Monday, January 19, 2015

Bosque Del Apache and White Sands with mom

Last summer, I gave my mom a trip for her birthday. Our plan was to meet in Albuquerque and drive an hour south to Socorro, NM where the Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes winter.  It would be a mixed bird watching and photography trip.  The downside is that we had to wait from July to January so all the birds would show up.

Mom at the airport.
We stayed in the little town of Socorro and drove the 15 miles to the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. Bosque is an easy area to see.  It has a big figure-8 roadway that covers most of the refuge.

Right near the entrance, we started the trip with a very convenient Kestrel.  With that background, he almost looks fake, but trust me, he flew off a few seconds after I took this.
Raptors were everywhere.  We saw Bald Eagles, Kestrels, Red-Tailed Hawks, Coopers Hawks and Ferruginous Hawks.  A handful of the eagles had the recognizable white head, but there were quite a few immature ones.

This guy seemed to be taking this watch shift.

So much of nature photography is the sunrises and sunsets.  This one was pretty but we had a lot of clouds and even some heavy fog.  You still get to see a lot but the photos aren't as nice.
Near the entrance to the refuge is a nice little visitor's center.  They have a big picture window looking out at a collection of bird feeders.  While we were watching, this Curved Bill Thrasher popped in.  I had never seen one before.
We also got a feeder visit from this Pyrrhuloxia. It looks like a Cardinal, but with a much tougher name.
One of the main attractions of Bosque del Apache is the morning takeoff of tens of thousands of Snow Geese.  The noise and frenzy of action is incredible.  Of course, when you look up to watch them fly over, keep your mouth closed or risk the taste of goose poop.  We escaped the trip poop free.
While the massive takeoffs are impressive, my favorite thing to photograph is the geese as they fly in for a landing. This is a nice example of both the normal coloration and the blue morph of the snow geese. I would guess one in 50 is a blue morph.
They drop their landing feet and cruise in.
They always try to land into the wind to slow their speed. This is great for photography because it makes them more predictable.
The other bird that is there in great numbers is the Sandhill Crane.  Pretty obvious that we are supposed to go looking for them, but I am not sure if the Kestrel on the sign is supposed to be our guide.
We get a handful of cranes around Park City in the summer, but the Bosque gets about 8,000 in the winter. Someday I may have to fly to Nebraska where they see hundreds of thousands.
If you think that cranes look prehistoric, you are right.  They have been around a LOT longer than humans. (Unless you are a strong Genisis believer, at which point we all got put on earth within a few days.)
While the Great Blue Herons look a bit like the cranes, they were only around in one's and two's.  I think they are beautiful birds.
We also wanted to find some interesting mammals.  Our wish list included, in order, mountain lions, bobcats and coyotes.  What did we find?  This cute little fellow.  He hadn't even made our list.  He wasn't that far away and that tail stayed up, so we were very caraeful not to appear as a threat.
One afternoon we got lucky.  We were watching a field full of geese and cranes when a coyote approached.  He started slowly stalking around, seemingly ignored by the birds.  When he finally chased after some, they all just took off and he walked away hungry.  Later, he got a bit more clever.  He dropped down into a manmade irrigation ditch where he was out of sight.  Suddenly, we saw a head pop up.
After a minute of watching, he came springing out at full speed.
Unfortunately, the geese all got away again.
And the coyote was left standing in the field with one amused crane.
A few minutes later, the coyote popped out of the irrigation ditch again, this time with no warning.  I didn't get photos, but he came down with a prize.
The other geese just watched as he settled down for a bite to eat.  I guess it is just expected in the life of a goose.
About 10 minutes later another coyote came into the field. He looked around for his own goose, but decided to come visit.  We thought we were going to see a fight for food, but they must have been a pair. The second just walked up, said "nice catch", and went off to find another bird.  Apparently, just as the sun was setting, he did just that.  We had left that area before then.
In addition to the wildlife, I grabbed a few other scenic reflections along the way.

After a couple of days in Socorro, we packed up and headed for the White Sands National Monument.  Along the way, we passed the White Sands Missle Range.  In Soccoro there were quite a few hunters staying at our hotel.  It seemed late for elk or deer, so I asked what they were hunting.  It turns out that they have imported Oryx from Africa for exotic hunting on the missle range.  We never saw one, so I had to borrow this shot.  That would certainly be an interesting sight if you were just driving by.
We spent an afternoon out wandering around the dunes at White Sands.  They are quite beautiful.  As you can tell from mom's coat, even though it is sunny and in southern New Mexico, it is pretty chilly in the winter.
The lines in the sand are formed by the winds and they make interesting patterns everywhere.
The plants in the dunes are always fighting against the shifting sands. It is certainly a tough life.  The white sands are caused by gypsum, which is disolved in water over the years, but the water in this area is in a basin and doesn't have anywhere to flow.  It feels like a very fine sand.

I think that White Sands would be most interesting right after a big wind storm, when all the dunes are freshly remade, with new shapes and patterns, and no footprints or people.

Mom and I got to spend four great days together.  The weather was cloudy, but we were lucky not to have rain or snow until the last few hours of the last day.  This was my third trip to Bosque del Apache and each time I see something new and interesting.  I had a wonderful time mom!

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