Monday, November 19, 2012

An Autumn Visit to Bosque del Apache

1. Bosque del Apache-kab Bosque del Apache 11-5-12

If my soul was craving autumn it got its fill the day we visited Bosque del Apache. After spending the night in Socorro, NM on our way home from our daughter’s wedding in Colorado we drove south to the refuge. While I always have big dreams of being there when the sun comes over the horizon we really didn’t get there until 8:30 AM. Still, the light was good and the birds were active!

2. crow-kab As soon as we left the highway and we were on the road to the refuge Gus stopped the car and put the top down on his new convertible. The sky was as clear blue as a bluebird’s breast and the air just seemed to sparkle around us. In the nearby cottonwoods a murder of crows gossiped and called, welcoming us to this day and this place.

3. pintails-kab 

Signs of autumn were everywhere, from the silken grasses to the red-stemmed rushes in the clear blue water. Northern Pintails dominated the duck population but a few shovelers, mallards and buffleheads punctuated the scene.

4. harrier-kab 

As I was lost in my autumn reverie a Northern Harrier came swooping by, soaring low over the marsh searching for prey.

5. kestrel-kab 

Across the street from the harrier a kestrel kited in the sea blue sky, then sought refuge atop a snag backlit by trees with leaves as russet as his tail. Everything seemed dressed in the colors of autumn.

6. snow falling-kab

But then it began to snow!

7. filling the sky-kab Out of a clear blue sky they fell, soft as feathers,

8. landing-kabfilling the sky with their wings and their honking,

9. settled-kabthen they settled on the water as thick as snow.


10. wegr-kab 

The geese were not the only birds in the pond however! A western grebe floated nonchalantly by!

11. 2 grebes-kab Western Grebe (back), Clark's Grebe (front)

Telling a Western and a Clark’s Grebe apart can be a challenge but here they are together for an easy comparison. The Western grebe in back has the black encircling its eye. It also has a dusky slightly upturned bill. the Clark’s grebe in the foreground has the black above the eye so it is quite easy to see the red eye. It has a bright yellow bill. The two species are frequently seen together during migration.

12. cormorant-kab And while the grebes paddled below a cormorant took wing and flew above the Autumn landscape of Bosque del Apache.

13. nopi-kab Female Northern Pintail

I saw Northern Pintails everywhere in the refuge. I love the soft and subtle patterning of the females and the striking handsomeness of the males.

14. cranes-kabBosque del Apache is well know for its Sandhill Cranes and the Festival of the Cranes was going to happen next week, but today the refuge was mostly quiet with just a few cranes flying around “garoo-ing from the height of the sky.

15. snowgo-kabSnow Goose with “grin patch”

There were literally thousands of snow geese here on this day. Snow Geese have a characteristic “grin patch” on their bills which shows up as a darker area along the line where the top and bottom of the beak meet. It is important to note this patch when trying to distinguish the snow goose from the equally white, but smaller Ross’ Goose.

16. rogo-kab Ross’s Goose (note triangular bluish-pink beak)

I estimated there were 3000 snow geese here on this day and in their midst were approximately 30 Ross’ Geese. There may have been even more but I did not  count them all.

17. together-kab A Snow Goose and a Ross’ Goose seen side by side.

Note the shape of heads and beaks. Snow goose has a longer head and the base of the bill is curved along the cheek while the Ross’s Goose has a more rounded head with a triangular pink beak stuck on the front of the ball!

18. snowgo juv-kab With that information can you guess which species these juveniles belong to?


19. autumn road-kab Driving through gold on the refuge road!


20. snow on water-kab But everywhere I look I still see snow!


21. trees-kab I was obsessed with the colors of autumn!


22. charriot-kab Gus in his chariot!

(Yes, it took 4 hours for him to clean it after our trip!)

23. autumn grass-kab Flaxen Autumn grasses


24. farmfield-kab A few cranes in the Farmer’s Field at the north end of the refuge.


25. tree-kab 

26. hawk-kab I thought at first that this was a Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk but I now believe it is a dark-morph Red-tailed Hawk. Harlan’s has no trace of brown in its feathers according to the bird guides I consulted. Still, it was relaxing to watch it circle lazily through the clear blue sky. While we only intended to stay at the refuge for a couple of hours we soon realized that we could not leave that quickly. We spent 4 hours just driving the north loop of the refuge! With the daylight waning we knew we had to leave. As we rounded the curve near the Farmer’s Field I finally got a closer look at a Sandhill Crane!


27. crane-kab Sandhill Crane



29. wcsp-kab White-crowned Sparrows (bottom one with Black Lores)

Just before we left I found a small flock of White-crowned sparrows in some willows along one of the ponds. I was seeing White-crowned sparrows all over the place but what made this little flock so different was the presence of at least one of them with Black lores, which is a subspecies of White-crowned Sparrow. The lores are the area between the bird’s beak and its eyes and many species of birds are identified by the color of their lores.

30. snow-kab

We came to Bosque del Apache in search of Snow Geese and while we certainly found them, we found so much more besides. I have only been here four times yet I have never been disappointed with the experience. this is surely one of the premier birding locations in the United States and I would recommend it to anyone who loves nature. While it is a long ways from most anywhere it is only about an hour south of Albuquerque, NM. You can stay in Socorro, which is closer but smaller. However it does have just about every fast food restaurant you could want with numerous hotels and gas stations.

Links to Previous Bosque del Apache Posts:


  1. Yes! I have been waiting to see your pics from this area. BEAUTIFUL!!! I love the Northern Harrier shot. The lighting is so different from here. I am still in awe from all the Snow Geese. Incredible. I'm still hoping we can get this Christmas thing situated so that we can go here. Looks absolutely beautiful! Hope you had a good day. It's now time to shut the computer off:)

    1. Chris, I do hope you get to go because you will love it!

  2. Kathie, What gorgeous pictures of a beautiful place. You have capturd the Autumn colors against the blue sky wonderfully. I can't begin to pick a favorite because they are all great. Someday I would love to go where the cranes are gathering and hear that rolling ruckus chorus. Thanks for sharing this great place.

  3. Replies
    1. Robert, have you ever been here? You need to go!

  4. Wow, the colors of fall vibrantly jump off the screen. This place is so You. And as usual you've taken me along with your marvelous storytelling skills and photography.

    Like Gus' car.

    1. Gaelyn, it just sparkles! I love it! I think that you would love it too! And Gus'car is fun to ride in but it sure got dusty on those dirt roads!

  5. Kathie, what an awesome place to visit. The Cranes festival sounds like fun! I love all your birds, especially the snow geese and the Sandhill crane closeup. Great post.

  6. What a lovely post Kathie. Such a privilege to witness all those Snow geese and some great scenes. A cool chariot as well.{:)) Thanks for posting.

  7. Great stuff Kathie, such a lovely post full of charming commentary and great photography. I love all the Snow Geese, and there's something very cool about the two White-crowned Sparrows too.

    1. Thanks Laurence! Have you ever been here? It's not too far from Phoenix but it does help if you can spend the night.

  8. Hi Katie...A marvelous post with wonderful color and beautiful birds...if I had to pick one images I could not!!
    Great post : )

  9. wow!! what a gorgeous spot to visit...ALL those BIRDS!! awesome shots! i love them all...but those white crowned sparrows are adorable!! and i LOVE the Fall colors!! wow!! fiery autumn, LOVE it!!

    1. Laura, you said it well, "fiery Autumn! I do so love it!


Welcome to my nest! I hope you will enjoy spending time here with me and the birds. Thank you for your comments. I will try to get back to you as soon as I get back from counting more birds.