Bosque del Apache – 3

“Red, please.” The waitress topped off my mug with more steaming coffee and I had provided her with the answer to the most important question asked at all “authentic” New Mexican eateries:  “Green or red sauce?”.

Earlier, my son and I decided to delay breakfast and arrived at the “Flight Deck” pond about an hour before sunrise in order to get a choice spot along the shoreline in the hope of photographing Snow Geese as they awoke and took off from the surface. The temperature reading on the car’s dashboard said 11 F (-12 C). We were starting to fall into nature’s local rhythm. As the eastern horizon began to lighten we could make out long lines of birds beyond the hills. The distant sky turned blue, then pink, then as the sun was just below the line of mountains it seemed as if the edge of the earth was on fire!

With the growing light, hundreds of Snow Geese less than 50 yards in front of us began to stir and chatter. The long lines of birds we had seen in the distance had now grown to a cloud extending from the far eastern horizon to almost over our heads. The cackling of tens of thousands of geese obscured any other sounds of the new day. Geese on the pond increased the volume of their calling suddenly and significantly. The snow storm of birds in the sky flew in a wide arc and circled over our pond once and moved off to the west in one huge flapping jabbering mass. All at once, hundreds of geese sprang from the water in front of us, seemingly straight up, incredibly loud and flew at first southward, then circled back low over the pond and then westward to join the huge flock still passing overhead. Now, silence and an empty lake.

Familiar with the routine, we packed up and headed for the South Crane Pool where we knew several thousand Snow Geese would be staging before flying to local corn fields to feed for the rest of the day. It was good to be in the warm cocoon of the car. I had dressed warmly but operating two cameras for more than an hour with one glove removed took its toll. The Crane Pool – grab the gear!

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge once again provided a simply outstanding start to a magnificent day!

As the Snow Geese departed the South Crane Pool on schedule, my son and I decided to head about 40 minutes north to the Bernardo Waterfowl Management Area. We had heard this is where large numbers of Sandhill Cranes spend the day. On the way, we stopped in Socorro for a late breakfast. I opted for the “small” burrito with eggs. A very large platter arrived with two pork-stuffed burritos, two scrambled eggs, a huge portion of pinto beans, salsa and you already know what kind of sauce covered all of the above.

Sufficiently warmed by chiles and coffee, we found thousands of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese at the Bernardo management area. After exploring the small refuge for a couple of hours we returned to Bosque del Apache and wandered around the desert garden at the visitor’s center. There we found a terrific diversity of birds, plant life and a begging bunny. The afternoon found us on the North Loop again where we were dazzled by the amount of wildlife and spectacular scenery. As the sun began to set, the low angle of light provided an entirely different perspective to the landscape.

We remained until dark and returned to the hotel once again deliriously exhausted.

A few of our memories follow.

 

About 40  minutes before sunrise, Snow Geese resting on the “Flight Deck” pond. From this angle you can only see a small part of nearly a thousand birds who spent the night here.

Bosque del Apache

 

Ten minutes after dawn and just after a fly-over of tens of thousands of geese, the Snow Geese in front of us “blast off” to join the massive airborne flock.

Bosque del Apache

 

Thirty minutes after sunrise, hundreds of Snow Geese – and one Northern Shoveler – rest at the South Crane Pool before leaving in small groups to search for corn fields where they will spend the day feeding.

Bosque Del Apache

 

As large numbers of geese take off from the Crane Pool, the noise and motion is exciting to witness!

Bosque Del Apache

 

Our post-breakfast destination, Bernardo Waterfowl Management Area. Here we found thousands of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and even a few other species, such as a Spotted Towhee.

Bernardo WMA

Bernardo WMA

Bernardo Wildlife Management Area

Bernardo Wildlife Management Area

 

Returning to Bosque del Apache, we discovered a small group of Green-winged Teal feeding at the South Crane Pool and I managed a long-distance shot of a male.

