Skip to content

Festival of the… Geese?

11/26/2013

Oh, right, Cranes.  It’s the Festival of the Cranes.  Held each fall at Bosque del Apache near San Antonio New Mexico, it is the big birding festival for the state.  I had never been to it before in the almost 3 years that I’ve lived here.  And since we’re moving away in the Spring, this year may be my only chance to attend.  As it worked out, I could only get down there on the final day of the festival, Sunday the 24th.  Plus it was the one day with openings for the various tours.  So I booked the ever-popular Walk Out to the Fly-Out and a refuge birding tour.  I looked forlornly at the various Owling and photography sessions, but they were out of my scheduling window.  Another, albeit nice, wrench in the works was word that a tour from Pittsburgh and the Western PA Audubon Society would be in New Mexico the week of the festival.  It worked out that I was able to meet them for part of their trip to Santa Fe on Friday the 22nd.

I met them at Randall Davey Audubon Center  in the morning and the weather was looking dire. Lots of low clouds and no sign of the Sun.  Sure, familiar weather for Pittsburghers, but not really New Mexico weather. To make a really long story short, the birds were okay at Randall Davey.  We got 2 of their target birds, a lone Clark’s Nutcracker circling off in the distance and lots of Pygmy Nuthatches.  In fact they were running over some trees like ants on a Hummingbird feeder. We estimated 15 of them, but there could have been more.  I managed to get some good photos of some of them.

Pygmy Nuthatches, Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe NM

Pygmy Nuthatches, Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe NM

And this Canyon Towhee was keeping out of the snow near the visitor center’s feeders.

Canyon Towhee, Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe NM

Canyon Towhee, Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe NM

It was nice hanging out with some Pittsburghers for the day.  Although, the lack of coffee or Gray Jays at the Santa Fe Ski area made me feel really bad, they understood that’s how birding goes sometimes.  I hope that they all come back to visit New Mexico during May or the Balloon Fiesta some time.

And now for the Festival of the Cranes.  The lousy weather in New Mexico was continuing and lots of snow was actually forecast for Saturday night and into Sunday.  And remembering the words of Amundsen, that “Adventure is just bad planning”, I set off Saturday night to get ahead of the storm.  I called and made reservations at the Birdwatcher RV Park just outside of the Refuge’s boundary and planned on sleeping in the Element.  I made it down to San Antonio fine and the snow was already coming down.  Route 1 was snow covered as I made my way to the RV park.  I got there fine, found a place to park and set the Honda to camper mode.
I woke up the following morning at 4:30 to find snow covering most of my windows.  What I did not find was my Gore-tex boots, which I was sure that I had packed, but now were gone. I had a nice pair of shoes and some gaiters, so that would have to do. I cleaned off the car while it was warming up, put on 5 or 6 layers and headed to the refuge.  There was four inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming down good.

Snowy Route 1, San Antonio New Mexico

Snowy Route 1, San Antonio New Mexico

I made it to the Bosque del Apache Visitor’s Center and nobody else was there besides festival personnel. I was the first and, what appeared to be, only one there for the fly-out.

Bosque del Apache Visitor's Center, NM

Rista and Snow, Bosque del Apache Visitor’s Center, NM

One of the refuge firefighters, Jake, was going to be my personal chauffeur to see the birds.   But a few more people showed up around 6am to make the trip out.  What is normally dozens of people in buses were a few hearty fools in some 4wd trucks.

Fellow Fools, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fellow Fools, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

We were driven much closer than usual and even scared some geese into flying before we even got out, but there were still plenty there to see.  Along with a few thousand Snow Geese were some Sandhill Cranes, some ducks and 3 Greater Yellowlegs, which would be lifers for me.

Snow Geese and Cranes, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Snow Geese, SACR and GRYE, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Birds would fly off in dribs and drabs.  Some were flying from other ponds, but the ones in front of us were holding strong.

Pre-dawn, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Pre-dawn, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And then, a few geese raised their heads, and others followed them looking up, and then all of a sudden, a very noisy mass ascension occurred.

