Bosque del Apache Nation Wildlife Refuge is about 75 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. It lies on the Rio Grande River and is the winter home to thousands of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. It’s one of the top spots in the nation for nature photographers.
The time was chosen in hopes of catching the Sandhill Cranes doing their mating dance, before heading north to Canada. Birds begin arriving in November and peak numbers occur at the end of November and beginning of December.
Bosque is a birders paradise and the birds are all fairly close. A moderate telephoto lens around 200mm worked well. Both the cranes and the geese spend the night on the shallow ponds, a safe haven from the coyotes and bobcats. Before dawn, the Snow Geese do a massive takeoff as if startled by gunfire. The Sandhill Cranes take their time waking up and mosey to the front of the pack and take off in smaller groups. Both groups of birds make their way to the feeding grounds at the north end of the preserve. Around dusk, they all head back to the ponds for the night, again making for fabulous photo ops.
While the cranes and geese are the most prevalent birds at this time of year, there are also ducks, eagles, hawks, and wildlife such as coyotes, bobcats, mule deer, and even mountain lions.
The “early bird” photographers needed all their layers and hand warmers as the morning temperature was 18 degrees! Daytime highs were in the 60’s and quite pleasant. We discovered a couple of great places to eat. The Owl CafÃÂ© in San Antonio has great green chili burgers and is close to the preserve. In Socorro, El Sombrero has great Mexican food.
We also visited the Bernardo Wildlife Area, about 20 miles north of Socorro. The cranes and snow geese were numerous, and there appeared to be more here than at Bosque.
Nine LPA members made the big trip. Some flew, and some drove. If driving, taking two days to get there is recommended as it is a 13 hour drive from the Antelope Valley. After Bosque, Nan and Brent made a stop at the Grand Canyon, and David and Chris ventured into the Bisti Badlands.
Comments from Holly Peskin, “This was my first, and definitely not my last time to visit Bosque del Apache! Although I was only able to visit for two days, the magic of Bosque will linger with me forever. What a very special place for those who are intrigued and guided by nature, and are compelled to want to view the harmony that exists there. The relationship between man and nature is ever present, and quite successful, with man providing an elaborate food and water system for the migrational fowl. The lighting, the magnificent Sandhill Cranes, and all of the other creatures that abound there is really something to see and photograph!”
Comments from Nan Carder, “What is so amazing about Bosque Del Apache is the balance between nature and man. The water of the Rio Grande river has been depleted, due to farming, droughts, etc.. An amazing ecosystem has been set up for this area’s wildlife. This was a wonderful trip showing how wildlife has adapted to man. Everyone needs to see this at least once in their lifetime. Many thanks to David and Chris—we all had a great time.”
Comments from David and Chris Wilkins, “There is nothing quite like standing at Bosque in the before dawn light and watching wave after wave of snow geese fly in formation overhead. The sky is covered with birds. Then there are the Sandhill Cranes. I think they are one of the most graceful birds in flight. Just watching them take flight is a wonderful experience.
Bisti Badlands is about 40 miles South of Farmington, NM. Chris and I spend one entire day there before heading back to Lancaster. There is a thin sandstone layer that is underlain by a soft sand and clay combination. The sand and clay erodes easily and leaves the sandstone standing high which gives birth to fantastic hoodoos. There are many whimsical formation created in the process. We hiked almost 7 miles through the badlands and came up with some interesting pictures. Not an easy place to get to, but well worth it.”
Check out other member photos in the gallery.