Bosque Del Apache

 

A stop at the visitor’s center was informative (wonderful staff!) and we really enjoyed the well-maintained desert garden where we saw:

A Verdin, the only North American member of the Penduline Tit family.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Panhandler rabbit, obviously used to getting a treat from tourists. You can tell from his frown what he received from us. (Our thanks for posing!)

Bosque Del Apache

 

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, only recently (2016) named a separate species from the California Scrub Jay.

Bosque Del Apache

 

I had never seen a Gambel’s Quail and was stumped when we heard one calling. Once we discovered who the sound belonged to, we were quite surprised!

Bosque Del Apache

 

Back to the main refuge, we set off around the North Loop again. Almost immediately, we came across a Greater Roadrunner. Fantastic desert birds!

Bosque Del Apache

 

No matter where I see them, the Red-tailed Hawk is simply a magnificent raptor!

Bosque Del Apache

 

Since I am a native of sub-tropical flat Florida, I was easily impressed by the arid mountain landscape.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Speaking of easily impressed, I am always fascinated watching raptors hunt. This hen Northern Harrier glided over the grass, subtly changing direction by a small shift in tail or wing position. Gracefully elegant!

Bosque Del Apache

 

My first Mountain Chickadee!

Bosque Del Apache

 

My first White-breasted Nuthatch!

Bosque Del Apache

 

My first Steller’s Jay! (Sensing a pattern yet?)

Bosque Del Apache

 

I had no sooner uttered the phrase: “That smells like a skunk”, than my son pointed out the source. A Striped Skunk rooting through the leaves less than 100 feet from us. We “carefully” took a few photos before retreating to a safer distance.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Snow Geese, Sandhill Cranes and a variety of ducks enjoy the corn grown throughout the refuge and surrounding areas.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Almost sunset. The low angle of the sun lit up the cottonwood trees at the “Flight Deck” pond giving it an entirely different look than we saw before dawn this morning. Soon, Snow Geese will begin settling in for another chilly night.

Bosque Del Apache

 

One more image as the sun’s last rays brush against a mountain peak.

Bosque Del Apache

 

 

Tomorrow will be our final day. Tonight, a hot meal, a hot shower, a long talk with my lady who I am missing terribly and lights out. See you in the morning.

 

Additional Information

Bosque del Apache NWR

Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR

Bernardo Waterfowl Management Area

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Bosque del Apache – 2

“Look, I understand it isn’t your fault. The company should just make “options” which are truly “optional”. This providing “option packages” makes me pay for things I’ll never, ever use. That just isn’t fair. I mean, come on, I live in Florida!” –  Me, talking to automobile salesperson one year ago.

Fast forward. January 2018.

“I don’t know how much you paid extra, but these heated seats are worth every penny!” My son, after standing on the shore of a pond for a couple of hours with temperatures ranging from 14 to 20 F (-10 to -7 C), was enjoying the option I complained so bitterly about. Truth be told, I was enjoying it, too. My humble apologies to the salesperson to whom I so unfairly grumbled.

The Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes had disappeared from the South Crane Pool where they had staged for over an hour after sunrise. (See our previous post for details.) As feeling returned to our frozen limbs, we entered the “North Loop” of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. (See Additional Information.) The drive winds through the refuge passing ponds, canals, woods, fields and a myriad of other habitats. A glance in any direction provides spectacular views of open expanses, mountains and wildlife. I saw birds which were new for me, familiar birds in unfamiliar settings, new mammals, different flora and shared it all with my son. Turns out, he’s a veritable “nature whisperer”, finding animals long before I spotted them.

Shortly after noon, we motored north of the refuge a couple of miles to the bustling metropolis of San Antonio, New Mexico. Chile peppers are an institution in New Mexico. Individual growers compete annually for bragging rights as to who has the best peppers in a given year. In most restaurants throughout the state, the only question your server has is: “Red or Green Sauce?”. We dined at The Owl Bar and Cafe. Great burger (yes, with chiles), great service. (See Additional Information.)

