“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.
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.
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.
As large numbers of geese take off from the Crane Pool, the noise and motion is exciting to witness!
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.
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.
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.
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!)
Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay, only recently (2016) named a separate species from the California Scrub Jay.
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!
Back to the main refuge, we set off around the North Loop again. Almost immediately, we came across a Greater Roadrunner. Fantastic desert birds!
No matter where I see them, the Red-tailed Hawk is simply a magnificent raptor!
Since I am a native of sub-tropical flat Florida, I was easily impressed by the arid mountain landscape.
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!
My first Mountain Chickadee!
My first White-breasted Nuthatch!
My first Steller’s Jay! (Sensing a pattern yet?)
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.
Snow Geese, Sandhill Cranes and a variety of ducks enjoy the corn grown throughout the refuge and surrounding areas.
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.
One more image as the sun’s last rays brush against a mountain peak.
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.
Bosque del Apache NWR
Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR
Bernardo Waterfowl Management Area