Bosque Del Apache 01 Jan 2014

After preparation including our concealed ‘security’ for a day trip, we left at 11 am Wednesday morning for the day drive south. The trip takes a couple of hours one way, due to the excess of 100 miles from our home including the graveled crawl road very slowly around the Bosque Del Apache National wildlife Reserve. while watching for nature’s creatures to appear.

As we were on the I-25 south, near another wildlife reserve, passing San Acacia north of Socorro, we spotted two of what we both instantly recognized as ‘Caracaras’. These pictures taken at nearby Bernardo, though not having Caracaras in 2012   http://www.birdingisfun.com/2012/03/bernardo-waterfowl-management-area.html   are reflective of our day at the Bosque Del Apache.

South Texas has Caracaras, very large (nearly 2 feet tall with four foot wingspan) raptors of the Eagle family, we often see them around areas near Austin and down to the gulf into Mexico. They are known as Mexican Eagles. They like open fields for hunting small rodents, lizards and birds, including eggs and chicks. Certain fields are their favorite territories and we watch for them as we camp near Lockhart Texas.

Rarely are they seen in New Mexico and only in the southern half. 2006 was the last recorded sightings from what we can gather. Weather is relatively warm and sunny today at 59 degrees. Pleasant above freezing for January, with no ice accumulation on the wet marshes south of Albuquerque, so they can enjoy the climate of NM once again.  Back in 1914 they were often noted around southern NM.

These two beautiful Caracaras are in a privately owned wildlife park, 20 miles east of Albuquerque NM, through Tijeras Canyon, to Edgewood. http://wildlifewest.org/original_site/caracara.html
Wildlife West is a steadily growing rescue facility that is open to the public. Fun place to take a day pack, lunch, casually wander and see all of the critters. They are scattered in large enclosures tucked all about in natural rural conditions of Cedars and scrub Oaks, fescue grasslands below the east slopes of the Sandia Mountains.

The rest of the day was beautiful and sunny, with lots of colorful Ducks dabbling tail-up in the marshes. We had bought a bucket of chicken from The Colonel as we left ABQ. Stopping next to one ‘upside down dabble-duck’ marsh, to eat our chicken, was relaxing. Coots were seen this trip as well. Black with white beaks rather than flat bills, a chicken-like gait as they walk or run, no awkward waddling like Ducks, they are referred to as ‘Rails’..

As we drove out of the visitor center (closed on New Years day) A great flock of a thousand or more Arctic Snow Geese wheeled and circled in front of us near the entrance. They are primarily white with black sections under their wings, seen when they fly. Peg got some nice pictures, but sort of far away for her small camera. This picture is better http://www.friendsofthebosque.org/aboutrefuge.html
There is currently about 87,000 of them camping out at BDA :>)

Sandhill Cranes  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandhill_Crane  and copious Ducks by the thousands are staying around this month, due to the nice ice free marshes, rather than pushing further south into Mexico. Flocks of big waterbirds circled above the open sliding roof, as Peg snapped a video recording them.

During a time of experimentation, New Mexico had Whooping Cranes. They are really tall birds at over five feet with nearly 8  foot wingspans.  http://www.birdrockport.com/whooping_cranes.htm  Presently Whoopers are still wintering at massive ‘Aransas’ on the Texas gulf, a Flyway far more eastern than ours. They are reclusive, near extinction and barely noticeable, miles from the powerful binoculars on the very high viewing stations at Aransas.

Feral Hogs in incomprehensibly large numbers across the south, search endlessly, swimming channels for their ground nests. The Feral Hogs, voracious omnivores, eat their eggs…. and anything else they locate. Reason they are hunted across the south. Of course the ‘anti-hunting, anti-gun’ animal rights groups are totally ignorant to the facts of runaway predation.
http://www.chron.com/sports/outdoors/article/Texas-losing-war-on-feral-hogs-4685490.php

While the Whoopers were wintering in NM, we had them walking the roads at Bosque Del Apache and staring into the windows of the van :>) A program was involved with baby Whoopers, hatch-lings being raised by Sandhill Cranes and migrating from Northern Canada, even following powered hanglider ultralights. They never fully understood the concept and the years long, interesting experiment was halted. The last Whooper seen in New Mexico, was many years ago.

Big Hawks were plentiful this trip.  http://www.digital-images.net/Gallery/Wildlife/Bosque/Raptors/raptors.html  Seems every mile on the gravel loop, we spotted big hawks in the trees, or circling on thermals above our car. The other birds seem to not be concerned. Several small hawks were flitting about searching for unwary little birds and rodents. No Bald Eagles this trip, as in the past were often noted. No Golden Eagles this trip.

West Nile Virus did nasty to many of our raptors and crows until they genetically began to develop a slight immunity. Mega numbers of Crows in great flocks were seen and photographed this year, so they are coming back. No Great Horned Owls to be seen, doesn’t mean they were not about, it’s that we could not see them in the large Cottonwood trees. Salt Cedar is still around in spite of removal programs. They block visibility from the roads in some areas. This place is really big and remote, away from settled areas.

Fewer cars and people this year, so we had the place basically to ourselves and a few dozens of other intrepid bird watchers …….with very big cameras.

The tall Sandhill Cranes like the tall corn. They peck and thrash around with the much shorter Arctic Snow Geese surrounding the Sandhills, excitedly pecking the dropped corn from the ground at their feet. A mutual lifestyle exists with no strife.

The Arctic Snow Geese are so relaxed with the Sandhills around as sentries, they sleep on the fields among them. coyotes do not stand a chance with the always vigilant Sandhills and their tall stature. As evening arrived, the thousands of Arctic Snow Geese circled in waves for their evening bed-down in the flooded marshes, safe from predatory coyotes.

We stayed near the flooded marshes long enough to witness the fly-in of the huge flocks. This year had  afew thousands less than previous years. Few Canadian Geese were seen in the reserve this time. They are still strung out to the north, along the Rio Grande towards Colorado, due to the absence of ice.

Several wetlands to the north of the reserve, are now attracting them. The farmers do not appreciate them, as they clean out the fields in short order. As we left the park, a string of flooded marshes along the access pavement, was another nightfall retreat. Saying goodby to this national wildlife attraction relatively close to home, was a great way to end New Years Day 2014.

Another 100 miles to return home after dusk, as we travel the Interstate 25 ‘Camino Real’ (King’s Highway) along the open range of the elevated west mesa. Travel along New Mexico highways is often like flying high above other terrain, especially the river valley. The lights of several communities spread out below us to the east, along the Rio Grande valley and distant slopes of the Manzano mountains. One of the brightest concentrations of lights across the valley is the sprawling Isleta Casino.
Enjoy life and Freedom, travel in the United States of America, One Nation Under God.

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