©Bert Gildart: In a recent conversation with Maggie O’Connell, Public Affairs Officer at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, record snow geese have been recorded for this month. On November 10, Bosque, as it is commonly called, recorded 55,000 snow geese, so when conditions are right, this is the way you might see it–right now.
Though the accompanying photography was taken last February when about half that number remained, the image provides some indication of the magnificence of these birds as they lifted off for a day of feeding in surrounding fields. The sound of their flight and the sight of their numbers was staggering.
Bosque attracts not only snow geese, but as well it attracts Pintails, Gadwalls, Mallards and all the other species we commonly call ducks. Of great significance is that Bosque also attracts Sandhill cranes, and this year Sandhills also congregated in record numbers.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, in February of 2006, when Janie and I were there, crane numbers totalled 19,050, and that, too, represents a record. Who knows what this February might provide, but you can’t go wrong by traveling to this high plains refuge to find out for yourself, and learn more about a successful conservation story.
Briefly, cranes are not endangered to a large degree because of the cooperative practices of land owners throughout the country. Specifically, wildlife managers cooperate with local farmers, who grow barley and some of it spills onto the fields. At Bosque, Maggie says that because the grain is leftover, its loss has no impact on agriculture, but the practice has created crane habitat.
Cranes can be seen in expansive fields of the refuge throughout, and if you’re like the late and great newscaster Charles Kuralt (an inveterate RVer whom I fantasize I’m emulating in my RV), you’ll always remember the haunting calls, which may indeed, as Kuralt once reported, “invade your soul.”
Cranes produce three different calls, the contact call, guard calls and unison calls, and Bosque is an excellent place to familiarize yourself with this magnificent species—and all their social activities. Plan to spend a week, something that is easy to do if you are an RVer, as Bosque Bird Watchers RV park is nearby. For non RVers, motels are also nearby, just a little further away.
According to Ms. O’Connell, numbers of various populations are determined by extrapolation, and using such techniques, she says that on many winter days, visitors can expect to see over 1,000,000 birds of all species, making Bosque one of the places bird lovers should place at the top of their must-see winter list.
Yet another excellent winter destination that we can personally report on is Big Bend. In fact, the fall issue of Airstream Life carries my story on this national park whose Rio Grand River creates a vast portion of the line of demarcation that separates Mexico and Texas. This huge park is another we visited last winter.
Not only is the park well known for its geological beauty, but it is also an excellent destination for birders who enjoy such species as the Road Runner—and for those who love seeing indigenous but unusual mammalian species such as the javelina.
Javelinas are a fascinating animal to watch and we often saw them in our campground—and as we canoed the Rio Grand River. On such occasions, we would beach our canoes to watch—and to learn more about them.
Javelina thrive in this desert park, and during hikes, sometimes made from our canoes, we’d stumbled across cuttings of prickly pear, places where huge chunks of the plant had been munched—and we’d wondered how any animal could eat spines and all from this dangerous-looking plant.
But ingest them they do, and naturalists say they do so by using their feet to hold the pads of this cactus. Then they peel back the skin and spines to eat the juicy insides, often consuming the spines, easy to do, perhaps, if you have a thick leathery snout.
Of course there are many other excellent national parks and refuges, but you will have to work very hard to find any that offers more opportunities for bird photography than does Bosque in winter.
Likewise, you’ll have difficulty finding a national park with more spectacular geology and wildlife than Big Bend.