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.
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.
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.
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: