Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bosque in April

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.

As I looked out my RV window one evening at the beginning of April, a brilliant rainbow filled the big New Mexico sky.

Rainbow IMG_7736

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 South Loop P1000207

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).

Cinnamon and Blue-winged Teals in Flight P1020187

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!

Ruddy Duck Male P1000232

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!

Earred Grebe P1010865Earred Grebe P1010875

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.

Bosque Old Rookery P1000048

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.

Neotropic and Double-crested Cormorants with Great Egret P1000069

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!

Great Egret IMG_1682Great Egret IMG_1738Great Egret P1000090Great Egret P1010248

Herons are also found at Bosque.  One night, I spotted a half dozen Black-crowned Night Herons at the old rookery, and the big daddy Great Blue Herons would perch themselves all over the refuge--

Great Blue Heron IMG_7804

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--

Black-necked Stilt P1010613Kildeer Couple IMG_0748

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.

White Faced Ibis P1000193

When the mid-day sun hits at just the right angle, the dark feathers on these birds illuminate into purple, pink, silver, and green.

White-faced Ibis P1000561White-faced Ibis P1000724White-faced Ibis P1000942White-faced Ibis Pair P1010040White-faced Ibis Quartet P1010009

Not all Bosque birds can be a beautiful as the Ibis, but the Wild Turkey certainly tries its best!

Wild Turkey P1020172Wild Turkies P1000645

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.

Vermillion Flycatcher IMG_7772Vermillion Flycatcher Male P1000185

On one of my last nights at Bosque, I enjoyed watching a pair of Western Kingbirds courting.  What a treat!

Western Kingbird Pair P1020378Western Kingbird P1020321

I also loved the brilliant eyes of these Brewer’s Blackbirds…

Brewer's Blackbird Males P1000130

and Great-tailed Grackles:

Great-tailed Grackle Female P1000281

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!

Gambels Quail male IMG_0868

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.

Greater Roadrunner IMG_9721

It’s incredible how well they blend in with their backgrounds!

Greater Roadrunner P1000585

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--

Mule deer fawn P1000216

Mule deer females P1000221

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.

Skunk IMG_9898

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:

Whiptail Lizard IMG_7978

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.

Bosque North Loop Controlled Burn  IMG_7924Bosque North Loop Controlled Burn IMG_7922

On my final day of work at the Visitor Center, we had a unique phenomenon—a brief rain shower!

Bosque Rain P1010369

Nothing to do but sit inside and watch the Black-chinned Hummingbirds at the VC feeders.  So cute!

Black-chinned Hummingbirds P1010397Black-chinned Hummingbirds P1010439Black-chinned Hummingbirds P1010486

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)!


  1. You got some really great photos. I've never seen so many hummers at a feeder at one time.

  2. That first sentence was wonderful to see!

  3. I love every photo! Can't even pick out a few to comment on - they are all just great. You sure had beautiful birds there. I just might head that way next year. I'd love to see all those birds and animals and critters all in one place. Glad things are going well for you now. :)

  4. Your photos are magnificent. The one of the white heron on the branch with its wing extended was magazine worthy. I'm amazed how many of the wildlife and flying creatures are here in our reservoir and the Botanical Gardens here in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico! It's the joy of my life to see the vermillion flycatchers daily along with swooping hummingbirds with their funny little clicking sound. I even have a resident skunk who no longer enters my property, thanks to Velcro the Cat! Living in nature, to me, brings such tranquility and peace to every day life! Thanks for sharing.

  5. So enjoyed the photos of the birds but all your photos are excellent

  6. What a wonderful experience you had! Beautiful photos and great memories. So glad you are going back in the fall.

  7. Wow. You got some great pix, Lynne. Glad your recovery has you sharing them! :)


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