For a few years now, a group of us has been renting a van and driving south of Socorro, New Mexico, for a day at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Bosque is a managed habitat for migrating waterfowl cupped in the hands of distant mountains. Miles of dirt roads weave around several large, shallow lakes. In winter, it is a great spot to see thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese among myriad other birds and some other wildlife.
We had planned to drive down the day the first snowstorm blew in. As it happened, our rescheduled date was after the third storm in as many weeks, but we weren’t going to be stopped this time.
One member of our group is a world traveling ornithologist for the Nature Conservancy, Dr. David Mehlman. Dave has the great eye, ear and encyclopedic mind of a top-notch birder. Along the way, we can’t help but learn something from him. We know our grebes, pintails and coots. We see the Ross’ geese among the larger snow geese.
I’m a lesser birder, which is to say I love seeing birds and even learning more about them, but I’m mostly here to stare open-mouthed at the beauty of the world. My heart would stop for a sandhill crane even if I didn’t know that name. While the others stare through binoculars, I’m taking pictures. As they flip through well-worn bird books (Dave makes us do a little work for ourselves), I sip coffee and marvel.
Our slow drive around the bosque is also a movable feast, a finger-food potluck on wheels. Even after gorging all day on bison empanadas and prosciutto filo triangles, we all look forward to green chile cheeseburgers in Antonito (at the Buckhorn for two years and the Owl Cafe before that).
Every New Mexican and birders from all over owe themselves a pilgrimage to Bosque del Apache for the sunset fly-in or the dawn fly-out. Be sure to lower your camera and be quiet to drink it all in. mjh
I’ve posted a couple of dozen photos, mostly of sandhill cranes at:
Bosque del Apache – a photoset on Flickr
mjh’s blog — Bird Man of Albuquerque (no, not me!)