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Monday, February 01, 2010

Visiting The Cranes,Part 1, At Last

Before it gets just too far behind me, I'm going to tackle writing about our trip down to the wildlife refuges along the Rio Grande last weekend. The Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex encompasses four waterfowl areas located between the towns of Belen and Socorro run by the New Mexico Dept. of Fish and Game. The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge just south of Socorro near the tiny village of San Antonio is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There is another NWR along this corridor, Sevilleta, that is less accessible to the public, and is largely a research facility. As you can imagine, this Rio Grande corridor is an amazingly rich area for many different recreational wildlife activities, such as hunting, fishing, and the one in which I engage, birding. These areas are managed to provide food, water, shelter and space for many species of wildlife, but are perhaps best known as the wintering grounds for many bird species, most notably the Sandhill Cranes and Arctic Geese, but including birds of prey, many species of ducks, as well as irruptive flocks of smaller birds.

My partner and I have been visiting this part of New Mexico for many years, long before we had any thought of moving here. We fell in love with the landscape, and the magical dance of the wintering cranes on our first exploratory trip out here, and have been returning as often as possible ever since. This trip was to introduce our friend Julia, from Austin, to these Big Birds. As she had begun the year with a trip to the Texas Gulf coast to see the Whooping Cranes who winter there (my post on that same experience here), she was delighted to complete the circle in this way.

The weather promised to be dreadful, and up until the moment we got in the car on Friday we were not sure if we were really going to do it. But we bravely packed our foul weather gear, binoculars, trail mix, Julia her cameras, and set off down I 25 for our first stop at Bernardo. This area is part of the Ladd S. Gordon Complex, with a driving loop supposedly accessible to the public. It had rained ferociously that morning, and we pulled off the access road into deep mud, only to find the drive-in gate closed and chained, with a sign stating "CLOSED DUE TO BAD WEATHER." There was no bad weather that we could see, and we could hear cranes calling from just around a big clump of brush and trees. So, we set off walking along the trail through ankle deep mud. After fifteen minutes of walking, we were past the obscuring brush and walking along open fields full of cranes and snow (arctic) geese. There are two observation towers on the trail, and while Julia took her time taking photos along the edge of the fields, Gail and I explored both towers. It was just entirely too muddy to walk the whole loop, and after about forty-five minutes we were quite cold and hungry. On our way back to the car we started seeing bluebirds darting in and out of tree branches, down to puddles on the ground, and up to the top of the observation towers.There are three possible kinds of bluebirds here right now, eastern, western and mountain. We finally were able to focus on a couple of them closely enough to decide it was a flock of mountain bluebirds, with perhaps some western bluebirds mixed in.    

Terminally hungry and cold by now, we stopped in Socorro at a small Mexican cafĂ© for a warmup and lunch. From there we went on to San Antonio to find and check into our Bed and Breakfast, poetically called The Dancing Cranes (They don't yet have a website I can link to, alas, as it is a lovely place.). It had been recommended to me by a friend, an artist who spends a lot of time birding in that area, and we were most grateful for her suggestion. Our hosts, Jim and Jana, were very welcoming and had helpful suggestions for where to go for the evening fly-in. At the Bosque we explored the Farm Loop by car and by foot, seeing hawks, flocks of pine siskins, more bluebirds, a bald eagle; then headed for the North Ponds to await the Main Event.  Fly- in happens more or less at sunset when the cranes and geese fly in to the refuge ponds to take shelter there for the night. It is usually an occasion for hordes of people with cameras sporting lenses the size of antiaircraft missiles to line the banks of the ponds and photograph the landing birds. The weather was so cold and windy, so threatening of snow or rain, that there were very few of this human species that evening.  We stayed watching and listening to the birds flapping in and settling for the night, as the sun managed to break through the thick grey clouds and give an approximation of sunset behind the mountains, stayed until total darkness fell on all avian and human life. Back at The Dancing Cranes Jana had a delicious vegetable bake, red wine, and apple cake waiting for us.  Weatherbeaten and exhausted, we all went to bed about nine o'clock, knowing we'd need to be heading for fly-out predawn.  (To Be Continued)

4 comments:

sunflowerkat321 said...

This place has just been plopped right at the top of my "must see" list. Can't wait for part 2!

marigolds2 said...

Well, okay, finally. You have a permanently outstanding invitation to come make our casa your casa for as long as you like during the wintering bird season.

Aine Butler-Smith said...

This place sounds wonderful! We have a couple of places here where the birds gather, I've been to one way out in the desert near a lake called Crystal lake, there are some prehistoric pupfish there too. Every spring the rangers tag the birds that migrate through there and they will let kids help them.
There is another closer to Vegas that I haven't visited yet, I'm planning on it though, and anywhere in NM is a place I would love to visit. Thanks for the pics.

Aine

Robbie said...

Popping in to catch up. Sounds divine!