Fall Along the Rio Grande – Bighorns, Beavers, Brown Trout, Birds and Beautiful Days

Fall Along the Rio Grande (2017) – Bighorns, Beavers, Brown Trout, Birds and Beautiful Days

Bighorn sheep

The Bighorn sheep herd that spent considerable time in the Orilla Verde (OV) section of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument was the most notable local nature event of this fall. They came to graze the tasty roadside grass that had grown up following the monsoon rains, and their presence along the road was also connected to (or just coincided with) their annual rut.

Bighorn grazes the roadside grass. Yum!


Ewes and young


Opposite Petaca Campground (CG)


Two rams in the Petaca CG

The Bighorns were not in the least bothered by the proximity of cars and people, just as their cousins in the Taos Box section of the Rio Grande Gorge are not bothered by the proximity of rafts and people.

Bighorn ram

We were also able to watch the rams head-butting and mounting ewes.

Bighorn ram guards ovulating ewe from other ram (with more rams close by)

The following clip shows a ram coming down from above for the purpose of inspecting a ewe. The inspection is to determine the ovulatory status of a ewe. As he approaches, he adopts the characteristic head down/nose up posture. This posture is seen again in the photo that follows.


In this clip, the ewe urinates in response to the male’s inspection.

The above clip shows more of the male inspecting behavior.

What a good-looking guy!

BighornRamDSCN1434Bighorn DSCN1435KidDSCN1432

I took the above three photos on November 16, as a small group of bighorns strolled along the river side of the road.


Beavers are not normally nocturnal animals, but become so when they are around people. This means that when I fish into the evening I’m likely to see them appear, and sometimes they get quite close. In the above clip, another beaver had preceded the one seen here onto the shore, and was munching on the bark of a willow cutting, which can be heard in the first few seconds of the clip. The second beaver (seen here) hesitated for a few seconds, and then headed upstream to another pull-out.

New beaver den being excavated, OV

Brown trout

Speaking of fishing, the water clarity and lower water levels of the fall season usually make for good fishing. Brown trout are my preferred quarry, and they are fall spawners. This makes the males more colorful than usual, and more aggressive on the bite.

Brown trout, OV

Brown trout caught on a very crazy grasshopper imitation, OV

Todd Emerson, OV

The fall fishing season lasted until November 17, when the water level suddenly jumped up from 425 to 625 cfs., an increase of approximately 50%. This was the result, I was told, of the seasonal end of irrigation diversions in the upstream San Luis Valley. This event definitely put the fish “off the bite”, which was confirmed by myself and Todd Emerson, when we floated the OV section on 11-20 … and both of us got skunked.


Todd fishes a side channel

Beautiful Days

Except for an 11-day bird watching trip to Ecuador, which we took in Sept./Oct. (see prior posts), Kathy and I stuck around throughout the fall. Besides allowing me to go fishing as often as I wished (which accounted for practically every afternoon), it also allowed us to behold the full progression of the fall colors. As they say, trout live in beautiful places.

Bighorn sheep graze under a cottonwood, at Lone Juniper CG, OV

Cottonwood, Lone Juniper CG, OV

Cottonwoods, Rio Bravo CG, OV

Cottonwoods along the Bosque stretch, near our place in Embudo

same as above

Cottonwood branch, Bosque stretch at “Millers’ Landing”

Trevor’s Wave, Bosque section

Orilla Verde

Orilla Verde

Sun dog, OV

Sun dog, OV

Rio Bravo CG, OV, downstream view

Rio Bravo CG, OV, upstream view

Rio Bravo CG, OV, downstream view towards the Picuris Mountains

Cottonwood and moon, Rio Bravo CG, OV

OV evening

Riverside grass, OV

Russian olive, OV


Poison ivy berries, OV

Upstream view in side channel, view towards Taos Junction CG, OV

Side channel, with willows and cattails, OV

Sculpted basalt boulder, Racecourse section


Canada geese, OV

Canada goose, cackling

Townsend’s Solitaire, OV

Mallards, OV

Canyon wren, OV

Downy woodpecker, Embudo

Mountain chickadee, Embudo

A pair of magpies at work on an animal carcass – maybe a Bighorn lamb, OV

The final act of fall comes with the appearance of the birds that winter on the Rio Grande. This bald eagle was photographed in a favorite perch along the Racecourse section, across the river from the well-traveled Hwy. 68, on Nov. 27.

Bald eagle, Racecourse section

Diving and other ducks also show up, which (along with fish) constitute prey for the eagles. The most common diving duck is the goldeneye, which I photographed on Nov. 28.


It’s still early, and I expect to see the arrival of a number more bald eagles, and lots more ducks – buffleheads, gadwalls, ring-necked and mergansers. Here, below, is a medley of waterfowl from last winter, so stay tuned!

Top to bottom: mallards, canada goose, goldeneyes and gadwall



About Evensteven

I am a photographer and author, and live in Embudo, New Mexico, alongside the Rio Grande. I have published a book of photography and accompanying text on running the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The first (print) edition is out of print, but a second edition is available as an iBook (eBook) through the iTunes bookstore. All Grand Canyon, river and nature lovers will enjoy my book: The Grand: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-grand/id672492447 I have also published six additional iBooks: 1. The Salt River: https://books.apple.com/us/book/the-salt-river/id12449222822. 2. Coyote Buttes: https://books.apple.com/us/book/coyote-buttes/id1271773201 3. Four Cornered, the Land: https://books.apple.com/us/book/four-cornered/id1384038899 4. Four Cornered, The Rivers: https://books.apple.com/us/book/four-cornered-book-two-the-rivers/id1402287568 5. Rio Marañon: https://books.apple.com/us/book/four-cornered-book-two-the-rivers/id1402287568 6. Rio Grande: https://books.apple.com/us/book/rio-grande-new-mexico/id1469126321
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