Montana Wolf

Monday, January 14, 2013

Bosque del Apache: The Awe of it All

I waited and watched from Taos for signs that the cold snap was going to break. Given my druthers, I would rather stand outside at dawn in temps above zero and experience a full-on sunrise. I squeaked through a small weather window as I arrived the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in shirtsleeve warmth;  turbulence had cleared for my afternoon date with the wild.

The Bosque del Apache is a place that lifts you out of the mundane into spiritual realms. I've been visiting for many years, so moved that I included it as a sacred site in New Mexico's Sanctuaries, Retreats and Sacred Places and described it in lyrical prose in Drive Me Wild: A Western Odyssey. Although signs of human management are many (spiffy visitors center, wide roads, neatly manicured-looking irrigation ditches, board walks and observation platforms) the place remains enthralling. It caters to the automobile, making it accessible to all. And as any birder knows, the car is best blind there is.

My first stop was the visitors center, where I habitually check to ask of the latest news. The friendly staff and volunteers are the folks with their feet on the ground, happy to share insights and experience. January counts for the Bosque included 50K ducks, 48K light geese and 8K sandhill cranes... well over 100,000 water birds! Were there unusual sightings? (Yes, a tundra swan.) Did they suggest different strategies for watching as per times or locations? Had the cranes and geese shifted their locations?  In this case yes, there had been a shift in the birds' favorite feeding ponds, where the snow geese and cranes combined at dusk and sunrise in  auditory splendor and mass ascensions of wings.  I scribbled down sunset and sunrise times as I departed.

I crept along in the truck, stopping frequently to watch the dabblers and divers, myriad hawks and eagles as the clocked ticked down to 5:16 sunset time. Blue-winged teals, Northern Shovelers and elegant Pintails graced the waters. There were red-tailed hawks in 3 phases, including a dark morph; a cormorant, shrike and even a group of meadow larks. Harriers glided low, tilted with satin smoothness 'oer the fields.

There wasn't much chatting along the pond shores where birds gathered to feed and spend the night. People were focused on the spell-binding scene about to unfold, as thousands of snow geese landed and departed. There were men with camera lenses half the size of me, RV's parked in lots, women bundled up ready to witness. I was privy to mountain lion shots one man had captured on his cell phone the night before. I mentioned the hefty 4-point buck I'd seen emerge from an irrigation ditch -- how he shook the water from his coat with perfect back lighting. No photo, only memory.

It happens, as does most magic, in the thrall of crepuscular light. The cusp between night and day, when one is immersed in colors that know no palette, sandhill crane calls that beckon one to prehistoric times and a tsunami wall of white wings that rise across water. It ends with Rorschach trails of birds across the sky and my familiar revelation when the wild serves up awe: I can die now.

as far as the eye can see...

(click on pictures to see original size)


  1. OH!! These are so gorgeous. Thank you for posting these beautiful photos. Must be the new camera?

    1. You are welcome! I had both cameras with me on this trip but yes, I do love the new baby.

  2. Thank you, Christina! Such a gift, these beautiful creatures! Nance

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you! I had a lot to work with, hard to go wrong.