Beauty at Bosque del Apache: The Cranes of New Mexico

Written by Glenna Holstein
    Tuesday, 11 June 2013
Beauty at Bosque del Apache: The Cranes of New Mexico

I want to tell you about one of the most incredible sights and sounds I have ever experienced. But before I can even begin to describe it to you, I need you to listen to something. So, close your eyes, imagine yourself under a big broad New Mexico sky. Now, click the play button below.

This haunting, seemingly prehistoric call has become one of my favorite sounds. When I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, less than a hundred miles from one of the primary overwintering sites for tens of thousands of these cranes, those calls became the soundtrack to my autumn days. Every day I would hear the rumbling trill of dozens of cranes above, and each time the call beckoned my eyes skyward. There is something almost magical about witnessing a migration. You are watching a group of animals, some of whom have never seen the place to which they're going, travel thousands of miles without a map or compass. You are witnessing millions of years of trial and error resulting in a now-genetically-embedded instinct to get to the same place. It's incredible, isn't it?

Snow Geese & Sandhill Cranes

In this case, the place the cranes were headed was Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Bosque del Apache is located about 95 miles south of Albuquerque along the Rio Grande, and consists of nearly 60,000 acres of land managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The cranes take up their residence in the wettest part of the refuge, 9100 acres of terrain where water has been diverted to create wetlands and riparian habitat. This place makes an ideal spot to spend the winter--the vast expanses of shallow open water provide safe places for the cranes to spend the night, and the surrounding fields provide plenty of food for them during the day. And this perfect combination sets the stage for one of the most amazing natural phenomena I've ever witnessed.

sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR

Each morning at dawn, as though directed by an invisible hand, thousands of cranes awake and take to the skies, wings beating and voices trilling in a cacophony that is at once chaotic and gracefully unified. Against a backdrop of some of the most dazzling sunrises around (I swear colors are brighter in New Mexico!), this magnificent display repeats itself each morning and each evening as the cranes take off for a day of foraging and return each night to the safety of the wetland. It's truly spectacular.

As with most spectacular events, it's pretty difficult to do it justice with a blog post. That's why I'm so excited to have the chance to invite you to come experience it for yourself! One of the many really cool things we offer at the Urban Ecology Center is our EcoTravel program. We believe that the best experiences traveling happen when you get to visit somewhere new and wonderful in the company of someone who knows and loves that place and is excited to share it with you. New Mexico is absolutely a place that I love, and I am thrilled to be co-leading an EcoTravel trip to New Mexico this fall with Tim Vargo, our Manager of Research and Community Science. The trip takes place November 17-24, and will include several days at the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge during the 2013 Festival of the Cranes, as well as many other adventures in the "Land of Enchantment."

For more information about the trip, contact Tim Vargo (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or myself (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

We still have a few spots left, and deposits are due July 1st to reserve your spot.

We hope you'll join us--then you can experience it for yourself!

Glenna Holstein

Glenna Holstein

Glenna grew up a mile up the river from the Riverside Park, so the Urban Ecology Center has always been important to her. Her studies and work have taken her all over the hemisphere, but her home has always been right here in Milwaukee. As Menomonee Valley Branch Manager, she is delighted to be part of the team that is working to connect a new community to the nature in their neighborhood. Her favorite things to do include hiking, exploring, cooking, singing, building forts, and trying to convince children that cockleburs are really baby porcupines!


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