Deciding to spend the night in Socorro to catch the morning fly-out at dawn on Saturday during the annual Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR, we headed down about noon on Friday and had some time at the refuge that afternoon to look for a few birds and see the sunset fly-in.
Friday turned out to be pretty extraordinary, and raised hopes that Saturday would prove to be even better. Just like the week before, thousands of snow and a smaller number of Ross’s geese were settled peacefully on the pond along with a few other ducks and coots. Peacefully, that is, until something, most likely a Bald Eagle, cruised into the area. Clearly a cause for alarm, on some unknown signal all 40,000 or so geese took to the air in a huge swirling mass. Oddly, the ducks and coots paid no attention to all the excitement, which may partially explain why coots are a big part of the eagle diet. Here’s a couple pictures of that frantic moment.
Indeed, this huge mass of geese scattering in all directions came right over our heads.
After a couple of minutes, things finally settled back down to normal.
Later that afternoon, I got a couple of pretty good pictures of the cause of all this mayhem, a mature Bald Eagle settling on a snag over by the Marsh Deck.
In other highlights from the afternoon, Rebecca spotted a bobcat down the road from the Boy Scout deck that was quite an unusual treat and only the second one I’ve ever seen. Not a great picture because it kept to the shadows and was pretty far away, but pretty clear it’s a bobcat if you zoom in on the picture, and it stayed around long enough for most folks to see.
Equally amazing was a rumor that a Surf Scoter had been spotted over by Audio Tour stop #9. These guys summer up in Canada and are usually only found along the seacoast, so it is pretty unusual to have one show up here in New Mexico. Fortunately it was still there when we arrived and we got close views of it for about 10 minutes until it finally flew off, but we would see it again on Saturday from the Marsh Deck.
A fabulous sunset was going on during the fly-in as the snow geese and graceful cranes returned a few at a time from feeding to spend the night on the pond protected from predators by the water and the presence of such a large group. Dawn turned out to be equally spectacular with some low clouds reflecting the brilliant colors of the coming day.
Chilly, but not quite as cold as in previous years, we shared the anticipation with a large group of more than 100 people eagerly awaiting the spectacle of the flyout. A few minutes later in a scene reminiscent of the previous day’s alarm response, with no warning all of the multitude of geese took to the air at the same exact moment.
In less than a minute, the sky was filled with birds.
Somewhat later, the Sandhill Cranes began their more orderly departure leaving separately in small family groups.
A most amazing spectacle and certainly worth a repeat visit in the future, but just about then the idea of hot coffee and a breakfast burrito was too good to pass up, so we headed back to the Visitor Center and checked out some of the activities there on the biggest day of the festival.
Although that may have been the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever had, even cooler was getting closeups of some rehabilitated raptors being shown by some of the organizations represented at the festival. Here’s just a few of them.
An amazing experience that I’m sure to repeat, and fun sharing it with so many others. The festival is well worth the drive down from Albuquerque and draws a good but not excessive number of people to enjoy this fascinating moment in the natural world.