Bosque del Apache

by Dan Weisz

I visited the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico last week as part of the Festival of the Cranes.  It is a beautiful area and I was able to see some very interesting birds.  Besides the huge refuge area and all that entails, its reputation is based on the tens of thousands of Sandhill Cranes who winter there along with tens of thousands of Snow Geese.  Other waterfowl and animals are present too.

The first evening we went owling.  We began the evening under dark skies with the Milky Way clearly visible, but once that huge full moon appeared, the stars disappeared.  We heard a number of owls and had great views of one Western Screech Owl.  Those owls live throughout the western half of North America and live in a variety of habitats.  Remember their ‘bouncing ball’ call? 

The next morning, looking westward at sunrise on the “North Pond"

Sandhill Cranes are very large birds with long necks and long legs.  The range map tells you how far they come to their wintering grounds.

They call while they fly and while they are feeding with a primordial sound.  Imagine hundreds and thousands of them calling at the same time: 

At four feet tall with a six foot wingspan, these are very large birds!

Typical color of an adult: gray birds with a rusty wash, a pale cheek and red skin on their crown.

Have you ever seen a two-headed sandhill crane?  I haven’t, but I thought I did:

A few Common Ravens flew over

and at the end of the day, a flock of Pintail Ducks flew by

Sunset at the north pond with a flock of snow geese flying overhead for their nightly resting spot

Canada Geese were present.  Their black face, white chinstrap, and large size set them apart from other geese.  

Canada Geese are “dabbling” birds.  Too big to dive under the water, they dip down to reach snacks under water.

More Sandhill Cranes.  Flying overheard, their silhouettes are almost identical

This crane was taking off from a cornfield.  I love the curve of his wings on this downstroke.

Looking just about as awkward as can be, this sandhill crane is coming in for a landing.  Either he is still learning how to do this, or he will be clinically klutzy his entire life!

Flying in formation…..

In the North Pond, feeding in front of the geese and cranes was this solitary White-faced Ibis in non-breeding plumage.  That long beak is useful for probing through the deep mud for prey.