Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bosque del Apache

This refuge along the Rio Grande is the home of thousands of Sandhill cranes and snow geese migrate here during the winter in New Mexico. During peak season it has been estimated that more than 100,000 cranes, ducks and geese winter at Bosque. It is easily reached by flying to Albuquerque and driving south to San Antonio for about 50 minutes, a one traffic light sleepy town. There are two major eateries in town, the Owl and Buckhorn, tried both famous for their Chili Burgers and Fries and the later was featured in Food Network early in the year. Socorro is the bigger town about 8 miles of San Antonio where some of the Festival’s events take place. The image below does not have the best colors but that is due to the early morning light.

The refuge is a man-made complex of wetlands and farm fields where corn is raised to attract the birds. The Bosque del Apache is kind of a misnomer since there are not forests (Bosque means forest in Spanish) and no Apache Indians to be seen. It borders the Rio Grande that farther south becomes the boundary between the USA and Mexico that empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Aldo Leopold who is considered the father of wildlife management, started his career here back in the early 1910’s.
By coincidence, I arrived there Monday the week of the 22nd when the annual “Friends of Bosque de Apache” festival was taking place and departed on a Thursday just as huge flocks of of bird watchers and photographer were arriving. The event included sales of art by the local artists, tours of the refuge as well as bird seminars conducted at the Refuge Headquarter.

In the way back to Albuquerque later in the week, I stopped back at the refuge for the sunset incoming flights of geese and cranes into the water impoundments just south of the Refuge Headquarters in Highway 1. Parking was hard to find as well as a choice location to photograph in the shoreline. There were more long telephotos at this location that there were at the recent Olympic Games in China. Unfortunately the incoming flights were not as heavy as I saw early in the week.

Among the birds there the Sandhill cranes were the largest birds while the Snow geese probably the most numerous. There were several species of ducks and birds but these were not easily photographed.

The cranes were the most interesting since they seem to be in pairs with some siblings trailing alone. It was funny early in the morning since it appears that the cranes legs got frozen into the pond’s surface ice and while trying to brake the ice, they loose their equilibrium and after breaking loose, they appeared to skate on the ice and slipped all over. Some will stump the ice with the legs to break the ice to move on while others waited later into day for the ice to melt. When taking off, one could see like a ring of ice in the legs (see image below), they would beat the wings and run to get air speed and would slip, slow down and try again.

Why are they called Sandhill cranes? I research this but could not find an explanation as well as why the young ones are called colts. Fortunately one of the blog visitors provided insight into the name; it is due to the sandhills in the Platter River, I was further educated and told that the proper name is Greater Sandhill cranes or scientifically Grus canadensis. Paired cranes engage in synchronized conversation and it is said that the female calls twice for each one call of the male…how do they know this since both sexes look the same? I found out that there are 6 subspecies of which 3 are not migratory and found in Mississippi, Florida and Cuba. Below is an image at the end of the day and these group just landed to spend the night. I was told that the reason why they sleep in the impoundments is for protection against predators. While in Bosque, I witnessed coyotes trying to capture cranes while these were feeding in the cornfields with no sucess.


Ken Conger Photography said...

Don Jose,
Very comprehensive post with dynamic images. Like the photo of the incoming crane with wings open the best. I was not aware that Leopold worked at Bosque.
Blue Skies.

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

Beautiful Jose!! This must have been a terrific sight although the Chili Burgers and fries sounds like indigestion food. :)

I am torn between the first two pictures as to which is the best. I love the first one but the action shot of it landing in the second, makes it very eye-catching for me and have to agree with Ken on it.

You have once again added some very interesting information and I loved the piece and picture of the ice around their legs. :)

As to your question on the name, I found the next bit of information. In my research, I also found the piece on the fossils so I thought I would add it here for you. I hope you do not mind?

“The common name of this bird references habitat like that at the Platte River, on the edge of Nebraska's Sandhills in the American midwest.

The Sandhill Crane has one of the longest fossil histories of any extant bird. A 10-million-year-old crane fossil from Nebraska is often cited as being of this species, but this is more likely from a prehistoric relative or the direct ancestor of the Sandhill Crane and may not belong in the genus Grus. The oldest unequivocal Sandhill Crane fossil is "just" 2.5 million years old, over one and a half times older than the earliest remains of most living species of birds, which are primarily found from after the Pliocene / Pleistocene boundary some 1.8 million years ago. As these ancient Sandhill Cranes varied as much in size as the present-day birds, even those Pliocene fossils were sometimes described as new species.”

jeannette stgermain said...

I love the crisp colors in your photos, Jose! that must have been some trip:)

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