bosque del apache national wildlife refuge

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Jan 22, 2008
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elmer, nj
in socorro, new mexico. my mother and stepfather volunteered at the refuge for a good number of years. after visiting the ghost mining town of lake valley and elephant butte state park we drove to san antonio, n.m. and then socorro. in san antonio is a road-side restaurant that is not in the best of condition, but at one time bobby flay had a 'throw-down' with the owner/chef, and one of the owner's burgers (green chile + cheeseburger) made #7 on somebodies list of best burgers across the u.s. I didn't have the chile burger, but what I had was pretty good. the volunteers from the refuge would go there just about every day for lunch. my stepfather is a hilton of very distant relation to the hotel hiltons, and since the hotel-starters' mother had had a boarding house in san antonio, he was 'known' there. (we didn't get a free lunch however :mad: ;) )

once upon a time, thousands of migratory birds would winter along the rio grande near socorro and san antonio. settlers arrived and made farms along the rivers, and generally got along with the birds and appreciated them. however, floods came along and destroyed farms and flood control was performed along the river, and the habitat for birds diminished very greatly. at some point, the government decided to restore some of the area to allow the birds to come back and stay at their former winter grounds, but how could this happen while still protecting the farmers from flooding? a whole network of canals, flood gates and fields bordered with shallow ***** was created so that individual fields could be flooded or drained depending on where the managers wanted the birds to be. fields were set up for growing crops like corn, and others were set up to hold shallow water so that aquatic food plants could grow and birds could eat and be protected from predators while in the water. wet fields are rotated so that the birds will move around from year-to-year, to try and keep the incidence of disease down and prevent overly slimy and muddy fields which might choke out plant life.

once wet fields and food crops like corn were available, migratory birds started returning to their former winter homes. now thousands of birds use the area for temporary and long-term stays, along with other avian and four-legged residents


wet field with sand hill cranes and a few ducks


yes, they actually had darted and collared a few mountain lions, and a few had
litters of cubs. there are turkeys, mule deer and other wildlife for them to eat.
these signs were everywhere, and they are serious.. in some places people have
been killed by mountain lions so when they say act 'big', be as big as you can get!


when I first saw these dabbling ducks, they all had their tails in the air which was a
little amusing! of course, by the time the car stopped and I turned on my camera
they were wondering what was up...


just across the road from the ducks were a few mule deer, including this very nice
buck. there is quite a bit of area for them to live in, and all the marginal areas with
trees are perfect for them. they and all animals are protected in the refuge, but if
they stray outside the boundaries they can be hunted. so, they aren't too afraid of people with cameras


I saw these sand hill cranes fairly close to the viewing platform, so I snuck up onto it while
they weren't looking. If I had known that if people are on docks or behind fences, the
birds don't pay that much attention, I could have just strolled up. but, what would be
the fun in that?! :)


to the left of this viewing platform you could see several separated fields, with a good
number of sand hill cranes and ducks in them. each is separated by soil berms and
have flood control gates between them and the main canal so that each can be flooded
and drained at any time


flood control gate in one of the main canals

more pics in reply thread
the rest of refuge pics


when we headed down this one stretch of road, we spotted a photographer with a
long lens between the bushes near the left front edge of this wet area. you could hear
all of the birds calling, so we decided to have a look. we were rewarded with a large number
of sand hill cranes, ducks and snow geese right up close to the viewing platform


just to the right of the previous wet field was another field completely dry. there are
two flood gates between it and a feeder canal


after watching and listening to the birds for a while it started to get darker. as the light
was diminishing, I noticed flocks of thousands of birds starting to fly by. if you look
closely above the upper line of the mountains you will see scores of birds


after a few minutes, flying birds noticed those in the field in front of us. as we watched,
hundreds of snow geese, ducks and a few sand hill cranes descended in spirals and
landed right amongst the other birds. if you look closely, you can see the taller birds
that are sand hill cranes; smaller white birds are the snow geese and the darker spots
are various ducks. though in the visitor's center there are lists of birds which use the refuge
which include canada geese, I didn't see them while we were visiting


down the loop a ways were corn fields where sand hill cranes were feeding. the managers
would estimate how many birds there were that needed food and would knock down
a few rows of corn to match their needs. if they knocked down too much corn, some
might get wasted or the birds wouldn't move around; if too little, the birds might fly away
to a farmer's field or a different area. fields were located in different areas (for crop
rotation) and to keep the birds moving around a bit so people could view them in
different areas and to try and keep the possibility of spreading bird diseases lower


as it got closer to sunset, more of the sand hill cranes would leave the feeding grounds
and fly to the wet fields for protection from coyotes and other predators during the night


someone with a big, honking camera and lens! when his flash would go off, the birds
would flinch and the whole corn field would light up briefly. he had earplugs or earphones
also so was thinking that he was recording the bird calls as well. you have to remember
that wherever you see lots of birds, they are all calling out in their own language
which was very interesting to listen to!


the sunset was spectacular here in it's own way; I saw sunlight streaming through the
tops of the mountains, across the underside of the clouds and onto the mountains on
the other side of the valley. I tried to get pictures of it, but without a very wide lens
there was no way to capture an image of it. the very underside of these larger clouds
and the smaller ones directly underneath were reflecting and refracting the light so that
they were shining in colors of red and green.. I had never seen anything like it, and
in many other instances I just had to watch and admire the sunset colors without
trying to get images of it. in a small town beyond the mining ghost town, there was
a small community that had been re-settled mostly by artists who were there to try
and capture the images and sensations of the desert. if you view desert artwork like
paintings, you will see that the colors of blue, red, white and shades in between predominate,
and these are the colors you will see during sunset and in the minerals that form the
buttes and mountains of the southwest


as we were about to leave the corn/crane feeding field, more flocks of snow geese
started flying almost directly above us, wave after wave. my mother who had worked
several seasons at the refuge told me that if I ever returned I might see the birds as nice
as we did that day, but probably not any better. we saw thousands of birds flying by
and landing right in front of us, and saw hundreds of sand hill cranes feeding in the fields and wet areas

amazing! if you ever have the chance, you should try to travel and see it!
(but bring a video camera so that you can record the sounds and the birds flying along)
Great pictures!!!!!!!! Cool place and wildlife...!! Thank you very much for sharing!!! (I might go birdwatching this Sunday....:D)
I think the 'acting big' for lions is a fallacy. Better off with a sidearm.

That muley would look great on my wall. :D

Great vacation Charles!
You combined alot of desirable activities into your trip.
Christine and I have operated shovels, picks and hammers under a hot sun for vacation a few times. We love activities like these.
thanks, and I still have more to post from new mexico and then wyoming (and I didn't even get pictures while I was skiing) (hopefully nobody got pictures of that face plant I did right underneath the chairlift) :( ;)
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