by Larry Fenson
Bosque del Apache is a National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico that offers terrific opportunities for observing Sandhill Cranes, snow geese and other species of birds on their annual migration from western Canada, after a flight of some 1700 miles. Sandhill Cranes are large birds - that stand nearly 4 ft. tall and weigh up to 10 pounds. They have long necks, long legs and wingspans of 6 ft. or more.
The reserve is located along the Rio Grande near Socorro, New Mexico, just off Interstate 25, about 2 hours south of Albuquerque. A 12 mile loop road allows observation in prime viewing locations along a large lake, nearby wetlands and open fields. Hiking trails are also available in the refuge.
The refuge was established in 1939. In earlier times, the area was a natural wetlands. As the region was settled, the conditions that made the area an ideal wintering area for many species deteriorated as a result of the diversion of rivers, overgrazing, excessive hunting and other assaults on the natural terrain. At the time the reserve was established, annual Sandhill Crane counts were in the teens. The population of snow geese and other annual visitors had also slowed to a trickle.
Bosque del Apache has become a major
success story for the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
By restoring the water source and working with farmers to plant corn, winter wheat and other native plants and grains, the refuge has been revitalized to a spectacular degree. Each year, as many as 20,000 Sandhill Cranes, 40,000 snow geese and substantial numbers of other birds now winter between November and late February at the refuge.
At dawn huge flocks of Sandhill Cranes and other waterfowl arrive from their nearby nesting grounds, creating a spectacular sight. The mass departures at sunset are equally dramatic.
Lucky visitors may also see quail, pheasants, roadrunners, and the endangered Whooping Crane, as well as bald eagles and other birds of prey. Deer, coyotes, and other smaller animals such as muskrats and porcupines can be found in the reserve year round.
The reserve attracts close to 200,000 visitors per year. An annual 'Festival of the Cranes' is held the weekend before Thanksgiving as large numbers of Sandhill Cranes begin arriving at the refuge. The cottonwood trees, found in profusion along rivers, are also at their color peak in October and November.
For more information,
The US Fish and Wildlife Service