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Birdwatchers, boaters and families visit Lake Nighthorse on opening day

Reservoir has become a migratory stopover for many species, especially waterfowl
Durango Bird Club Co-Vice President Amanda White visited Lake Nighthorse on its 2024 opening day on Friday to watch for birds and record her findings. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Kayakers, bird watchers, trail hikers and parents with energetic toddlers were some of the first to visit Lake Nighthorse on opening day of the spring season Friday.

The waters of Lake Nighthorse reflected pleasant, blue skies, although the reflection was elusive because there was hardly a trace of clouds above.

Lake Operations Supervisor Sean Willis said six or seven vehicles were lined up at the entrance when the lake opened at 9 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., between 30 and 35 people had crossed the entrance.

Amanda White, co-vice president of Durango Bird Club, stood by a pier near the designated swim beach with her weighted tripod and spotting scope. She looked over the lake through the lenses with narrowed eyes with her dog Josie by her side.

She said the lake is a “spectacular” resource for migratory birds.

“Lake Nighthorse has become a good migratory stopover for, particularly, waterfowl. Because they can see it from above. Even though this isn’t a natural water habitat,” she said.

Footprints of some sort of bird were present in the sand along the shoreline at Lake Nighthorse on opening day Friday. Durango Bird Club Co-Vice President Amanda White said the prints might belong to a species of goose, but she wasn’t certain. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Pastorius Reservoir southeast of Durango is the usual migratory hotspot for waterfowl, but since Lake Nighthorse’s opening, many of the birds have landed at the reservoir instead.

“It’s really weird,” she said.

Even a common loon, an oxymoronically rare bird species that has protected status in some states, appeared at Lake Nighthorse, she said.

“It’s really neat and you don’t see that at Pastorius,” she said. “They favor larger bodies of water. This is a large body of water.”

White said 173 bird species in total have been spotted at Lake Nighthorse.

Among them are white-faced ibises, American avocets, warblers, four species of hummingbird (including calliope hummingbirds), and great horned owls, she said.

She speculated that tracks in the sand near the water’s edge on Friday might belong to a goose, but she said she wasn’t sure.

Willis said the lake is open strictly to nonmotorized use until May 15 when motorboats and other watercraft that create waves will be permitted during specified hours.

Lake Nighthorse opened for nonmotorized use on Friday. The lake will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays through Sundays until daily operations begin for the summer on May 10. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

For now, visitors can paddle board, kayak, fish and walk with their dogs, he said.

An Albuquerque man who identified himself as Chris took a day trip Friday to hike along a trail around part of the lake. He said it was great.

“Snow-capped mountains on one side across the lake? Oh, it’s gorgeous,” he said.

Parents John and Britney, who live in the Rafter J neighborhood west of downtown Durango, said they visited the lake Friday morning to let their 17-month-old son tire himself out playing on the beach.

Britney said they are frequent visitors to the lake when it is open.

“We like it here. It’s nice to have in our backyard,” she said.

White said she supports extended wakeless hours at Lake Nighthorse, something residents of Durango and La Plata County are split on.

She said her opinion is informed both by her passion for nature and the environment and personal experience.

When she and her partner were canoeing in Michigan, where she is from, a speedboat struck her canoe at 50 mph.

The crash split her canoe in half, shredding the aluminum material that was left with “giant serrated jaws,” she said, referencing Steven Spielberg’s titular 1974 movie “Jaws.”

She said she also wishes the lake opened to the public as early as 7 a.m. at least once a week.

“Basically, birds shut down by 10 o’clock. Like especially the things that are singing ... it’s all stopped,” she said.

She said Durango Bird Club members are allowed entrance to the lake when it is closed for the winter to perform a Christmastime bird count, but being present when birds are most active would be an appreciated privilege.

The annual spring bird count for bird researchers and hobby birders will soon be upon the birding community, she said.

Lake Nighthorse is now open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays through Sundays for nonmotorized use from Friday through May 5, according to the city.

Daily operations open on May 10 and motorized use will be permitted starting May 15.


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