Central New Mexico is blessed with a large number of migratory birds each winter. Many of the birds are smaller species that come to our backyard feeders or ducks that show up in the local lakes and ponds. But there are two large species that are particularly popular with photographers. I am referring to the Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes. Around the beginning of November each year they start to shown up in the Rio Grande Valley. You can see them along the river and eating in various farm fields in the valley.
I always try and get out at least a couple times a year to photograph of them. While you can find them at a lot of places in central New Mexico in the winter there are two great wildlife refuges that are well known as hot spots for these species. The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is located in central New Mexico just south of the town of Socorro. It was founded in 1939 and is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The refuge is 57,191 acres and straddles the Rio Grande River. Large numbers of birders and photographers come to the refuge each winter to see and photograph the birds. The Festival of the Cranes has been held at the refuge around Thanksgiving each year for 35 years. For the first time in 2020 and again in 2021 the festival was virtual due to the COVID epidemic.
The other great wildlife refuge, which is not as well know, is the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex. This is a group of four conservation areas in central New Mexico near Belen managed by the New Mexico Department of Water Game and Fish. The Bernardo Wildlife Management Area is a unit of the complex that covers 1,700 acres. There are three observation decks along a 2.8 miles (4.5 km) dirt road near the Rio Grande. In recent years this area has had been at least as good as Bosque when it comes to birds.
Several friends and I went down for a three-day trip to these two areas in late November of 2021. Since New Mexico has been in an extended drought, and 2021 was particularly dry, the amount of water at both areas was very low. The Crane Pond at Bosque, which is usually one of the prime Sandhill Crane viewing areas, was completely dry. There didn’t appear to be any corn planted at Bosque in 2021 either so a lot of the birds were spending the nights in the ponds at Bosque and flying up to Bernardo and other fields to eat during the day.
We had a really good trip with nice weather and managed to get some nice shots of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. We also saw a lot of smaller birds along with several flocks of wild turkeys and some mule deer that came very close to the car.
We purposely chose the dates for the trip to coincide with the full moon and one of the two evenings the sky was clear enough for some pretty good moonrise shots. The last morning was also a spectacular sunrise over the main pond at Bosque. All in all it was a really fun trip.