For a winter wonderland like Eagle Nest, nature is always awe-inspiring.
Even after the summer sun has cooled and the fall leaves have dropped, the forests and open spaces in and around Eagle Nest are alive with the natural movements of Northern New Mexico.
The village of Eagle Nest hunkers down at the low point of the Moreno Valley, hard upon Eagle Nest Lake. As such, the area around the town is as lush and moist as the valley can get. Of course, Eagle Nest, with its historic main street that reflects a simpler time in frontier life, gets pretty quiet in town as the snow starts to fall. But that just means it’s time to grab a hot cup of coffee and a breakfast burrito at Madam’s Restaurant and Coffee Shop and then head out to the lake for some ice fishing or winter bird watching.
Yes, some birds do migrate, and some mammals hibernate. However a good number of the creatures stay active throughout the winter, and they’re the focus of wintertime wildlife viewing in and around Eagle Nest.
The valley’s elk herd is the star of this wintertime show. Year-round, several thousand elk inhabit the mountain-skirt forests on both sides of the valley. Cows, calves and younger bulls hang together in one group, while the bulls form bachelor herds.
Throughout the West, the mule deer population has declined severely in recent decades, and the Moreno Valley herd is no exception. A high bear population and the lack of food sources, like shrubs and sunflowers, have put pressure on the herd. There are, however, still plenty of deer in the Colin Neblett Wildlife Area east of the valley.
For the birds…
The area around Eagle Nest Lake is also prime habitat for birds. Anyone who stops by in the summer will likely see ducks, geese, crows and magpies, a heron or osprey and, with luck, a golden eagle for which the lake is named.
In the winter, the native flock thins with migration. However, a number of species overwinter, varying each year with the severity of the weather. These resident species either never leave the area or they fly in from the north for a milder winter in the Moreno Valley.
Eagle Nest attracts a lot of water fowl who migrate down from the Dakotas after breeding. Also, there are more hawks, especially red tails, who come in for the winter now. You’ll also see resident Cooper’s hawks and northern Goshawks.
Depending upon the severity of the winter, a number of raptors will stick around – including eagles on the north end of the valley. Corvids – crows, magpies, ravens and turkey vultures – roam the Moreno Valley year-round looking for food.
Smaller birds, like songbirds, proliferate all year. Sparrows, juncos, chickadees and others all pick off insects and chow down on backyard feeders to stay alive through the winter. Blue grouse overwinter under the cover of conifer forests, particularly on the slopes of Touch-Me-Not Mountain.
…Rather be fishing
No matter the season, anglers venture to “The Home of the Browns” in hopes of snagging a trout (rainbow, brown and cutthroat), perch or Kokanee salmon. Eagle Nest Lake is regularly stocked and thus is a popular ice fishing spot for good reason. In late January, the village hosts an ice fishing tournament with cash and door prizes. And for the cold hardy, the town hosts an annual Polar Bear Plunge at the lake on New Year’s Day.
Don’t let the population of less than 300 or quiet of the town fool you, there are plenty of unique shops to browse and great places to grab a bite to eat along the main street.
…Walking on sunshine
Snowshoeing is a time-honored way to explore nature in the winter. Strap the tennis-racket-like apparatus onto your boots and get out into the wilderness. Here are a couple of the best places to get your snowshoe on… literally.
- Lower Eagle Nest Lake Trail
A 5.5 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Angel Fire, New Mexico that features a lake and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash.
- Cimarron Canyon State Park
The Cimarron River flows through this narrow, forested canyon, located near Eagle Nest on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway. The park offers beautiful views, interesting geology, quiet camping, fly fishing, hiking and equestrian trails. The wildlife viewing opportunities are amazing, as the park sits at the center of the Colin Neblett Wildlife Management Area.