Perico Creek is located on the Kiowa National Grasslands, six miles south of Clayton, then six miles east on a dirt road, and then three quarters of a mile back to the north within Unit 34 after entering through a Forest Service gate and heading for the windmill. Entrance to Perico is then a little west and north of the windmill. The Kiowa is administered by the Cibola National Forest, including the Administrative Unit 33 and 34 that comprise the IBA.
Perico Creek, like all the other canyons incised upon the canvas of the grasslands, give no prior notice of their presence, but reveal themselves suddenly like a ship in heavy fog that remains unseen until, without warning, it lurches into sight, right before one?s eyes. Perico is a wide but shallow canyon, carved out of colorful Dakota Sandstone laid down more than a hundred million years ago when dinosaurs roamed alongside ancient shores. Water flows down the creek only seldom, but usually there are several pools of residual water at the base of several cliffs?enough most years to allow the many Cliff Swallows to make mortar for their nests. Yet in spite of the lack of predicable water, riparian vegetation has sprouted along the sinuous course of this channel, including cottonwoods, willows, hackberry and sumac. That, together with a variety of midsize grasses and forbs, in a cliff-studded setting, has produced a rich grassland habitat that supports not only wildlife diversity, but also great abundance.
Directions: From Clayton, go 6.4 miles south on NM 402. Turn left (east) onto an unmarked road and continue 5.1 miles, watching for a small brown sign marked "Unit 33." Go through the gate (closing it behind you) and follow a sandy track onto the site, heading toward a windmill with parking at left. On foot, look north for a dark line of vegetation on the horizon. Walk a half mile over rough ground to the creek. Step carefully over the low electrified fences. A high clearance vehicle is required.
A two-miles BBS has been conducted on eight occasions at Perico since 1993, yielding an impressive, collective total of 40 species. A brief account of seven important species follows:
Swainson?s Hawk: This hawk is of moderate priority and occurs regularly in Perico where it also breeds. It has been recorded 7 out of 8 times and has a RA (relative abundance) of 1.63?meaning that on average, 1.63 individuals are seen on each survey.
Scaled Quail: This is a high priority bird in NM because of a declining trend. It is especially important on the grasslands where mid grass prairie with shrubs is far more rare than the prevailing short grass prairie, where no quail are found. At Perico it has been detected on every survey and has an RA of 8.5.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo: While only the Western subspecies has high priority status, it seems reasonable to consider all cuckoos high priority since the dividing line between east and west is not clear. Cuckoos were detected only once at Perico, when three were encountered in 2002.
Loggerhead Shrike: This Level 1 species is high priority by virtue of a declining trend. It has been seen in 5 out of 8 surveys at Perico and has RA of 1.
Cassin?s Sparrow: This level 2 NM species is one of the most conspicuous birds at Perico, maintaining a consistent RA of 29.38 throughout the eight survey years.
Dickcissel: This is a so-called ?State Species,? meaning that it is important for NM?s avian diversity by virtue of its rarity or restricted range. It has been noted at Perico only once and that was seven territorial birds in tall grass in 2003.
Eastern Meadowlark: Contrary to every distribution map for NM, this Level 2 bird does occur in northeastern NM in mid grass habitat. It has been detected in 7 out of 8 surveys and has a RA of 6.63?less than half of what it is for the Western Meadowlark.
This site is very important to birds because it is the consummate representative of a mid grass prairie?replete with a rocky canyon bracketing a mostly dry riparian arroyo, all of which makes for an unusually rich and varied bird life, totaling at least forty species in summer. Although it features many interesting birds, such as Golden Eagles, Barn Owls, Blue Grosbeaks, Bullock?s Orioles, and even the occasional Red-headed Woodpecker, there are no T&E species present or very high profile priority species?only the species of moderate priority listed above. And while the most common bird, the Cliff Swallow, has no priority whatsoever, it is an absolute phenomenon assured to impress any visitor by its sheer numbers. What is especially remarkable about the birds of Perico is the singing: lilting voices like that of the Blue Grosbeak, mingling with the more strident tones of the Northern Mockingbird and the barely perceptible trills of the Rock Wren, but all of it producing a concert of exquisite harmonies. I think Perico Creek is the place to really experience the true flavor of the grasslands?where one wants to linger and soak it all up.
Sources: Wesley Cook and Dolf Krehbiel, Checklist of Birds of the Kiowa National Grasslands
Hart R. Schwarz, Breeding Bird Survey Perico Creek (07-B), 6/26/03 [BBS] in Cibola National Forest Breeding Bird Survey Report for 2004.
The primary land use here is cattle grazing, but once Perico is ?discovered,? it could also include recreational birding?not birding for those seeking exotic thrills, but for those who seek to penetrate the essence of the prairie, and particularly the mid grass ecosystem. The impact of the grazing here is fairly light, being limited to a few faint cattle trails and the occasional cow pie. The reason behind this light-touch grazing is that the grazing regime is based on rapid rotation, so that the animals only stay four or five days in any one pasture. Thus, at the present time, grazing is compatible with maintaining a fully functional ecosystem for birds and other wildlife.
A second threat comes from the steady encroachment of agricultural lands immediately to the north. While the National Grasslands are not diminishing, the conversion on private lands may reduce the local bird population and may even account for the declining numbers of Eastern Meadowlarks, who may reside largely outside the Forest?at least in the vicinity of the BBS transect. In any case, however, there is little that can be done, except being grateful that the Grasslands are still Public Lands.
Cibola National Forest, Kiowa/ Rita Blanca Ranger District, 714 Main Street, Clayton, NM, 88415, 505-281-3304, Nancy Walls, District Ranger