Memories of Bosque del Apache

Snow Geese FlightBosque del Apache is a birding Mecca in the upper Rio Grande Valley. It is near the geographic center of New Mexico. A winter pilgrimage will reward the traveler with an epic spectacle of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes in numbers so great that the skies will darken when they lift off together. The sights and sounds may weaken the knees with awe.

The birds one can expect to encounter here are not limited to cranes and geese, but they are the rock stars. To witness overwhelming numbers of these, a late autumn to early spring visit is required. Birding here in the summer is interesting, but it cannot compare to the experience of a winter visit. During this season, many other avian visitors will also be here. Waterfowl of many species, raptors, pheasants, quail, shorebirds, passerines, pelicans and cormorants will usually be here. Some of these birds might stay here year round.

Sandhill Crane - Grus canadensisThere are other locations where large numbers of cranes and/or geese gather. Most places can’t compare with the sheer numbers that are found here in season. What sets this place apart from any other I’ve seen, is the close approach that the birds here will allow. This is especially true of the cranes. When I’ve met these great birds foraging on the ground at other locations, they are often at a great distance. It is typical to get no closer than one or two hundred yards. At Bosque there are 12 miles of drivable roads through the reserve. When the cranes are feeding along the northern “Farm Loop”, I’ve seen them at much closer range. Distances of less than 100 feet are not uncommon, but with luck and patience, a 50 foot encounter might be achieved. At such distances, these four foot tall elegant birds are impressive. In flight they travel in a “V” formation. With wingspans of up to seven and a half feet they are a spectacle to behold.

One enjoyable aspect of my past encounters with these cranes is the sounds they make. Individuals issue a trilled trumpeted sound that is rather pleasant to hear. When several thousand of these birds are assembled in a field, the chorus is impressive, and reminiscent of a 1950’s sci-fi soundtrack. During migrations they may be at altitudes so great that spotting them is not assured. But the unmistakable sounds let you know they are overhead.

To the north of the “Farm Loop” road (the southern road is called the “Marsh Loop”) are large agricultural fields. During the summer, local farmers lease the land for crop raising. Alfalfa (lucerne) and corn (maize) are typical crops. After summer, some of these fields are planted intending to feed the birds. The partnership between commercial and conservation interests benefits all parties.

I am long overdue for a return visit to this wonderful place.

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