A pair of Sandhill Cranes takes off from the Track Pond at Bosque del Apache, New Mexico, their shimmering reflections echoing their flight.
A colorful New Mexico sunset adds a gorgeous background for a group of Sandhill Cranes flying in to their nightly roosting spot. The posture of these silhouetted cranes appearing to float down makes me think of Mary Poppins floating down to earth holding onto her umbrella.
2019—Starting the Day
There are two kinds of starts to the day in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. Either the Snow Geese, after congregating in a huge white flotilla on one of the ponds during the night, explode in a swirling mass of white and the entire flock takes to the air and disappears flying to another area of the refuge to feed. Or, they peel off in small groups and, group by group, the flotilla gets smaller until finally the pond is empty. The latter is much quieter and much less dramatic. While it’s a disappointment when the anticipated explosion doesn’t happen, there is still something very appealing about watching the small groups as they take to wing with determination.
A few weeks ago just outside Yellowstone National Park’s North entrance, we encountered a flock of Bighorn Sheep. Most of the sheep ignored us as we stood on the road photographing them as they went about eating before bedding down for the night. Every once in a while one or two would stop and stare at us, then continue what they were doing. This group of ewes didn’t pay us the slightest attention…except for the one on the end who let her curiosity get the better of her.
2019—Why Not Just Flock?
I am always fascinated by the collective nouns used to describe a group of birds—a murder of crows, a gaggle of geese, a paddling of ducks, a squadron of pelicans. Some make sense. Others are a puzzlement. I wondered about Sandhill Cranes and found lots of different terms that are apparently used to describe them. The collective terms for cranes include herd, construction, dance, sedge, siege, and swoop. Some of these are likely derived from crane behaviors like dance and swoop. My guess is that sedge refers to the sedge-filled marshy habitat cranes frequent. I wonder if construction is a nod to construction cranes? I’m not sure how siege might describe cranes. A herd implies to me a lumbering mass of wildlife and is not what I see in cranes. Why not just call them a flock?
The gorgeous New Mexico sunrise and the cool morning temperatures with enough moisture in the air made for a perfect pairing of color and mist at Bosque del Apache. Snow Geese, silhouetted against the golden sky, fly through the morning fog.
2019—He’s Gonna Find Out…
…Who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town. This skinny Father Christmas doesn’t look like the jolly, pudgy Santa we’re used to seeing despite the “Ho, Ho, Ho.” Better check that stocking for a lump of coal.
Merry Christmas everyone!
Sandhill Cranes are elegant in the air, flying effortlessly from pond to field with slowly beating wings. Much of the time while we were visiting Bosque del Apache earlier in December, the skies were clear and cloudless providing an uncluttered background for this Sandhill Crane heading off to find a meal before roosting for the night. Taken with Nikon D5, 500mm PF lens.
2019—Abundance of Raptors
In December, there is an abundance of Raptors at Bosque del Apache. Red-tailed Hawks watch patiently for prey from high perches. Northern Harriers cruise the meadows and fields in search of a meal. Bald Eagles sit majestically on bare branches in the midst of a pond. American Kestrels swoop down to the levees to retrieve small critters and insects. This American Kestrel was a star on the loop that circles through the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Every day we were there last week, it would perch in a tree above the levee at the edge of a particular pond until it saw prey, then would fly down to attack. It was so predictable that cars congregated on the side of the road and birders and photographers would walk down the road to whichever tree the Kestrel had selected for its perch for a better view. We stopped a couple of times.
2019—Leaving the Pond
As the light comes up at sunrise, the Sandhill Cranes begin to leave the ponds where they roosted for the night in search of food. Here a pair of Sandhill Cranes takes flight, splashing through the shallow pond as the Snow Geese watch.
One of the hazards faced by photographers at Bosque del Apache is the distinct possibility of being hit by bird poop. It is especially threatening when there is an explosion of Snow Geese and thousands of birds suddenly take off. Squadron after squadron of geese fly directly overhead and many of them relieve themselves as they take off, like this Snow Goose.
2019—More to Offer
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge has lots more to offer than Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. Those two species are by far the main attraction at the refuge but there is so much more there. Among the regular visitors to the ponds around the refuge are lots of species of duck, including these Northern Pintails swimming on the Track Pond at sunrise.
The Visitor’s Center at Bosque del Apache is more than just a building with information about the refuge. The area surrounding the center is planted to attract much smaller birds than the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. On a walk through the area among the species we spotted were White-Crowned Sparrows, Goldfinches, Spotted Towhees, American Robins, and of course, the Gambel’s Quail. The Quail were shy and scurried under the low bushes near the trails to hide. This male Gambel’s Quail made his way along a branch above where a female watched him. Then he disappeared from sight behind the foliage between me and the quail.
2019—Geese in the Mist
On our first morning in Bosque del Apache the low temperature and moisture in the air combined to create a wispy mist that covered the surface of the pond. As the sun rose behind them, a few Snow Geese flew off, silhouetted by the orange glow behind them.