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

After less than a few minutes, all of the Geese were gone.  A few Sandhill Cranes and lots of ducks stuck around, but the space was finally empty.

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Fly-Out, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Everyone piled back into the trucks and we headed back to the Visitor’s Center.  There still weren’t many other festival goers there, but there were lots of birds out at the feeders.  There were lots of White-Crowned and White-Throated Sparrows, Green-Tailed and Spotted Towhees, some Crows and House Sparrows.

White-Throated Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

White-Throated Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

White-Crowned Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

White-Crowned Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And an odd amount of Red-Winged Blackbirds joined in the feasting.

Red-Winged Blackbirds and Sparrows, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Red-Winged Blackbirds and Sparrows, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

But then one of my nemesis birds appeared.  I had been to Bosque del Apache 5 times this year without seeing one, sometimes it was my target bird with no luck.  And then a female Pyrrhuloxia just shows up in the window.

Pyrrhuloxia, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Pyrrhuloxia, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

But the great birds were done yet.  A Golden-Crowned Sparrow was reported earlier in the week and it was back.  Everyone got some good looks at it.  It isn’t totally uncommon in New Mexico, but was nice to see.

Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

I signed-up for a birding tour of the refuge also that morning.  I signed up hoping to get a Pyrrhuloxia on the tour, but now didn’t need it so I could relax and enjoy the ride and the various birds that we would see. It ended up being a good day.  There were so many Sparrows out.  I got another lifer sparrow, a Savannah Sparrow on the ice at the South end of the refuge.

Savannah Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Savannah Sparrow, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And for every Sparrow that we saw, it seemed like we saw a Red-Tailed Hawk or a Northern Harrier out hunting.  This one was doing some impressive aerobatics diving after prey.

Northern Harrier, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Northern Harrier, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And this Bald Eagle was out enjoying the bits of Sun.  People who had been there watching it said that it had just got done eating an American Coot.  Gross was my reply, but everyone has their tastes.

Bald Eagle, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Bald Eagle, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Bald Eagle cleaning its beak, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Bald Eagle cleaning its beak, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

There were also a few ducks and other waterfowl everywhere.  These Buffleheads and and Lesser Scaups were close to where the Bald Eagle was hanging out.

Buffleheads and Lesser Scaup, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Buffleheads and Lesser Scaup, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

And these ducks were north of the old rookery in the middle of the refuge.

Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers and American Wigeons, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers and American Wigeons, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

It seemed as if all of the Snow Geese from this morning flew to the North end of the refuge.  Something kept making them fly up, around and then back where they were.  Some of in the group thought that we saw a Bald Eagle cruising far off in the distance, but we didn’t get a good enough look to be sure.

Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

The snow made for some really nice scenery.

Geese flying, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

Geese flying, Bosque del Apache NWR NM

RTHA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

RTHA, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

 

At one point the skies cleared out and the snowy roads turned into muddy ones.

Snow Geese, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

Snow Geese, Bosque del Apache NWR, NM

After all of the snow and despite the fact that some of the vendors closed up early, or didn’t show up, I had a really good day. I had 46 species including 3 or 4 lifers and a few odd-balls (American Avocet was one of those).  I even managed to get myself an early holiday present that I can’t wait to use this weekend in Phoenix. We’re on our way to spend the Holidays (Thanksgiving and Hanukkah) with my wife’s family and I’m hoping to see Crested Caracaras and Thrashers while I’m there.  Hope everyone has safe travels and thanks for making it this far.

Cheers!

 

PS:  Since I’ll be moving away from Albuquerque I’ve decided to change up the name of the blog.  I have a nice idea in mind that we reflect my almost complete dedication to birding and bird photography.  I may simulpost or link to the new one.  Details will follow, but it probably won’t be until January.  I plan on posting some year summaries and best photos of the year.  And if anyone would be interested in a 2014 calendar, let me know, nothing fancy, just something from Costco.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: