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Jun 20, 2020 | by Sal Ingraham

Nothing can prepare you for the splendor of morning flight in Bosque del Apache NWR in the fall. Until you’ve seen it for yourself, you will hardly believe the enthusiastic reports of friends. Until you’ve heard what several thousand snow and Ross’s geese sound like when they lift at once from a pond, you can’t comprehend such a noise. No matter what spectacle you have witnessed in life, you will still be impressed by this one. And in fact, every time you see the silhouettes of sandhill cranes against water pinked by sunrise, or watch a massive swirl of white geese stream off against purple mountains…whether it is the first time or the 50th…you will feel the awe rise in you.

Snow and Ross’s Geese rising in a “panic”, a typical sight throughout the day while the geese feed in the fields at Bosque del Apache – photograph by Kevin Loughlin

Bosque del Apache, in central New Mexico, was set apart as a national wildlife refuge in 1939. It’s 57,331-acres provide an important stopover for migrating waterfowl in the spring and fall. It’s fields and ponds, and stretch of bosque-lined Rio Grande, provide a winter home for tens of thousands of cranes, geese, and ducks.

30,000-acres of Bosque del Apache is Chihuahuan desert, rising up to the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east. The desert is the playground of quail, jackrabbits, Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes, many species of colorful lizard, elk, Mule Deer, coyote, and the rare Mountain Lion.

Sandhill Crane against the Chupadera Mountains – photograph by Kevin Loughlin

In the bosque (Spanish for woodlands, and referring to the particular type of forest found along riparian flood plains of stream and river banks in the southwestern) you can find bobcat occasionally, and perhaps a squadron of javelina. And of course, so many birds!

The highest concentration of birds will be found in Bosque del Apache in the winter. When the refuge was first established there was a dismal count of 17 Sandhill Cranes. That number has soared to an average of 12,000 cranes wintering on the refuge.

Add to that about 70,000 snow and Ross’s geese, 40,000 ducks (generally about 14 species), and plenty of other avian residents (the eBird hotspot for the refuge proclaims 375 species) and you get a recipe for spectacular birding.

We usually visit in late autumn, attending the annual Festival of the Cranes and as a stop on our New Mexico Big Year tour! Put this amazing destination on your list!

Bosque del Apache in November – photograph by Kevin Loughlin

Sandhill Cranes at Bosque del Apache – comic by Sal Ingraham

Cranes at sunset – photograph by Kevin Loughlin

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