With medical issues now settling into boring old recovery mode (yeah!), it’s now time to catch the blog up on my final month at Bosque del Apache NWR this past April.
The month was off to a great start!
Every day, as the cottonwoods thickened with dense bright green foliage, the impoundment ponds would drain a bit more to allow pond bottom vegetation to begin growing again. This provides the necessary food source for next season’s wintering ducks.
Bosque is one of the most “highly-managed” units in the refuge system with over 30 impoundment ponds that managers can systematically mimic the Rio Grande’s historic cycles of flooding and draught.
As the ponds begin to drain, it signals most of the waterfowl to resume their migration to their summer breeding grounds further north (as these cinnamon and blue teals bid Bosque a farewell).
A few stick around longer though. The male Ruddy Ducks hang around to show off their brilliant new breeding plumage—rusty colored bodies and bright blue bills!
While the Pied-billed Grebe is the most abundant grebe at Bosque, a few Eared Grebes stop to visit in April during their migrations north. Very cool-looking birds!
The “old rookery” at the east end of the refuge (where Bosque Road and the South Loop meet) is ablaze with activity in April. The various tree scags provide great evening perches for the cormorants and egrets.
Both the Neotropic (smaller) and Double-crested (larger) cormorants can be found at Bosque in April, often alongside their brilliant white frends—the great egrets.
Few birds provide such brilliant contrast to the desert river valley’s surroundings as the large, white Great Egret. A magnificent bird to watch and photograph!
While the ducks dislike the receding ponds of April, the shorebirds absolutely love them! A great number of avocets, stilts, plovers, and kildeer enjoy picking away at the emerging mud flats. Here’s a Black-necked Stilt, and a pair of Kildeer--
As the month of April progresses, the flocks of White-faced Ibis continue to grow at Bosque. Seeing these birds in flight, one might almost think they were sandhill cranes if not for their larged, curved bills.
When the mid-day sun hits at just the right angle, the dark feathers on these birds illuminate into purple, pink, silver, and green.
Not all Bosque birds can be a beautiful as the Ibis, but the Wild Turkey certainly tries its best!
As foliage (and insects) reappear from winter hibernation, numerous smaller birds begin to flock to Bosque. None more exciting to see than the tiny, brilliant red Vermillion Flycatcher, who (as his name implies) spends hours perched in a tree about 2 feet above a pond’s edge darting out ever so often to catch flying insects that hover above the pond’s surface.
On one of my last nights at Bosque, I enjoyed watching a pair of Western Kingbirds courting. What a treat!
I also loved the brilliant eyes of these Brewer’s Blackbirds…
and Great-tailed Grackles:
Two of my favorite birds were ground-based. A dozen Gambel’s Quail called our Bosque RV village home. This guy perched up on my picnic table one night for his photograph!
and the fast-moving icon of the West, the Greater Roadrunner. I could only photograph them when they perched up on tree stumps or hiking trailhead signs a few feet above the ground.
While birds were the dominant species at Bosque, I also saw a fair number of mammals and reptiles. The mule deer fawns and their mamas would hang out in the same area of the South Loop each evening eating their dinner--
This Striped Skunk called Bosque Road “home” and could be seen at all hours trotting up and down the roadside gathering its delicacies of the day.
As days got warmer, the reptiles began making their way down from the warm rocky hillsides to the cooler valley such as this tiny whiptail lizard:
Western Rattlesnakes are the most abundant snake at Bosque, but I fortunately only ever saw one. It was curled up along the centerline of Highway 1 right at the Visitor Center exit and it wasn’t moving. I was out patrolling in a refuge vehicle and stopped to stick my head out the window to look down at it. It did not look as if it’d been “flattened” by a vehicle, but it sure looked pretty dead to me so I drove back to the VC to report it to one of the rangers so they could remove it. A few minutes later, I thought I’d get my camera and go take a quick pic of it on my way to lunch. Wouldn’t you know, that rattler had now vanished?!!! Obviously not dead after all!
I did manage to photograph this large but harmless Gopher Snake crossing Highway 1 one morning--
as well as this smaller Desert Striped Whipsnake (also non-venomous).
One day as I was roving the North Loop, the Refuge Fire Crew were out doing a controlled burn. It was fun to see it up close. In a few weeks, this blackened patch will be teaming with fresh new plant life.
On my final day of work at the Visitor Center, we had a unique phenomenon—a brief rain shower!
Nothing to do but sit inside and watch the Black-chinned Hummingbirds at the VC feeders. So cute!
In all, I saw over 300 species of birds and wildlife during my 6-week stay at Bosque del Apache-- almost all of them “new to me.” What an incredible learning lab! One I will be eager to return to this Fall (fingers crossed)!