This winter I revisited the Bosque del Apache Wetlands Wildlife Refuge where many migrating birds call their winter home. I love this place. There is so much to take in at the refuge. Around just about every turn you can see something new, whether it is a waterfowl, songbird or falcon, the experience is a ton of fun for any wildlife enthusiast. There is even the great possibility of seeing Collard Peccary, White-tailed deer, bobcat, fox and even cougars as the area is prime habitat for many kinds of wildlife.
While there I took great pleasure in seeing Snow Geese, Great Blue Herons, American Coots, Northern Pintails, Canadan Geese, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs and the wonderfully majestic Sandhill Cranes. Though at this time of year migrating waterfowl steal the show, I also spotted Ladderback Woodpeckers, American Kestrels, Redtail Hawks, Common Ravens, Cooper’s Hawks, White-tailed Deer and other songbirds. It was a lot of fun and I am already looking forward to my next visit.
Listening to the orchestra of bird sounds was one of my favorite parts of the visit. The wild chatter brings about primitive feelings and stirs a keen awareness within. Being fully immersed in the wild-ness of it all is one of my favorite experiences in any wilderness area I visit.
Bosque del Apache is considered one of the most important wildlife refuges in North America. Located in New Mexico along the Rio Grande, the refuge provides critical habitat and protection for many migrating and endangered birds. Those who visit the refuge during the migration are often deeply taken by the magnificent Sandhill Cranes. During a migration season as many as 14,000 Sandhill Cranes and 32,000 Snow Geese can be observed at the Bosque. This year however, bird counts revealed a major decline. The signs of the seasons are shifting as global temperatures warm. Many birds are delaying their migrations so fewer birds are being seen at the refuge.
According to Bosque del Apache refuge manager, the refuge is seeing about one-third to one-half of the cranes normally seen this time of year. This is major. Migrating birds normally return to the wetlands in early November and remain there until late February. This year October was the warmest on record. So birds naturally stay put longer.
Earlier Springs also influence migrations. Spring run-offs that feed the Rio Grande River are starting earlier and in lower quantities, affecting the river and wetland water supplies that so many birds rely on. Earlier run-offs means the water in rivers and in the wetlands deplete sooner than normal. Which in turn means that migrating birds will also leave the refuge earily than normal.
Still, around 4,800 Cranes (which is what the counts were mid-December this season) is an impressive sight. Though 14,000+ Cranes would truly be a sight to behold! As impacts of climate change are being revealed season by season, it is still worth visiting the refuge. Truthfully, most people cannot differentiate between 5,000 and 10,000 birds anyway, so the experience will still be a spectacular one.
The Bosque is also a great place for wildlife photography, year-round. Though I can normally achieve a lot with my camera, this trip made me realize how much I could use a larger lens as I experienced many missed opportunities of wildlife due to distance. However, I look forward to my next visit and do plan to return to the wetlands at least once more before the end of winter. It is truly an enchanting place.