Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pure Magic

Frosty morning at Bernardo (Photo by Narca)

Bernardo Wildlife Management Area, north of Bosque del Apache in New Mexico, is attracting huge numbers of Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese and Ross's Geese this winter. Their corn crop is ample, and many thousands of cranes and geese are feasting on the bounty.

Noel Snyder, Tony Donaldson and I arrive early on this very cold morning. Frost envelops the sparkling plants. A trio of Mountain Bluebirds watches our progress along the canal. Temperatures plunged to 12ยบ F last night, and many of the flying cranes have folded their legs, tucking their toes under their belly feathers to warm them. Usually cranes fly with extended legs, and these seemingly legless, truncated birds look odd indeed.

Cold toes (Photo by Narca)

At Bernardo we are able to draw closer to the cranes and geese than at Bosque. Our slow arrival by car stimulates the cranes to dance, perhaps as displacement behavior. They are slightly agitated, slightly nervous, and dancing seems the thing to do in response.

Dancing Sandhill Cranes (Photos by Narca)

Snow and Ross's Geese descend in a blizzard of white, against the wintry New Mexico sky.

Geese over cranes at Bernardo (Photo by Narca)

Bernardo is part of the complex of refuges along the Rio Grande between Socorro and Albuquerque. Much of the area is closed to minimize disturbance to wintering birds, but you can drive the 3.5-mile tour loop. Take exit 175 from I-25, and immediately turn north along the road (314) which parallels the interstate. Within a couple of miles you'll reach the entrance to the tour loop. The habitat here is more agricultural than at Bosque del Apache. Getting so close to these impressive birds is a real treat!

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