Birdwatching at the Bosque del Apache Festival of the Cranes

Chupadero Mountains near Socorro, New Mexico, with snow geese and sandhill cranes.

Despite the early hour, the snow geese and sandhill cranes were quacking, squawking, chuckling, and generally making a loud ruckus.

This weekend we made a little jaunt down to Socorro, New Mexico to attend the annual Festival of the Cranes at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. 

We had been invited to join friends and soon-to-be friends in birdwatching and photography. After a quick lunch, and even quicker tour of Socorro, we met up with our friends and headed over to the refuge to scope out the birds and the location.

Snow geese, cranes, the Chupadero Mountains in New Mexico, dawn.

The Chupadero Mountains turn rosy at sunrise, while cranes start lifting off.

The Wrenaissance Man and our friends from the Grand Canyon photography trip were hoping to capture some exciting images of the mass gatherings of snow geese and Sandhill cranes that overwinter each year at the refuge. Our new friends were nature enthusiasts who attend the festival nearly every year to enjoy the drama of thousands of waterfowl in flight and the comedy of individual birds interacting.

Photographers taking pictures of snow geese and sandhill cranes.

Sometimes watching the birders and photographers is more fun than watching the birds!

After learning about how and where the birds gather and disperse in the park, we enjoyed dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and headed to an early bedtime. To reach the site of the next morning’s lift-off we would awake at 4 am.

Birdwatching in Socorro, NM, at the Festival of the Cranes.

It was just below freezing, but the birders were out in force!

We arrived at the pond in the dark shortly before 5:30 am. Temperatures were around 29F, or -2C, with little or no wind. Fortunately, I had prepared by bringing fresh-baked bran muffins from home, and 2 aluminum thermos canteens with a mix of hot coffee and cocoa! 🙂

Even in the dark, the sleeping birds were cackling and squawking.

As the sun rose, so did the noise level. The snow geese and cranes began to preen and socialize within their flocks. Now and then, a few would fly up, then circle around and land.

Around 7:00 am, the snow geese suddenly ascended en masse. The deep beat of their wings and the honking calls were nearly deafening. The water and sky were filled with a chaotic flurry of white and blue as they took off.

The cranes stayed behind, but they slowly began to fly away in groups of 3 or 7. We noticed that cranes have an interesting “tell” when they are about to fly. One bird will extend its neck straight forward at a 45° angle for a few moments, then spread its wings and lift off, causing others to join it.

Wetlands near the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge, Socorro, NM.

A stately cottonwood at water’s edge shelters ducks.

By 7:45, only the ducks were left behind.

We spent the rest of the day in the refuge itself, going from pond to field, as the birds moved around from feeding ground to feeding ground.

It was a marvelous day. The weather warmed up to a sunny 60F or 15C by mid-afternoon, with very little wind. The photographers filled up their memory chips, and I got many gesture sketches of bird postures.

The festival takes place in late November each year, but the winter birdwatching season at the Bosque del Apache has only just begun. We learned that there are even more birds, and the landscape more spectacular in December and January when snow covers the ground, and in February, when the Sandhill cranes perform their mating dance before heading back north to their summer nesting grounds.

Goose feather on the ground. Birdwatching in New Mexico.

All that remained after the morning lift-off.


Thinking about my next project . . .

Yellow mushrooms found on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona, while hiking in nature.

Mushrooms are a classic autumn subject!

Fall is not far away here in the high desert. Overnight temperatures are back in the 50s. The roadside is full of yellow and purple asters. And of course, the chamisa is starting to bloom.

One day while we were on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the photography group headed out in search of bison. The buffalo were camera-shy that afternoon, so the photographers worked on creating abstract patterns with aspen trunks. In the meantime, I looked on the ground for inspiring plants and flowers.

Yellow, coral-shaped fungus or wild mushroom, found while hiking at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Arizona.

Does anyone know what species of fungus or mushroom this is? It resembles a sponge or coral.

The bright ochre yellow of these mushrooms and fungi really stood out against the detritus of the forest floor and the gray, drizzly skies!

Both of these would make exciting subjects for a botanical watercolor, don’t you think?

Wildflower Wednesday: Maybe an orchid?

Colored pencil sketch of a red-stalked, leafless wildflower with round seed capsules, found at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Could this be a coral root orchid? Enquiring minds want to know!

This unusual looking plant was growing by the side of the Bridle Trail in the North Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. It’s just under a foot tall, and is leafless with a dark red, subtly striped stalk.

Arizona wildflower, leafless, with a red stalk and round seed capsules.

I can hardly wait to find out what it is!

I immediately thought it might be a coral root orchid. Unfortunately, the seed capsules are roundish, and the two coral roots in Arizona have ovalish seed capsules. I sent in a photo to one of the rangers, who had said she would pass the information on to one of the botany specialists on staff.

If you have an inkling as to which species this might be, please drop me a line in the comment box! 🙂

Wouldn’t it be so exciting if it were an orchid?

Welcome Wildflower Wednesday link-partiers! The Wildflower Wednesday link party is the brainchild of Gail Eichelberger of Clay and Limestone blog. Go take a look at some of the exciting late-summer wildflower images people are sharing from their gardens and hikes. Enjoy!

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