“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.
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?
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.
Well over 100 White-crowned Sparrows spread out across the refuge and flashed their bright heads from every bush in some areas.
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.
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.
See, no birds! I need more practice with this landscape stuff. Pictures don’t do justice to the beauty of actually being there.
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.
There are several sub-species of the Dark-eyed Junco, varying in appearance by region. I think this one is in the “Oregon” group.
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 …..
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.
Even in the middle of the day, large groups of Snow Geese filled the skies as they moved from one field to another.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of North America’s smallest ducks, the male Bufflehead makes up in beauty what he lacks in size.
Snow Geese found their way to a pond we drove by and the setting was pretty spectacular to this flatlander.
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.
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!
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge
The Owl Bar and Cafe