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2020-12-18&19 At The Bernardo Unit – Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex

Sandhill Crane - Grus canadensis
Jousting occasionally occurs among cranes when testosterone levels elevate. 

Halfway between Albuquerque and Bosque del Apache is the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex – Bernardo Unit, where cranes and geese are now visiting more than at Bosque. My friend Jerry, formerly a docent at Bosque del Apache, for years has been singing the praises to me about this state run reserve 52 miles south of Albuquerque. After accompanying him for an afternoon tour on the eleventh of December, I found his claims of more, better, but smaller, were not exaggerations.

It seems while the crane and goose attendance at Bosque del Apache has dwindled over the past few years, Bernardo has become ever more popular with these birds. Jerry believes the state of New Mexico permits their managers to raise GMO corn to feed its birds, while the feds at Bosque are not. GMO corn doesn’t require the herbicides or pesticides that non-GMO corn does and therefore provides a more reliable food supply. There may be other factors such as a dwindling water supply, due in part to increasing demands on the Rio Grande by development and agriculture. A series of changes in the guard of reserve managers has not helped, as the new managers sometimes strive to make their own mark, and abandon successful strategies of their predecessors.

Ring-Necked Pheasant - Phasianus colchicus
It surprised me when this cock pheasant charged in my general direction. 

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that Bosque del Apache today is a mere shadow of its former self. In February 2005, I saw the full glory of the geese and cranes gathering at Bosque del Apache. It was so spectacular it made an indelible impression on me. When the birds rose, the sky was all but blotted out and sounds were deafening. Geese and cranes fed so close to the tour roads they would stop traffic and thrill visitors with close encounters. I still enjoy visits to Bosque del Apache. If one looks hard, they can see a variety of birds and other wildlife. Perhaps someday this iconic National Wildlife Refuge can achieve the glory of past days, but that remains to be seen. For now, we have Bernardo.

Bernardo (Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex) sits between I-25 and the Rio Grande just north of US-60 (Exit 175). There is a 2.5 mile auto tour road with several viewing platforms and plenty of places to pull off if one wishes, but remaining inside your vehicle is often the best strategy. There is a large pond at the south end of the loop road, but the cranes and geese seem to prefer the agricultural fields that line the tour road.

Jerry and I drove back to Bernardo Friday afternoon and had one last photo romp for the road. When we finished our tour, Jerry headed back to Albuquerque, and I spent the night at a nearby RV park, then returned Saturday morning for a solo trip through the reserve. When I reviewed my images, I found from my two days through the reserve, I’d captured an American Kestrel, American Robins, a Cooper’s Hawk, Dark-Eyed Juncos, a Killdeer, a Loggerhead Shrike, a Northern Harrier, Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Ring-Necked Pheasant, Sandhill Cranes, a Say’s Phoebe, Snow Geese, and a Song Sparrow.

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