The sights and sounds of sandhill cranes above Elephant Butte Lake Campground told us that they must be in Bosque Del Apache National Wild Life Refuge now. The early snow in Colorado might have driven them from their home in the Rockies. A typical fall sunny day finally arrived after five unseasonal cold days. We made a trip to Bosque Del Apache – a safe haven for birds in winter. We had a wonderful visit to the Bosque in the middle of December last year. Today’s visit was also a memorable one.
In the late morning, there were only a few sandhill cranes on the North Loop. They might have flown south to the farmlands for food during the day. But we were glad to see a big flock of snow/Ross goose on a shallow wetland. They traveled thousands miles from arctic. Most of them have white feathers, a few have dark feathers and a white head which might be adult blue morphs. Nearby were a flock of long-billed dowitcher. Backlit by the sun, they appeared black with a distinctive long bill. Most of the snow geese were quiet, either preened their plumage, or tucked their heads to the back for a nap. Some of them walked around, extending their necks and uttered some sounds talking to each other. Once in a while, almost all the geese raised their heads and looked towards the same direction as if they received a command. Later we saw hundreds of snow geese took to the air from the distance. It was a wonderful scene when they circled above the trees. They were in flight for quite a while, and finally landed back to the water.
We drove to the South Loop and walked on a nice boardwalk above a pond in the wind. Tall cattails and willows surround the muddy pond. A few small turtles were sunning on the logs in the water. Everyone enjoyed this warm sunny day. Among the waterfowls were a couple of bufflehead ducks. The wind sent the ethereal sounds of sandhill cranes to our ears, and it sounded like there were a lot of them out there somewhere. But we just didn’t see many of them on the ground except occasional flocks of sandhill cranes high up in the air. To our delight, a few small flocks gracefully flew across the nearby grove of fall color tinted cottonwood.
Leaving the pond, we continued our tour on South Loop. We passed a great blue heron standing by a ditch. After that, Stephen spotted a running javelina on the field and stopped our truck on the road. The javelina emerged from the roadside and ran across the road right in front of the truck and disappeared in the bush. That was exciting!
We kept driving slowly on the gravel road. Suddenly, Stephen uttered, “There is a big snake on the road!” He pulled over the truck. We got out and walked back. Oh my God! A huge snake coiled on the side of the road trying to warm up. We walked to the other side of the road across from the snake, and stood probably ten feet away from it. I was thrilled and frightened at the same time. But for some reason, I was calm and took photos and videos of the snake. It was a huge rattlesnake probably 18 inches. It didn’t move but stared at us while hissing its purple tongue. After observing the rattlesnake up close for a few minutes, we quietly walked away. It didn’t move a bit. That was the first time we ever seen a rattlesnake in the wild! And we were lucky it didn’t strike.
After lunch, we drove on the road towards Socorro. We finally found flocks of sandhill cranes and ducks at the Bosque. They were foraging on a wetland right by a big paved parking lot. These are the early arrivals of tens of thousands migratory birds that spend their winter here in this safe haven. I hope this winter all the birds will have plenty of food and water and stay warm. And we will see them in the Rio Grande Valley from time to time.