Mid-Winter Eagle Count at Abiquiu Lake

Who says you can't kayak in New Mexico?  And who says it's only something you do in the summer?  One of the most beautiful experiences I've had kayaking in New Mexico was in the middle of winter at Abiquiu Lake.  The partially frozen lake reflected a grey/silver sky and a light dusting of fresh, white snow covered the red rocks and evergreen trees.  Since that time, it's been a goal of mine to prepare NMKI students for winter paddling, not just in New Mexico, but Alaska, Montana or wherever their travels may take them.  And the annual Mid-Winter Eagle Count at Abiquiu Lake provided the perfect opportunity to practice skills we've learned throughout the year!

The thought of kayaking mid-winter may sound outright foolish to some.  But I remember a Chinese fortune cookie once that read: "There's no such thing as bad weather. . . just bad gear!" While I completely agree, I would like to stress the importance of being prepared for the worst case scenario, practicing rescues, and understanding the consequences. 

Managing the risk is key.  Not only should one be skilled in deep-water rescues, but also in dressing for the water, and being prepared for immersion in frigid cold water.  For the most part, we stayed close to shore, had a thermos of hot apple cider and several changes of clothes in dry-bags.  Some had dry-suits, others had wetsuits and several additional layers.  We also knew we had cell phone service, could easily contact the Corps of Engineers should anything go wrong. We had a number of tow-ropes as well, should we need to tow someone to shore quickly.

Here's a summary of our day on the water and more photos on our Facebook page.

Click here for 110 additional photos from our trip!

On the first Saturday of each year the Abiquiu Corps of Engineers host their annual Mid-Winter Bald Eagle count.  We've wanted to participate in this event for some time and it finally worked out this year.  About 12 local paddlers got together on Jan 5th for this amazing event.  Some opted to stay on dry land while 4 of us took to the water. As you can see, we had a beautiful day!  Clear skies, no wind and direct sunlight made the day quite pleasant after all.  We met at the Corps of Engineers visitors center for a 30 minute presentation on the migrating habits of the eagles at Abiquiu Lake.  Katherine Eagleson, Executive Director of the Espanola Wildlife Center discussed the differences between Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles, adults, juveniles, males and females.  It was extremely informative.  We were guaranteed to see at least two eagles before the day was over.  With great excitement, we exited the visitors center, where Katherine had an adult Bald and Golden Eagle tethered and gave us additional information on their flight patterns and how to distinguish eagles from hawks, vultures and other birds.  Shortly, we broke into 6 groups and went to our stations. Three groups were stationed at the Corps campgrounds around Abiquiu Lake, 2 groups went on Corps boats and our group (not formally part of the Corps event) went to our kayaks.   We planned a route along the northern edge of the lake, taking us to an area near the Ghost Ranch.  That is an area we have not paddled, so we were excited to go that route.  We later learned that when that part of the lake is frozen, we're less likely to spot eagles in that area.   As we neared the Ghost Ranch, we spotted one juvenile Golden Eagle about 100 yards from shore.  We were able to get a few photos before he flew away.  We paddle another 1/4 mile and saw him again, but this time, much further away. 

By the time we reached the Ghost Ranch, the cove at Ghost Ranch was completely frozen.  It was fun to look at, literally, hundreds of acres of frozen lake.  The sounds coming from under the ice was quite fascinating!  Realizing we could get no closer to our juvenile friend, and knowing the Corps was monitoring our float plan, we decided to return and check back in.  Our day ended just before 3pm.  We chatted briefly with the Corps Rangers about their sightings throughout the day.  In all, 12 eagles were sighted in different areas of the lake.  Most were spotted via boat.  I have to bet, though, that the kayakers had the most fun! :)

No trip to Abiquiu Lake would be complete without a trip to Bode's General Store. So we stopped back in for juicy burgers and world-class burittos, some ice cream (my favorite) and a few drinks.  We had an awesome day and will certainly plan to return in 2014!  We hope you will join us!

Paddle on,
Kelly Gossett
Owner, New Mexico Kayak Instruction, Inc.
Founder, Kayak New Mexico (501(c)3 status pending)
Founder, Greater Albuquerque / Santa Fe Kayak Meetup club
Seed member, New Mexico Outdoors Coalition

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Upcoming Kayak Instruction Classes

Currently there are no Intro to Kayaking clinics scheduled. Please see our Calendar of Events for upcoming Intro, Roll, Whitewater and Touring clinics, or Contact Us for a private lesson.
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(Level 3) Whitewater Kayaking Made Easy Saturday, September 30, 2017 - 9:00am - Sunday, October 1, 2017 - 5:00pm Pilar Pilar Yacht Club
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"Open House" Kayak & SUP Fun, Games and Practice Wednesday, September 27, 2017 - 5:30pm - 7:30pm Bernalillo Sandia Lakes Recreation Area