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.
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.
This short video conveys the sheer quantity of birds that visit Bosque del Apache. It was so cool to watch:
High winds made for a very noisy night on Santa Cruz Island. Gust after gust whooshed down the valley, rocking trees and sometimes cracking branches. As the sun rose, before everyone else woke, Chris decided to explore the cliffs above Scorpion Campground. Up there he found a perfect mix of drama, beauty, and solitude.
The wind remained fierce. When Joe and Becky emerged from their tent, it immediately blew away with all their gear still inside. They quickly retrieved the tent and collapsed it, preventing it from turning into a kite again.
We had planned to kayak through sea caves today, but that trip had been cancelled due to the bad weather. Now our hope was to catch the emergency ferry back to the mainland at noon.
Over the past two days (see Day 1 and Day 2), we heard so much conflicting information regarding ferry times and weather that we didn’t fully trust anything people told us. We decided to be on the safe side. We packed everything up and walked to the dock, planning to wait there all morning in case a ferry arrived before noon.
While we were eating breakfast on the beach, other campers came by and informed us that they called Island Packers and were told that the emergency noon ferry had been canceled. There would be no ferry service to the island at all for today. We were shocked, and to be honest, a bit skeptical because of past misinformation. We decided to hike up to the cliffs ourselves, hoping to find a cell signal to call the ferry service.
We went on a sibling backpacking trip in Channel Islands National Park this past December. Chris’s sister Becky and Anna’s brother Joe joined us for the adventure. We were very excited to spend some quality time with them, and to explore a new place at the same time. We planned two days of hiking, a day of kayaking, and a half day of snorkeling before heading back to mainland California. We could never have guessed what surprises the park held for us!
We woke early, piled gear into Joe’s car, and headed about an hour north of Los Angeles to Ventura, CA. We arrived at the harbor on time, checked in, and put our packs below deck. It was a sunny, gorgeous winter day. The only odd thing that morning was a terse email from Island Packers ferry service stating “We are running the trip to Prisoners Harbor today. The crossing to the island will be rough.” That couldn’t have been farther from the calm, sunny weather we were enjoying on the shore.
Minutes into the ferry crossing, the captain got on the loudspeaker, slowed the engines and started taking about a Stellar sea lion he’d just spotted. He explained that it was rare to see a Stellar sea lion in Southern California waters because they mostly live near Alaska. It was huge, much bigger than the California sea lions we’d seen before. The captain also explained that the large semi-circular scar near the sea lion’s tail was likely from a shark bite. The sea lion made a deep call and even stuck out its tongue at us as the boat drifted by.
Farther from shore, the wind picked up and the waves grew taller. The ferry started to rock and roll. As we rode wave after wave high into the air, then fell into an empty void below, it felt like we were on a roller coaster. Salty spray drenched the boat as the fierce wind chilled us. Dolphins seemed to like the waves and the ferry. For a few minutes, several swam playfully alongside us, even jumping occasionally. They were so beautiful and graceful.
The ferry ride was turning out to be part of the adventure, not just transportation to the island! The first stop was Scorpion Anchorage on Santa Cruz Island. The majority of passengers, many of them birders, were to disembark here. Unfortunately the dock at Scorpion had recently been damaged by a mix of climate change-induced sea level rise and a king tide. With the dock unusable, passengers had to be skiffed to shore six at a time.
Our stomachs started to feel uneasy while waiting over an hour on the bobbing ferry. We watched the horizon to fend off seasickness.
Finally, the ferry started moving again. We passed steep cliffs and grand arches carved into the rock. Whitecaps kept the boat rolling. We were glad when we arrived at Prisoners Harbor, and set our feet on solid ground.