Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Festival of the Cranes

This year for my birthday Marjie and I attended the 20th annual "Festival of the Cranes" at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Bosque del Apache is located 100 miles south of Albuquerque on the Rio Grande River. We flew to Albuquerque, rented a car and drove to Socorro, where we stayed. Each morning we would get up around 4:30 and drive the 20 miles to the refuge so we could be there at first light. Click on any picture for a larger view.
While we were there about 5500 Sandhill Cranes had arrived at the refuge. By December there will be a total of about 8500. These cranes come mainly from the Pacific Flyway and nest in eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho and Montana. A few come from the Central Flyway and these nest in northern Canada, Alaska and western Siberia.
Cranes mate for life and form very strong family ties. Chicks, usually one or two per nest, will stay with their parents for a year and migrate as a family in a larger flock made up of many families. We attended several classes about cranes and their behavior and by watching closely we could pick families out of a large group of birds as seen here.
To strengthen their bonds the crane couples "dance" together usually at first light and again before dark. It is really quite a sight.
This pair is dancing as their chick watches. Sometimes the chicks will join in. They really put on quite a show.
Because the cranes wintering habitat is being swallowed up by human development the refuge plants feed, mainly corn, to carry the birds through the winter. Without this effort the species would surely face harder times. The refuge personnel chop corn each day to feed the cranes and other waterfowl. The amount they chop is determined by the number of birds on the refuge and changes daily. I think I could do that job.
The Sandhill Crane is one of 15 crane species world wide and the largest in number. The adult bird stands about 4 feet tall and will weigh about 10 pounds.
Each night they congregate in roosting areas in great flocks for protection and at first light they fly out to feeding areas. The chick in this family is the lower back bird.
These guys must be looking at something very interesting. Here we have 4 adults and one chick. The chick is the second from the left and belongs to one of the pairs. The other pair must have lost their chick or maybe it is the bird in the back ground.
These large birds are a little gangly on the ground but once in the air they are very graceful fliers. Their wing span is about 6 feet.
Several families are heading back to the roosting area.
This looks like a choir meeting to me. Actually it is a couple of families squabbling over territory. It's amazing that in a 80 acre field two families want the exact same place to feed. This happens over and over again. As they fly in they seem to all land on top of each other and then a ruckus begins.
The two males will square off and then one of the families will move over 10 feet or so and all is fine. Go figure
I liked this shot because it gives me the feel of motion. If the sun had been up the light would have been better. The weather was fabulous for our visit. Highs of 70-71 in the day with not a cloud in the sky and lows about 30 at night. Made for cool crisp mornings and wonderful days.

The "Festival of the Cranes" is a very well attended event by birders and many professional photographers. There were some very "long lens" folks there all trying to get that special shot.
In addition to the 5500 cranes there were about 50,000 Snow Geese and 35,000 to 40,000 ducks at the refuge. The geese usually left the roosting areas a little before the cranes and arrived back in the evening a little later. Didn't have any trouble hearing 50,000 geese coming in.
The snow goose is a relatively small goose compared to the Canada Goose and they fly in large flocks. Really a pretty bird with white bodies and black wing tips.
I couldn't count to 50,000. There didn't seem to be any more room on this pond but they kept coming in.
The Snow Geese would stay in the fields feeding until about 11:00 in the morning and then fly to water. It all happened at once. Don't know which one was in charge but he got the word out when it was time to go because they all left at once. Quite a site.

Several small flocks coming back just at dark.

There were quite a few Roadrunners on the refuge. This guy kept many photographers busy by the parking lot.
Several species of ducks were there. This American Wigeon pair were joined by Pintails, Mallards, Teal, Shovelers, Redheads, Gadwalls and some I couldn't identify.
In addition to the cranes and waterfowl we saw several new birds. This is a Black Rosy-Finch which does not live in our area. Also the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch and several others. We also spotted, with our guides help, a very rare Aplomado Falcon. Couldn't get a picture of it.
In addition to all the bird life the festival included a very nice wildlife art show, live raptor displays, food booths, birding information booths and 4 full days of classes and guided tours. We had a great time and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys birding.


Carrie said...

I really like these photos. Don't suppose I can 'order' a few prints for our house? Poster size? Glad to hear the trip was so good!

Anonymous said...

Another great photo-journal. I learned a lot just from your pictures and captions.

Thanks for another fine Tipton journey!

-- Frank B.

Eastbay Sarah said...

I like the rosy finch and the two pics of the crane couples "dancing." The fight between families is really dramatic--I enjoyed your description along with the pictures. Together, your writing and photos create a great sense of what you experienced. I'm so glad you take time to share with all of us!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dick and Marjie,
Just beautiful pics ovewrall. We are planning a trip with African Dream Safaris this July and hope our pics look as good as yours. What camera(s) did you take on the trip and what do you recommend? Thanks, Harvey