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Bird and Wildlife Watching in New Mexico

We love wildlife and we have had the opportunity to go to Africa, a trip of a lifetime. The wildlife watching was incredible. Here in the United States while we do have birds and wildlife we never thought the chances of photographing these amazing creatures was all that plentiful. Well, we thought wrong! Bird and wildlife watching in New Mexico in incredible. I love photography and so this is a haven for me.

During the pandemic we ended up living in South Florida for a year. Being that we were all recommended to practice social distancing, we spent an enormous amount of time exploring the abundance of bird and wildlife preserves all over the state. Gators, various other reptiles and birds, really, really big birds. Many were plentiful, but one in particular proved to be somewhat illusive and you will see how this particular bird fits into this blog entry on bird and wildlife watching in New Mexico. The Sandhill Crane.

Bird and Wildlife Watching in New Mexico

Still engulfed in the pandemic we decided to move back to a state we have loved for decades. New Mexico. Not anything that is similar about Florida and New Mexico. Not the climate, not the elevation and not the wildlife…….or so we thought.

Once we got settled here in New Mexico we decided to head out exploring. Timo had done some research and had found that there was a bird and wildlife preserve a couple hours south of us, Bosque Del Apache. After our experiences in Florida I was not expecting much.

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

The bosque in case you are not familiar with the term it is a forest habitat along the flood plains of stream and river banks. I was familiar with the bosque in Norther New Mexico in the higher elevations, the Rio Grand River. However we were going further south to lower elevations and the valleys are more expansive.

After stopping at the Bosque Del Apache visitors center in January 2022, we left with a map and the knowledge that the bosque is a favorite spot to watch the Sandhill Crane (same bird as Florida) migration. We arrived to find a enormous sprawling wetland, where the Rio Grande spreads wide a shallow. We also saw there were all sorts of birds resting, splashing in the water and filling themselves with all of the delicate greens in the slow moving waters.

It was early afternoon when we began our drive around the bosque. We came across what looked like white sand bags out on a harvested field. They were far away, but with my zoom I could see that they were some sort of geese, which we would later find our were Snow Geese resting as they made their long migration. Down the road a little further, sure enough we found a small group of Sandhill Cranes. Amazed that they were here in New Mexico, but they were also very far away.

We continue driving around the loop and found some deer by the side of the road and further on down we ran into some Snow Geese in much greater numbers foraging and a few more Sandhill Cranes. Still to far to get any really nice shots at that kind of distance even with my 200-500 zoom. Feeling a little deflated after viewing wildlife in Florida where we were often literally just feet away from not just birds, but gators too.

Bernardo Wildlife Area

We decided to head to our hotel in Socorro, but would stop at the Bernardo Wildlife Area first. We had heard there were Sandhill Cranes there. As we entered the area straight was a large view platform. Then just to the right there were not just a handful of Sandhill Cranes, there were 100s if not a thousand! This was the Sandhill Crane migration! They were landing, taking of and feeding on the corn cobs left in the fields.

Large flock of Sandhill Cranes foraging through the spent cornfields. Some birds are taking off. Mountains and blue sky in the distance.
For original artwork CLICK the image

These birds are very wild, unlike the couple of cranes we saw in Florida. The cranes in Florida were residents and were familiar with humans. On one occasion we were within 2-3 feet a pair with their chick, just trying to pass each other on the very narrow trail. Sandhill cranes are big birds, standing as much as 4 feet tall. I kept muttering to myself, “please don’t peck my eyes out, I’m not going to hurt your baby”. The cranes in New Mexico were not familiar with humans and were constantly aware of our presence and kept at a distance.

We were able to get a few good shots at the Bernardo Wildlife area and these are a couple of our favorite Sandhill Crane images.

Majestic single Sandhill Crane resting on one leg on a subltle painted background of blue clouded sky and golden fields
For more information on purchasing the artwork CLICK the image.

 

Our Second Visit to Bosque Del Apache and Bernardo

We really did enjoy view the wildlife in the Bosque and surrounding area. We decided to go a bit earlier in the migration and we were there in late December 2022. On our way down we stopped at the Bernardo Wildlife Area. The cranes were in neither of the two places we saw them last time. We did find some in a corn field. sort of reminded me of Jurassic Park. We could hear them, but could barely see them in the tall corn. Every now and then you see an eye peering at you, again very aware of where we were. They made a honking noise reminiscent of the tiny dinosaurs. Tried to get some pics but they were just to fast.

We found many more cranes and Snow Geese in another location, but they were pretty far away. I did manage to capture a Mountain Bluebird which I had never seen before. The prettiest blue darting across the harvested corn fields.

A tiny little blue bird rests briefly in a golden cornfield
For more information CLICK the image

We went down to the Bosque Del Apache in the afternoon and pretty much saw what we had seen last winter.

Bosque Del Apache Before Sunrise

We again stayed in Socorro for the night so that we could be up before the sun and down to Apache. It was cold, really cold. Pitch dark and 13 degrees with a chill coming off of the water. We had been told that this is the best time to be there. Slowly we started seeing headlights of other cars arriving in the darkness. We followed them to an area called The Flight Deck. Still not sure where to go we we stopped at a viewing deck just as the sun was starting to rise on the horizon. The wetlands were just beginning to come to life. I watched a group of small ducks swim as a circle as the worked to break the ice that had formed around them and they in single file they paddled further out into the water.

Then I heard it, this incredible noise of honking. I looked to the north in the dim light and the sky was full of Snow Geese flying toward us. They never reached us as they had stopped a half mile further down the road. We jumped in the car and headed down there.

Silhouetted against an orange sunrise 1000s of Snow Geese fill the sky.
More info, just CLICK the image

There were the Snow Geese having landed right on the ice. 100s of them and they continued to arrive in waves. Just sitting on the ice, some watching us as we watched them, others going back to sleep for a little while more. There was about 8 Sandhill Cranes with them. It was beautiful!

As the sun continued to rise they eventually began flying away and we went on to explore in the frosty early morning. We encountered this beautiful coyote. We had stopped to watch another coyote pretty far away out on the ice, apparently hunting. As we were just beginning to drive away Timo says “oh, look what’s behind us”. I turned to see this handsome coyote watching the larger coyote out on the ice. Grabbed my camera and tried to move into a position where I wouldn’t have to get out of the car and scare him away. I open the door just a hair, twisted myself all around to get this shot. We were in our Prius, already low to the ground and he walked right by us. Those eyes!!

Beautiful young coyote closeup with gorgeous golden eyes
To learn more about him CLICK the image.

He walked on by, still watching the coyote on the ice and then dropped down on the other side of the road. We drove on. About 20 minutes later we found him again stalking a flock of Mallard ducks. Not sure he had a chance there. They were watching him, watching them and he had no where to hide, but he did try to be sneaky, walking away like he was not interested and then swinging back around, staying as low to the ground as he could. Even yawning acting like he was sooo tired and was probably just going to take a nap.

New Mexico is affectionatly known as the Land of Enchantment. We call it home and what a beautiful home it is. Bird and wildlife watching in New Mexico is some of the best.

There is so much more to learn about New Mexico. We would love to have you join us on one of our Walking Tours in Santa Fe, discover the rick history of the City Different at About Santa Fe Walking Tours.

 

 

 

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