Every year in November, thousands of sandhill cranes migrate from Canada and the northern United States to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Our visit to New Mexico coincided perfectly with that migration. It was an excellent low-energy trip, allowing Anna to see lots of wildlife without walking and worsening her symptoms. We spent portions of three days at the refuge.

Before the trip we purchased a better zoom camera. The long telephoto lens made it much easier to photograph birds without spooking them. Copious wildlife activity meant we got plenty of practice with the new camera’s controls and features.

Sandhill cranes migrate to Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge in November
Sandhill cranes migrate to Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge in November

Bosque del Apache is situated next to the Rio Grande, along the migration path of many bird species. With many natural sources of food, water, and protected habitat disappearing over time, Bosque del Apache plays a key role in the success and survival of the birds that pass through each year. Refuge staff carefully manage water flows and crop fields to provide the right food at the right time for each species when it arrives.

A collection of geese has many fun names, including a
A collection of geese has many fun names, including a “blizzard”, “chevron”, “knot”, “plump”, or “string” of geese.
Snow geese migrate from northern Canada
Snow geese migrate from northern Canada

This short video conveys the sheer quantity of birds that visit Bosque del Apache. It was so cool to watch:

We signed up in advance for a free van tour of the refuge. The tours are led by enthusiastic, knowledgeable volunteers. Spotting and identifying new bird species is much easier when you have an expert pointing them out! We felt like we were on a North American safari.

Wilson's snipe
Wilson’s snipe
Great blue heron
Great blue heron

We also explored the refuge on our own. We drove more slowly, and sat and waited longer than most other visitors. As a result, we saw all kinds of birds and other creatures we would have otherwise missed. Patience is always a virtue, but that goes double for wildlife viewing.

Don't forget your binoculars!
Don’t forget your binoculars!
Striped skunk
Striped skunk
Wild turkeys
Wild turkeys

In addition to the birds and animals pictured here, we saw many others we failed to capture well: a bald eagle, javelina (a pig-like animal also known as a peccary), roadrunner, American white pelican, bufflehead, cattle egret, long-billed dowitcher, northern shoveler, ruddy duck, northern harrier, meadowlark, softshell turtle, and more.

Waiting for sunset when the sandhill cranes return to roost
Waiting for sunset when the sandhill cranes return to roost

When the cranes started to arrive, it felt like a great performance had begun.

Sandhill cranes have an impressive 6 foot wingspan
Sandhill cranes have an impressive 6 foot wingspan
Sandhill cranes are very social
This photo makes us laugh! Sandhill cranes are very social, frequently calling and dancing together.
It was mesmerizing watching each set of cranes glide gracefully over the pond
It was mesmerizing watching each set of cranes glide gracefully over the pond
Sandhill cranes like to roost in shallow water for protection from predators
Cranes like to roost in shallow water for protection from predators

We played around with our new zoom camera to capture some footage of the cranes’ graceful motion and boisterous calls. Here’s a short video we created from the clips:

Sunset at the crane pond
Sunset at the crane pond

Spending time with thousands of beautiful birds was a unique and wonderful experience for us. We hope some of this experience came across in the post. Happy Thanksgiving!

22 comments

  1. OMG, Anna and Chris,
    I too, love to watch 🦅 in nature, but this was beyond the beyond‼️And how you arranged for the amazing sky: quite breathtaking.
    Thank you 🙏🏻
    Ginny Zimmerman

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  2. Anna and Chris, thank you for sharing this experience! It makes my heart sing! I have to add this refuge to my road trip list for next fall/winter. I am thankful for people like you and Chris and for what you bring to our community!💫

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  3. Those two Sandhills cranes backlit!! And the earlier film of geese rising into the sky— it was almost like I was swimming on my back underwater, watching bubbles popping on the surface!

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  4. Wonderful footage and photos!
    How close were you to the birds? Since you were zooming in, I don’t have a sense of that.
    I’m struck by how noisy it must have been at times when the flocks returned to roost in the evening.

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  5. Wow! What an experience this must’ve been. Who knew you could do a safari right here in America? I especially love the videos — they really capture the movement and sounds of these amazing birds. Extraordinary!!

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  6. I’m excited to see some sand Hill cranes on our area a couple weekends from now. Thank you for sharing this beauty! The zoom lens sounds like a wonderful way to insure you to sit and capture the wildlife. Lots of love to you. Tonight we have predicted 18 inches of snow. Hope you both are warm and happy.

    Love, Mags

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  7. Hi Anna and Chris, I have a old friend who just had a decade birthday, who has been an avid birdwatcher all his life. I would like to purchase a copy of the sandhill crane landing with wings spread. I’d like an 11 x 14 if possible. Please contact my email and let me know how we can make this happen! Your post about the New Mexico refuge was really delightful. A lovely gift. Thank you,
    Judith Ivan
    Aunt Marilyn’s long time friend

    Like

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