Moby Goes for Sandhill Cranes

The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico) got its start in the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps began restoring the Rio Grande flood plains that had been lost to dams and irrigation. Using a system of gates, ditches, marshes, and ponds, water is moved from the Rio Grande, into the refuge, then back to the river in a cycle that mimics the river’s original flood patterns. The resulting wetlands are home to many birds like these snow geese.

Snow Geese

Read more about the refuge and its birds at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge website or Friends of the Bosque website.

The refuge’s claim to fame, however, is as a wintering site for sandhill cranes. Sandhills are incredible birds, standing 4 feet tall with a 6 foot wingspan. During the day, they disperse to feed in nearby fields both on and off the refuge (the refuge plants corn just for the birds). Just before dark, hundreds of cranes return to shallow ponds where they will spend the night.

The spectacle of the cranes returning to the ponds at night attracts birders and photographers.

Sandhill Crane returning to the pond at sunset.

Against a brilliant sunset, the cranes call as they come in. It’s an amazing show.

Busloads of students and birders flock to the refuge to watch the cranes.

School bus full of birders crosses cornfield on the refuge.

If I’ve ever had camera envy, it was on this late afternoon when a bunch of photographers joined us at the pond to shoot the evening crane show. I snuck pictures with my little handheld point-and-shoot, hoping the real photographers wouldn’t notice me. Since my camera was too crappy to take good pictures of the cranes, I took pictures of the photographers instead.


Sandhill Cranes are ancient birds. A 2.5 million year old sandhill crane fossil was found in the Macasphalt Shell Pit in Florida (Read more here.) It’s wonderful and moving to witness their flight. Personally, I’d vote for more wildlife refuges and fewer shopping malls.

I did the best I could with my limited camera skills and equipment:


11 thoughts

    1. Hi Sandra– Great to hear from you! I agree about the importance of nature preserves. There’s something there that can’t be matched and needs to be protected.

  1. Beautiful shots, Janene. A good eye and sense of timing go a long way toward making up for lack of equipment. Although I can see from your photographer shot that there may have been some lens envy on your part. Thanks for sharing. I’m happy to see my tax dollars at work and that this preserve is for the time being, at least, safe from loggers and ranchers who would put it to productive use.

  2. Thanks you for sharing these wonderful pictures. Sandhills cranes are amazing birds to see and hear. Texas also has hunting for them. They are very dangerous birds to hunt. A native American guide was killed try to collect a wounded crane – bill stab through the eye into the brain. Make of that what you want…

  3. As always, thanks for sharing! Hope that Bundy and his clatch of not so merry men do not find the Bosque del Apache.

  4. Arizona, and perhaps other states, allow hunters to take a limited number of sandhills each year. I like to bird hunt, but I couldn’t shoot one of these.

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