Bosque Del Apache National Wild Life Refuge is the ultimate paradise for birds in winter. Thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese migrated here for the winter. Just an hour drive north of Truth or Consequences, we arrived at Bosque Del Apache at sunrise (about 7 a.m.). Thousands of moving black dots with changing patterns appeared in the sky. Those were large flocks of birds circling in the sky. There was no sight of sandhill cranes on the water only a few ducks. Apparently we missed the scene of sandhill cranes taking off from the water at sunrise.
We drove along the north loop hoping to see sandhill cranes on the fields. Shortly we found several cars parking by the road. Thousands of sandhill cranes congregated on the fields and water. Wow! We got out of the truck and walked to the viewing deck. It was only 14° F and freezing cold, but some people were already there watching the birds. The unique ancient sound of sandhill cranes woke up the chill morning. Their sounds can be heard miles away. You usually hear them before seeing them. I could tell sandhill cranes flying over when we stayed at Pancho Villa State Park Campground. I was so excited seeing so many of them up close.
The slowly rising winter sun cast a warm hue to the landscape. There in front of the glowing woods were two big groups of sandhill cranes. Those sandhill cranes on the frozen wetland were close to us. Another group was on the fields to the left of the wetland. A bald eagle was sitting in front of sandhill cranes on the fields as if watching over them. Some cranes lifted in the morning sun and flew to other places; Some flew from one spot to another; A few cranes opened their wings and flapped gracefully; But most of the cranes were still resting on one leg with a tucked-in neck. My eyes were glued to the viewfinder taking photos and videos. I wish I could capture the beautiful moments of these elegant birds.
The scene in front of me was like a poetic painting:
Hazy mountains emboss the western sky,
yellow cottonwoods and grass glow like fire.
Two lines of sandhill cranes glide high,
and a thousand cranes awake opening their eyes.
These sandhill cranes were mainly Rocky Mountain sandhill cranes. They are the largest among all the sandhill cranes with a four feet height and a six feet wing span. An adult sandhill crane is mostly gray with a red crown. Covering over 57,000 acres, the Rio Grande River created a sanctuary for birds. Winter is the best time to view the biggest number of sandhill cranes and snow geese here. Some 15,000 sandhill cranes overwinter here.
We kept going along the north loop. A field covered with white birds like snow on the ground came into our vision. Snow geese! And thousands of them! The sun was up and it was breakfast time. They were foraging on the field. The white snow goose has black tips on its wings. There was another group of snow geese on the other field across the road. And a group of sandhill cranes were also feeding on another field. After a while, flocks of snow geese took off at once and landed on the field across the road. There were so many of them flying above my head and I was not sure which one to focus on. The sounds of the snow geese and sandhill cranes filled the valley like a symphony. What a stunning view!
We turned to south loop. There was nothing interesting on the open water until suddenly a group of moving black creatures by the road caught my eye. We pulled over and got out of the truck. They were javelina! This was the first time I saw javelina and up close! It was a family. Several javelina were scared away as we stepped out. But there were five of them stayed. A big javelina and a small one were only about 10 feet away from me. They were eating from the ground behind the brown tall grass, looking towards me occasionally. Javelina have a pig-like nose and are about 3 to 4 feet long. Prickly pear cactus is their favorite food. The big javelina had its back towards me most of the time and raised its head and looked at me with its small eyes at last. I wondered if that was a warning sign and returned to the truck. That was an unexpected encounter. Cool!
We kept driving on the south loop. A mule deer appeared by the road. It saw us and jumped along the trees by the roadside for some distance. Finally, it reached an opening and jumped into the water and waded across. It shook off water and watched us driving by. The trip to Bosque was such a memorable one. The ethereal sounds of sandhill cranes and the flight of hundreds of birds are still vivid in my mind.