Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Masses Are Arriving…with 1 Rare Bird

It’s been a busy week at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico!  Not only have our first big flocks of Greater Sandhill Cranes arrived, but a full crop of volunteers rolled into the RV village this week too!

As the first flock of 400 Sandhills rested off the Flight Deck during their first afternoon here, we quickly spotted one bird that had become the “Rock Star of the Refuge” last winter.  Can you spot “Lucy”?

Of the 10,000 or so cranes that wintered here last year, one was a rare Leucistic, meaning that most of its feathers lacked any pigmentation (so it appears as a white crane in a sea of normal gray sandhills).  At first, the staff here weren’t quite sure what this bird was, but as it was the same size and had the same features of a Greater Sandhill, it was certainly not a Whooping Crane.  So, it was officially proclaimed a Leucistic Sandhill, and everyone who saw it last year felt lucky to have done so once in their lives.

So, imagine the excitement this week, as we raced out to see the first big flock of sandhill cranes and there in the middle of them was our rare Leucistic Crane, “Lucy,” feeling right at home again on the Bosque!

What a thrill to see this bird!

A few cranes were so exhausted from their journey that they were actually laying down in the field as one “stood guard.”

The flock brought along one other “non-gray” sandhill with them—this rusty colored juvenile!

During the summer at their breeding grounds, sandhill parents will preen themselves with iron-rich mud to turn their gray feathers cinnamon to better match their young offspring. 

This little brown juvenile is the youngest bird of the flock!  As the winter progresses, his feathers will begin to turn gray.

We’ve had lots of other flocks arriving this week too—thousands of Northern Pintails, Mallards, and other ducks, nearly a thousand snow geese, and this small flock of very hardy American White Pelicans (who are just passing through on their way further south).

Some sightings of non-bird Moms and babies too--- A sweet Mule Deer doe and fawn,

and this blurry pic our the front windshield of a Javelina mom and her 2 babies.

As for the human arrivals, no pics yet, but it was quite amazing to see our volunteer staff triple in size to 18 people and 14 rigs in a matter of just 2 days!  We’ve been having a few social hours mixed in with our of formal days of training with the Refuge staff.  Looks like the crew is shaping up to be a fun and energetic group!

The coming month will be one of our busiest.  Not only does visitation jump in November, it’s also our very popular Festival of the Cranes, Nov. 17-22.  Canon, Leica, and other vendors will be sponsoring 165 workshops and tours for photographers, birders, and wildlife-lovers.  The event draws well over 1,000 attendees, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of land and room for everyone!  If you’re looking for something great to do the week before Thanksgiving, come on out to the Festival!


  1. This is the exciting time - watching all the birds arrive. I hope to see some more of the pelicans fly overhead here at home. They are so quiet compared to the cranes and geese.

  2. Some of those white pelicans and mallards will be wintering next to my house in San Miguel down in the canyon in the presa (reservoir). Some times the mallards make a lot of noise. The Mexicans come to stand on the edge of the cliff to watch the white pelicans when they arrive. The canyon is sacred to the people and was designated as such by the Dalai Lama at some point in my fifteen years here.

    Enjoy! I'm glad you're there and enjoying all the joy and contentment it brings to you. Wish I could be there for the Festival. Not possible though.

  3. I have to admit I get more excite about the deer than the birds.

  4. Lynne - Thanks for the beautiful photos of all the wildlife. I hope to get out there some time to see the migration. Wow.

  5. Loved the bird pics and hooray for you seeing a rare one!!!

  6. Oh that sounds like so much fun!!! Thanks for sharing!

  7. That looks like a great spot to volunteer! Bet it is quite busy there with the masses. New Mexico is on our list of possible places to go next year, but then so is Montana, Alaska, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Colorado, Mexico, etc.... How to choose??? Have fun while you are there. Imkelina

  8. Loved reading your blog! Good luck with the crane festival. My husband and I loved our visit to the refuge the first week in November. Such a beautiful place.


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