Arlyne and I are here at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico, beginning a three month assignment. We’re getting pretty good at this volunteering stuff and we’re fitting right in. I used to live in Las Cruces, New Mexico and graduated from college there. I love New Mexico, especially the wide open spaces and long views available here. We are near Socorro, in the center of the state. Let me briefly describe the facility here. And start with a couple of photos. Maybe you don’t like snakes but they have lives too and we protect them here. (Western diamondback)
WHERE WE ARE. Bosque del Apache NWR is on the list of 50 Places to Go Birding Before You Die. We came to Bosque several years ago and we know why it’s such a popular birding destination. Bosque is the Jewel of the Refuge system. The design of Bosque is ingenious in the way it closely resembles how this area in central New Mexico has served as a natural stopover for migrating cranes, geese and ducks for millions of years (that’s right….millions). Its right along the Rio Grande, which used to periodically overflow, flooding lower areas and creating a waterfowl paradise. Farming and roads and towns and water usage have disrupted this. Over the years, Refuge biologists have engineered the flow of water and mix of local crops to recreate the prehistoric environmental conditions that encroaching civilization almost destroyed forever.
WHAT WE’RE DOING. Arlyne and I both work in the Visitor Center where she is helping in the Nature Store and working the phone and front desk. I handle the front desk mostly but I set up and clean the hummingbird and oriole feeders every day as well. Arlyne and I are taking a four-hour online defensive driving course over the next few days and then we’ll be able to handle Refuge roving duties using a Government vehicle. This takes us around the Refuge, answering questions, assisting with a spotting scope, making sure visitors are doing OK. That’ll be fun…….it’s what we like to do.
THE FESTIVAL. Sandhill cranes spend the winter here and have become an international attraction. Tens of thousands of cranes remain here for nearly five months, feeding on corn, alfalfa and other crops that are planted especially for them. They start arriving in late October. Bosque hosts the Festival of the Cranes the week before Thanksgiving and there will be thousands of people here, jostling for the best view. Arlyne and I are considering staying here for another week to help with the setup for the Festival. Too bad the hummingbirds will be gone.
OTHER WILDLIFE. We’re already spotting a lot of cottontail rabbits, a few rattlesnakes, mule deer, trillions of mosquitos, fancy lizards and skinks, and a coyote. We’re hoping to see a few javalina and maybe spot the common black hawk that has been reported.
LOCAL STORY. One of my duties is to clean and refill four hummingbird feeders next to the Visitor Center. I mix up the sugar water and hang up the feeders each morning. We use a lot of sugar. I get it out of a 5-gallon bucket. A railroad track runs right by the Refuge. Last year it seems that several train cars derailed just up the road from where we are. Some of the cars were filled with, guess what…..sugar. Most of the sugar was lost but a one ton package of sugar was given to the Refuge. It’s stored in a garage in the maintenance area. We should be good for quite a while.
OTHER WILDLIFE. We’re already spotting a lot of cottontail rabbits, a few rattlesnakes, mule deer, trillions of mosquitos, fancy lizards and skinks, and a coyote. We’re hoping to see a few javalina and maybe spot the common black hawk that has been reported. Just a couple of days ago, I got a call from a man who took a series of pictures here at Bosque of a great blue heron eating a HUGE fish. He called the Visitor Center wanting someone else but we started talking and he told me about his (now) nearly famous YouTube posting. Go to YouTube and search for “Great Blue Heron has fish dinner at Bosque del Apache NWR”. It’s a REALLY big fish.
BIRDS. We picked up a new bird for our lists almost as soon as we arrived. Now I know that hummingbird feeders are not exactly natural sources of food but the way of the world is to “collect” these little jewels so we can enjoy them close up. There are only four hummingbirds that come to this area and one of them is the calliope hummingbird. The beautiful male has throat feathers that look like flames. We got a new bird for Arlyne’s list as well when we drove a few miles off the refuge and saw a pair of golden eagles. Nice. Here’s the calliope.
Several visitors have reported two common black hawks in the Refuge. Arlyne and I have casually tried to spot this bird and thought we had it a few days ago. Turns out, by analyzing my single snapshot through the windshield, we saw a Swainson’s hawk. A black hawk would be a cool bird. It isn’t supposed to be in this region. More likely Arizona. We’ll keep looking while we’re here. Nice birds we’ve seen so far include a sage thrasher (not supposed to be here yet), cool roadrunners, wild turkeys with chicks, Gambel’s quail, Bullocks orioles, black-chinned and broad-tailed hummingbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds and some others. It’s not a bird but we came across the western diamondback rattlesnake one morning, right on the Refuge road. I got a short video. Here’s the rufous hummingbird again.
In the nearby San Mateo and Datil mountains, there are some pretty common birds that we haven’t seen: Virginia’s warbler, red-faced warbler, a few owls and a flycatcher or two. A trip to see them has been added to our travel list.
GOING OUT. We didn’t waste time and went to the famous Owl Café and Bar in the small town of San Antonio, just north of the Refuge. I had their signature green chile cheeseburger…..actually very good. I’ll go back, maybe without Arlyne. We went to Sofia’s Kitchen Mexican restaurant in Socorro because it was recommended. Sofia’s reminded me of my early years in New Mexico. The food was very New Mexican, pretty hot and very tasty. I thought I was in a time machine. What a kick.
UPCOMING ADVENTURES IN NEW MEXICO. Later in August we’re taking a train from a little town north of here up to Santa Fe to visit our dear friends Jerry and Karol. The train (imagine) only costs $16 round trip for both of us. In Santa Fe, we’ll visit an international Native American crafts fair that attracts thousands of people. I hope to drive to Las Cruces in the coming months and visit the White Sands Missile Range Museum. I worked at WSMR while going to college and the museum should be interesting to me. We’re just visited the Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope facility about 50 miles from here. This is a fascinating place and we were very impressed. I’ll cover that in the next blog
New Mexico looks great to me. See you next time.
Bob and Arlyne Draper