Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter Interlude: Bosque del Apache

Snow Geese at Sunset (Photo by Narca)

The Rio Grande River hosts many thousands of wintering Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, Ross's Geese, and other waterfowl. Nowhere can these spectacular flocks be enjoyed and photographed more beautifully than at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

The experience isn't simply one of enjoying impressive flocks of impressive birds. Somehow, when these birds are placed in the Bosque habitat, rich with the rusts and golds of winter, and beneath the expansive New Mexico sky, the whole encounter wakes me up, deeply. The clear light, the cold air, the rattle of cranes––all of it is profoundly rousing.

This time I've journeyed to the Bosque with Noel Snyder, Tony Donaldson and Rod Drewien. Rod is actually working, counting the geese, while the rest of us play. His counts this year of the white geese reveal a mix of roughly 75% Snow and 25% Ross's Geese. Rod has censused geese and cranes for decades, and brings exceptional expertise to the task.

Tony in the lineup (Photo by Narca)

At the Bosque, ponds along the lightly-used highway north of the refuge are a traditional lounging site for geese and cranes. Photographers also stage here at dawn and dusk, hoping to capture that perfect moment when light bathes the waves of incoming cranes and geese. We endure the early morning cold, to watch as sunlight begins to limn the cranes and to ignite the white geese.

Sandhill Cranes (Photo by Narca)

Two coyotes cruise along the shore and cause momentary alert interest among the cranes.

Coyotes and Sandhill Cranes (Photo by Narca)

The cranes stir, preen, dance. We know when they begin to contemplate flight, because the arousing birds stalk towards the edge of the gathering, craning their necks. Soon wave after wave of cranes is airborne, off to find the day's forage. In evening they return to their safe harbor for the night, as do we.

Dusk at Bosque del Apache (Photo by Narca)

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