I don’t want this blog to just be a travelogue. We do like to post our bird pictures but we also like to let our followers in on the little side trips that we make wherever we are. I hope it’s entertaining. I also hope you occasionally check out the “Life Stories” section. My parents and grandparents told me fascinating little stories. So, the life stories here are memorable to me and it’s my chance to tell them.
First, let me mention something that happened just a few days ago. Arlyne and I were working at the Visitor Center when a woman came in the front door. She told me “Hey, a snake just crawled across the walkway in front of the entrance door.” I asked “what did it look like?” She said “It’s about 4 feet long and it has some stripes near its tail.” When I asked if the stripes were black and white, she said “Yeah, that’s what I saw.” I said “It’s a diamondback rattlesnake. Show me where it is.” We went out front and saw it in the bushes, heading for the restrooms. I immediately told a Fish and Wildlife employee who called a biologist. By the time I got outside again, the biologist was already there with a special bucket and a tool for picking up snakes. The lady said “There it is.” He just casually walked up to the snake, picked it up with the grabber and held it up for everyone to see. He said that he takes snakes about a quarter mile into the refuge and releases them. If he takes them further away, into an area they are unfamiliar with, they can’t survive. I also learned that even in cold weather, snakes will come out of their den on a warm day. It was warm that day. Just another fun day at the Refuge.
(Aileen, sorry about the snake picture but I need to put this one up. Arlyne took it and it’s a classic)
Visitor Center Conversations. Sometimes the Bosque permits hunters to shoot elk on the Refuge, under strict, very controlled conditions. Two hunters came into the Visitor Center, outfitted completely in camo gear, down to hats, shoes, shirts, pants and swagger. I pretended to ignore them. When they walked up to the counter to see their Fish and Wildlife contact person, I said “Wow, I didn’t see you guys come in.” It took them a few seconds.
A couple from Kentucky came in. We give every visitor a copy of “Habitat”, our little booklet about the Refuge that has a map of the roads and trails. They were delighted to hear about our birds and that some sandhill cranes had arrived. They spent a half hour talking to us. They loved that we listened to them and could answer their questions. As they were leaving, I asked if they wanted me to autograph their copy of Habitat. They almost went for it. I have fun with that one.
The Festival of the Cranes is coming (November 18-23) and we’re starting to get more serious visitors (birders and photographers) who want to know where the birds actually are, which fields have water, exactly which birds have been seen, etc. We enjoy telling them what we know and directing them to the best areas for that day. Sometimes a couple will come back to the Center and tell us “Wow, we saw a roadrunner.” A couple came in today and headed out to the refuge. When they came back to the Visitor Center, they excitedly reported having seen a mountain lion about 50 feet away that was lying down sunning itself. They watched it for nearly 20 minutes. I was glad for them but Arlyne and I haven’t seen one yet.
A Tour of Sevilleta NWR. A couple of Saturdays ago, we went on a van tour of Sevilleta NWR to see what they have out there. It’s about 50 miles north of us. Sevilleta has more than 200,000 acres and we went into areas where the public usually doesn’t go. Some of the highlights for us were pronghorns on the run, sage thrashers perched in the bushes, Piro Canyon, an enormous and beautiful geological feature, and just seeing the vastness of the New Mexico short-grass prairie. We had an unplanned encounter with a team of scientists and students who were trapping desert rodents and checking their condition. They drew blood, measured them, weighed them and, of course, let us look at them. It was lots of fun.
A Trip to the Salinas Pueblos. The Salinas Pueblos in central New Mexico are impressive. It was a beautiful day for us in the hills near the town of Mountainair. Preceded by earlier cultures, sometimes called the Anasazi, the more recent Pueboans in this area had roots going back thousands of years. We visited the Abo and Quarai pueblos. They were astonishing. As history shows us, these pueblos were built almost entirely by the local Puebleon population (primarily women, it is said) under pressure by Spanish missionaries. Apaches raided them periodically, and the Spaniards demanded they change their entire culture, including their food. Eventually, the pueblo people revolted against the Spaniard missionaries and left the area. We hiked around the pueblos and found them inspiring. I took a nice photo of a rock wren sitting on a pueblo wall.
Rapid Fire News. 1) The first four sandhill cranes arrived on October 2nd. Since then, the crane population here has swelled to several hundred and by November will number in the thousands. More on the cranes later.
2) Quite a rarity came by last week. One of the volunteers spotted a black-legged kittiwake. The kittiwake is a sea bird and only very, very rarely shows up this far from the ocean. Pictures were taken of the event but Arlyne and I happened to be in Albuquerque during the day and a half that it stayed here at the Bosque.
3) A pack rat took up residence in our motorhome. First it made a nest in the engine compartment. I discovered this and took probably three wastebaskets of material out, including sticks, leaves, rocks, grass. Reaching way into the engine area and pulling out material, I painfully found out that the rat also used cholla cactus for the nest.
4) The pack rat then took up residence in the bottom of our motorhome where it couldn’t get into the living quarters but could get under our kitchen cabinet. When I finally located (in the middle of the night) where the noise was coming from, I pulled out a small kitchen drawer near the floor, looked in, and came face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball with the rat. I jumped back, he jumped back and finally I had had enough. We tried mothballs, special mail order rodent repellent spray, and installing hardware cloth over some suspected entry points. As a last resort, I went with a big old fashioned rat trap. Got him yesterday and all is quiet in New Mexico. I’m not going to publish my photo of the expired rat.
5) The Refuge asked volunteers to submit their photos of refuge creatures and places so they can update the photos in “Habitat”, the magazine we hand out to visitors. Arlyne and I submitted about 20 and we hope they’ll use some of our photos for the 2015 Habitat.
Sandhill Cranes. If you haven’t googled these birds yet, you should. They are nearly perfect creatures. I say this because a sandhill crane fossil was found in Nebraska that was estimated to be 10 million years old. The incredible part is that the structure of the fossil is virtually the same as the sandhill cranes that we see today. Sandhill cranes make a purring sound that is unmistakable and endearing. They are graceful fliers and observers can hear them communicating with each other during flight. We’ve seen crane groups ranging in size from 3 or 4 birds to nearly 1000 coming into the Bosque. More and more come in every day. By mid-November, there should be 8 to 10 thousand of these beautiful birds in the refuge. These are the crown jewels of the Refuge. We’re already seeing visitors come from as far away as Maine, Canada, New Jersey and New York just to see sandhill cranes.
Before I put in some sandhill crane shots, I wanted to show you my photo of two avocets fighting. It’s not such a great photo but look at the action of these two birds! They squabbled with each other for about 15 minutes on and off. They use their wings and feet to duke it out. Maybe their bills are too precious a commodity to risk.
Finally, here are two of our crane shots, one in-flight shot and one that Arlyne took when we first came to Bosque del Apache in 2007. She won’t rest until she duplicates this shot or gets a better one. We hope you like our stuff. We meet a lot of photographers and bloggers in the Visitor Center and have looked at a lot of websites, YouTube channels and photos. We like all of them, including our own.
Enjoy, The Drapers