Fortified, we returned to the refuge and began a tour of the south loop. Lots to see but it was getting late and we wanted to try to catch geese and cranes settling in for the night. We found one pond already filled with Snow Geese and back at the South Crane Pool at sunset, a few Sandhill Cranes and ducks had plenty of space to stretch. Where the majority of cranes spent each night is a mystery.

The sun dropped behind the Chupadera Mountains and the temperature plunged rapidly. We headed for the hotel and located a very nice place to eat. After a review of the days images, a hot shower, a call to my sweetheart – I don’t remember actually laying down.

“Ready?”

My son heard his alarm before I heard mine. The “clock” whisperer. A new day awaits.

The fact that most of my images are of birds should not be surprising. The real surprise is that I have photographs of things OTHER than birds! (Okay, not very many. But I tried.)

 

In the world beyond the refuge, I could only dream of getting this close to so much wildlife. Case in point, a cooperative American Wigeon. Who knew they were so colorful?

Bosque Del Apache

 

A diminutive Ruby-crowned Kinglet displays his namesake. This is only the second time I’ve seen the red crown atop this quick little bird. Yes, the white stuff on the reeds is frost.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Well over 100 White-crowned Sparrows spread out across the refuge and flashed their bright heads from every bush in some areas.

Bosque Del Apache

 

A familiar bird, this Eastern Phoebe was “fluffed up” due to the cold. Strong early morning light on only one side of the bird gave it an ethereal look.

Bosque Del Apache

 

The Song Sparrow is not a common visitor in Florida, and only in the winter. It’s not very common here, either. This one had buried itself in a bush full of high-protein seeds.

Bosque Del Apache

 

See, no birds! I need more practice with this landscape stuff. Pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of actually being there.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Okay, I TRIED not to include a bird in this one. To be fair, I didn’t know that Mallard was even in the picture until I returned home and processed it. Photobombed by a duck.

Bosque Del Apache

 

There are several sub-species of the Dark-eyed Junco, varying in appearance by region. I think this one is in the “Oregon” group.

Bosque Del Apache

 

My son was alerted by a junco who made a strange leap backward. He soon saw the reason. A Long-tailed Weasel  (Mustela frenata) had popped his head from his den. These small mammals don’t normally eat birds (tell that to the Junco) but are known for their ferocity. Hmmm, the guide says nothing about them not considering a snack of two-legged mammals …..

Bosque Del Apache

Bosque Del Apache

 

We see Northern Harriers in Florida during migration. Watching their owl-like head turn from side to side while flying over a marsh is special, no matter where one sees them.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Even in the middle of the day, large groups of Snow Geese filled the skies as they moved from one field to another.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Duck on ice. Sounds more like a menu selection than a caption for a photograph. A Northern Pintail seemed to have no problem getting around on the frozen surface.

Bosque Del Apache

 

The zoom lenses of an American Kestrel are superior to what I was using. A handsome male soon found another perch, away from nosy tourists.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Where we live in central Florida, one of the most numerous raptors is the Red-shouldered Hawk. Here in this southwestern locale, the larger Red-tailed Hawk seemed ubiquitous. Magnificent birds.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Much smaller than a Red-tailed Hawk, the slim Sharp-shinned Hawk speeds through the woods with abandon as he chases small songbirds. I rarely get to see one perched for very long.

Bosque Del Apache

 

One of North America’s smallest ducks, the male Bufflehead makes up in beauty what he lacks in size.

Bosque Del Apache

 

Snow Geese found their way to a pond we drove by and the setting was pretty spectacular to this flatlander.Bosque Del Apache

 

Darkness happens quickly in the mountains. The South Crane Pool only had a few cranes and ducks as the clouds reflected the last light of the sun for this day. This very special day.

Bosque del Apache

 

Desert, mountain, extreme cold, new birds, a surprise weasel, massive views, spicy food, someone to share it with – exhaustion. What will tomorrow offer?

Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!

 

Additional Information

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

The Owl Bar and Cafe

 

Categories: Birds, Photography, Travel, Wildlife | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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