks, a variety of orioles, vireos, woodpeckers and sapsuckers… not to mention the occasional deer, bobcat, squirrel, chipmunk, Black Bear, Long-tailed Weasel, and at least one lion sighting. In good years it is a magnet for Cassin’s Finches, Red Crossbills, and Clark’s Nutcrackers.

The Log at Capulin Spring

The log itself, crafted out of a naturally hollowed-out trunk of a huge tree (possibly Douglas-fir), has endured for many years. During the late 1990s it began to leak. Pipes that carried water from the spring to the log were cracked by vandals and the action of freezing and thawing. Water that did make it to the log from the spring just passed directly onto the ground through a large area of wet rot at the spot where the water dripped down from the pipe. Mary Lou and I worked with Central New Mexico Audubon and US Forest Service volunteers to repair the log, replacing the pipe and re-routing it through a newly reconstructed stone wall. We fashioned a rubber bladder for the base of the log, and once again water trickled through it to form an ideal “bird bath.” [See, under “Comments” below, the bird list we compiled just while working on restoration of the log and plumbing– 22 species!].

It is a photographer’s delight, as the orientation of the log provides great viewing of its long axis from a shaded observation area on a small bluff about 20 feet away. Best, it is usually out of the way of the casual party types who don’t know what they are missing down the loop, behind the trees.
Map centered on

Capulin Spring Picnic Area

The US Forest Service considered three alternative plans and conducted a comprehensive environmental assessment for construction around the Capulin Spring “Bird Log” (technically, “wildlife drinker”) in Cibola National Forest. Among the three alternatives that were considered, both  #1 and #2 would relocate the main entrance to the Spring and Snowplay area in the interest of highway safety. Both would replace the deteriorating log with a new one from a local tree. Both alternatives #1 and 2 would also improve the bird observation area above the spring by removing the picnic table and fire pit, replacing them with benches for comfortable and ideal observation of the log and birds.

Both Alternatives #1 and #2  proposed modifications and improvements to the Capulin Picnic Area, which includes the bird viewing log at Capulin Spring, specifically:

  • Replacing all damaged or broken concrete picnic tables with accessible picnic tables.
  • Replacing existing fire rings with pedestal grills for easier accessibility and fire safety.
  • Installing animal resistant garbage cans.
  • Constructing accessible paths from existing picnic areas and parking lot to restroom facilities.
  • Refurbishing and reconstructing existing retaining walls.
  • Reconstructing the fence around Capulin Spring.
  • Replacing existing steel cable and railroad tie barriers with concrete traffic control devices.
  • Eliminating the last 150 feet of asphalt at the end of the road with loop and turned into a foot trail.
  • Replace the existing vault toilets with accessible vault toilets.
  • Reroute
    the access road from the existing intersection with Highway 536 (Crest Highway) south approximately 250 feet to provide safer access and better sight distance to and from the Crest Highway.

The proposals and detailed maps are available at:

Alternative #1 would improve the roadways and parking/ picnic/
gathering facilities, but also attract many more visitors to this
pristine area.

Alternative #2 would close the entire roadway below the one-way road
gate to vehicular traffic. Alternative #3 would essentially be to do nothing.

Alternative #1 would involve rather extensive construction and offered great improvements in access for the general
public and the handicapped, while #2 would  provide less disturbance for
birds and birders, yet would pose a problem accessing the log viewing
area for those with limited mobility. Both would replace the log with a
new one and improve the bird viewing area.

See related comments in this earlier ROSYFINCH RAMBLINGS Post

The USFS Environmental Assessment (PDF) includes descriptions of the three alternatives that were considered.

This Map of Capulin Spring Picnic Area (PDF) shows the proposed changes under Alternative #2  

Decision Paper

On March 11, 2008, Cid H. Morgan, Sandia District Ranger, announced her decision to select Alternative #2 in this Decision Paper (PDF), which reads, in part:.

Based upon my review of the analysis of effects in the Environmental Assessment and considering the public comments I have received on the proposal, I have decided to implement Alternative 2 which provides for the following actions:

Relocation of the Capulin access road intersection with Highway 536.

Relocate the access road from the existing intersection with Highway 536 (Crest Highway) south approximately 250 feet. The existing turn lane would be removed, and a new turn lane would be constructed for the relocated intersection.

Restoration and Improvement of the Capulin Picnic Area:

The majority of the sites northeast of the gate would be removed and the sites replanted. There would be five tables which would be placed east of the gate near the lower bathroom. Pedestal grills would be installed near the five picnic tables. The table at the end of the existing loop will be replaced. The cinder-block toilet near the gate will be demolished and the existing toilet towards the end of the one lane road be replaced. The road would be left for administrative uses only. Six parking spaces would be constructed above the gate, making the one lane road available for walk-in traffic by the public. The drinker near Capulin Spring would be replaced with a natural log cut from a dead tree in the local area.

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