2019—The Peel Off
Snow Geese. What amazing spectacles they perform over and over at Bosque del Apache. Photographers, birders, and nature enthusiasts alike crowd together on the roads and levees throughout Bosque del Apache just waiting for the blast-off when thousands of Snow Geese explode into the air with a cacophony of sound and the thunder of wingbeats. They do this with regularity and almost always predictably at dawn. The mass of birds flies overhead like a huge squadron of airplanes heading to the next location. Then, at some indecipherable signal, they blast off once again from the new location. If observers miss the dawn blast-off, they’ll usually see it at another location in the Refuge. But, sometimes there is no blast-off. Instead of the entire flock of thousands, just small groups of two, five, a dozen geese peel away from the group. But for whatever reason, the other geese are not persuaded to leave with them. Eventually, that pond, too, will be emptied of geese but instead of instantaneous abandonment, it can take hours. The ponds are quiet then, left to the Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers to patrol the waters. This is a small group of Snow Geese, peeling off from the main flock at the Track Pond on Sunday morning.
The reflection of the mountains behind the Track Ponds at Bosque del Apache colors the water orange Sunday morning in New Mexico. It is reminiscent of the orange-red glow from the setting sun in the evening at the same spot. The mountains are lit by the bright morning sun and the color reflects onto the water making a gorgeous backdrop for this Sandhill Crane as it took off for its feeding grounds somewhere else in the Refuge. A gaggle of Snow Geese floats in the pond in the background. Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF.
2019—New Mexico Sunset
The magnificent New Mexico sunsets provide a kaleidoscope of gorgeous oranges, reds, and magentas that color the clouds, sky, and water and create stunning landscape vistas. The Track Pond at Bosque del Apache has a fiery glow once the sun dips below the horizon. Sandhill Cranes, looking like tiny dots in the water, begin to settle in for the night.
2019—Friday the Thirteenth
Friday was our second morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Maybe it was because the day was also Friday the Thirteenth, but the morning started out a little differently from what we’ve been used to on mornings in Bosque del Apache. It wasn’t really ominous but the weather was much warmer than usual for this time of year. It was almost 30 degrees Farenheit at 6AM. That might sound cold to some but here, warmer weather causes the wildlife to act differently. We started out the morning to find for the best possible location to photograph the first Snow Goose “blast off” of the day. This is a spectacle where thousands of Snow Geese explode simultaneously into the air with a thunderous roar of wing beats and goose calls. It is exciting to witness and a challenge to photograph, and it is why we’re here. But we could not see nor could we hear geese anywhere on the ponds in those areas of the refuge where we were allowed drive and where we usually find them. But, the refuge is large and much of it is off limits to visitors. Whether it was the temperature, or something else, the geese and even most of the Sandhill Cranes spent the night in remote areas of the refuge where we could not find them. Moose decided that our best bet was to visit the Track Pond on the highway because frequently after a morning blast-off, the geese come in waves to that pond. His bet paid off. Although we didn’t experience the blast-off, when they began to arrive from a distant pond before sunrise, we were ready for them. The morning sky with just a tinge of red was filled with wave after wave of Snow Geese heading toward us. The moon hadn’t set so its bright light created reflections of them like white dots on the still waters of the pond. It was a beautiful sight to see. As it turned out, Friday the Thirteenth was a good day.
2019—Land of Enchantment
Sunsets in New Mexico are stunningly beautiful. The blazing clear reds and oranges in the sunset skies result from the clear, pollution free air found in this desert environment with its wide open spaces. It is no wonder the state is known as the Land of Enchantment. In November and December, Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese congregate in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is a stopover for the migrating flocks as they make their way north to their breeding grounds. This is my fourth visit to Bosque del Apache in as many years to photograph the birds here. As the sun dips below the horizon and paints the sky with its brilliant colors, the Sandhill Cranes fly in to their overnight rest stops. This quartet is preparing to land on the Track Pond just outside the boundaries of the refuge.
2019—Love of a Lifetime
Watching the huge breeding colony of Northern Gannets at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland, Canada this past October was an experience of a lifetime. The sheer numbers of these huge birds living in such a confined space is an amazing sight to see. The gannet rookery on Bird Rock, a sea stack there, numbers more than 20,000 individuals. Each pair lays and incubates a single egg during the nesting season. Northern Gannets are monogamous and they mate for life. They are pelagic so they spend most of their lives at sea but they return each year to the same space on the rookery and to the same mate. How they do it each year, finding their mate and their nest site, is extraordinary. Each time a pair reunited on the rock, they performed bonding rituals that were so charming to watch. Sometimes they intertwined their necks; sometimes they preened each others feathers; sometimes they presented their mates with moss or grass for their space, whether or not they still had a chick. These bonding rituals happen whenever they reunite, whether they’ve been apart an hour, days, or months.