The time has come for me to wrap up my series on Bosque del Apache, and I’ve saved the Sandhill Cranes for last! The Bosque is a National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, NM, and it is most well known for its huge flocks of wintering Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis).
I saw my first Sandhill Cranes before I even entered the refuge. The road leading to the entrance features generous graveled parking areas where you can pull off and observe. Me? I stomped on the brakes and swerved into the lot, sliding to a stop in a cloud of dust. The large, shallow ponds in open fields were filled with cranes, as well as assorted ducks and geese.
The cranes were quiet, even serene, while in the fields. The image above shows both of the most common poses: A) Head up, dirt on beak, and B) Head down, derriere in the air. I could not tell which were male and which were female, but it’s probably safe to assume that pairs are also “couples.” If you think about it, the foraging method displayed here is pretty smart. One keeps an eye out for danger, while the other feeds. Think how differently the cranes’ behavior has developed from ours: they work in pairs, guarding each other to protect against predation, while we–women, at least–will ask a friend to “guard the door” if we think our visit to the powder room may be compromised!
The scene changes dramatically when the cranes begin to converge on one or two big marshes in the evening. They arrive in droves, like airplanes coming in for a landing. Once they have splashed down, there is quite a bit of chatter and frolicking about. This was my favorite behavior to observe. They seemed boisterous and happy and free – and I felt the same.
As the sun set, the cranes quieted. The sight of them morphed from vivid, real-life technicolor, to silhouettes in a golden glow. A calmness settled over the flock and the excited chatting of human gawkers likewise turned to hushed exclamations.
Grudgingly, after the sun had gone and the last of its light trailed behind it, I admitted to myself that it was time to go. The golden sunset had turned into a silvery twilight, and there was a chill in the air. Even now, as I recall my experience so that I can share it with you, I remember how hard it was to turn and walk back to my car. The trip was worth every bit of travel fatigue, car trouble, and carsick dogs. Thanks to Nancy Wracher for selling me on the idea of visiting The Bosque. I know I’ll visit again!