Bosque del Apache Travel Diary

29 Dec 2002Snow Geese at Dawn (49464 bytes)

Sunrise is the most exciting time of day at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico.  Each morning at dawn, some 5-10 thousand Snow Geese, with a few Ross' Geese mixed in, fly up en masse from the shallow lake where they spend the night.   They're easy to find:   just look for about 25 SUVs lining the nearby shore.  Beside each vehicle will be a photographer with a long telephoto lens mounted on his or her camera.
    Charlotte and I leave our Socorro motel and have breakfast in pre-dawn darkness, then drive to the spot just as light first appears in the eastern sky.  Excitement among both birds and humans mounts as the birds awaken, bathe in the freezing water, flex their wings, and become more vocal.  The sun's first rays hit the lake - now a few dozen birds here and there take flight.  Then suddenly without warning, they all lift away - the roar of their wings is like a tornado wind.  It is an amazing spectacle, guaranteed to impress even the most blasť birder.
Snow Geese in flight (53752 bytes)


It's over in a few minutes, as the geese fly north to fields where they'll feed during the day.  We bird around the Flight Deck observation platform, watching Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and a few Sandhill Cranes. 






Then it's off to the visitor center, to White-crowned Sparrow (47469 bytes)warm up and get some surprisingly good coffee (Socorro restaurants offer little competition).  By now the sun is well up, and we watch birds coming to water provided just outside the center:  Gambel's Quail, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Crows, Spotted Towhees, Dark-eyed (Oregon) Juncos, but most of all White-crowned Sparrows - dozens of them swarm in the brushy areas around the visitor center.  They're fairly tame, but usually perch within the dense shrubs, seldom allowing a clear view.  Unlike the black and white crowns of adults, those of the first-winter birds are tan and brown.  They are handsome nonetheless, as sparrows go.

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