Bosque del Apache
Bosque del Apache is Spanish for “woods of the Apache,” and is rooted in the time when the Spanish observed Apaches routinely camped in the riverside forest. Since then the name has come to mean one of the most spectacular national wildlife refuges in North America. Here, tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, and many kinds of ducks, gather each autumn and stay through the winter feeding on the grains provided by the abundant farmland. This is a must-see place for all wildlife photographers.
My first visit to Bosque was just 10 days ago. We departed the Denver area on December 12 for the long 7-8 hour drive to San Antonio, New Mexico (about 90 minutes south of Albuquerque). The weather was dismal and the forecast was not encouraging. We arrived that evening in the rain. Further, we discovered that the roosting ponds were frozen over due to a major winter storm only a few days earlier. The sandhill cranes were roosting in the Rio Grande river in areas that are not accessible to the public. They were also feeding in fields outside the refuge where the corn crop was more abundant. Poor weather, no sun, and no cranes. What bad luck.
We started our photographic hunt the next morning under cloudy skies driving over rain-soaked muddy roads. The reported 40,000 snow geese were easily spotted on the north loop of the refuge. We watched and photographed in awe as a blizzard of snow geese exploded into a swirl of white and wings, at the slightest provocation, and would swarm about, sometimes right over our head.
One goal was to capture the sandhill cranes roosting at sunset and rising at sunrise. On our last night at the refuge we did get one decent sunset and a good sunrise the next morning. We found a small, partially frozen pond where the cranes were roosting. I have attempted to put this in a short movie/story that includes video clips, audio and stills of some of my best images:
We also saw several hawks, 4-5 eagles, one roadrunner, one coyote, bobcats and mountain lions. Just kidding on the bobcats and mountain lions. Bobcats are in residence, but we did not see any. We did see signs everywhere “beware of mountain lions”. We just laughed it off until we heard that the rangers were doing a plaster cast of a fresh lion footprint near the entrance of the refuge. Oh, to get a photograph of one of those!
You can read more about my Sandhill crane photography in a previous post.
While predators and power lines are a constant threat to the cranes, the greatest danger of all is disappearing wetlands due to development, which in turn affects the cranes’ total population. Annual surveys monitor the population of the birds to help manage the balance between population, wetlands and field food sources to sustain them. Hopefully this will help preserve this spectacular event for generations to come.