by Brent M. Jones
The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is about a two hour drive south from Albuquerque, New Mexico. You drive to Socorro, and then another 11 miles to San Antonio, where there is a 8 mile loop road that follows the Rio Grande river and the refuge.
"Woods of the Apache" is what "The Bosque Del Apache" means. "Bosque" a word that is borrowed from Spanish, meaning the forest or woods, referring to the habitat found on both sides of the Rio Grande River.
Over 350 different bird species have been observed in the Bosque del Apache, where huge flocks of wintering cranes and geese are the refuge's most interesting feature.
The Sand Hill Cranes are large tall birds with long legs and necks. They pair up for life and usually have one or two chicks. These birds migrate from Canada, Montana and Utah in the winter and they will fly a chick South for the winter, to teach them the way, and encourage the offspring to be independent.
November to late February is the best time to see large numbers of birds in the Bosque del Apache when typically over 10,000 Sandhill Cranes and 20,000 Ross's and Snow Geese can be seen. Sunrise and sunset is the best time to see the bird while they roost in the refuge before leaving in the morning to feed or after returning from the fields in the evening.
We spent a couple of days at this refuge a few years ago in the late fall. We had been told by a friend to just watch the birds in the morning after sitting overnight roosting on the water and to wait for when the first ones takes off. When the rest then all at once follow the sky fills and that is the time for the best pictures.
We were excited and hoped to really see them all get up into the air at once but it turned out that the birds flew in several groups not just one. .
The road edge near the roosting birds was lined with people holding big cameras with huge, expensive, telescopic lenses. Plenty of tripods topped with Nikon and Cannon camera where the lens alone can cost between $2500 and $12,000 and even more line the nearby road with professional bird watchers. Som had camouflage pants and jackets.
Just like the birds, the people would move up and down the road in groups. One guy would break first from the group and then it seemed like all the others would follow.
We did see some people, amateurs and first timers, just watching, like we were doing, so we found our way into their little groups. Us folks with the smaller lens, and even just with I-Phones, just didn't fit in and some walked around by themselves, so as to not be embarrassed.
It was mostly the men that had the "big" lens with extensions, and tripods. It also seemed like the women showed up a lot later and were standing in their own groups.
We were one of the first on site at "The Bosque Del Apache" that special fall day, arriving early morning before the sun rose. When the light broke it was amazing to see how many birds were actually there.
The birds, the professional photographers, and all those watching were a treat to see.