23. - 29.11.2009: Bosque Del Apache NWR - White Sands National Monument

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20 miles south of Socorro is Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Bosque del Apache is Spanish for "woods of the Apache," and is rooted in the time when the Spanish observed Apaches routinely camped in the riverside forest. Since then the name has come to mean one of the most spectacular National Wildlife Refuges in North America. Here, tens of thousands of birds including sandhill cranes, Arctic geese, and many kinds of ducks gather each autumn and stay through the winter. Feeding snow geese erupt in explosions of wings when frightened by a stalking coyote and at dusk, flight after flight of geese and cranes return to roost in the marshes.

Ducks ..... 35357
Canada Geese ...... 339
Snow Geese ...... 22600
Sandhill Cranes ...... 6094
Bald and Golden Eagles .... 2
Swans ...... 2
American White Pelican ...... 0
American Coot ...... 226
Marsh and Water Birds ...... 18
Shorebirds ...... 1
Gulls and Terns ...... 0
Hawks and Owls ...... 16

The Refuge is 57,191 acres and the heart of the Refuge is about 12,900 acres of moist bottomlands - 3,800 acres are active floodplain of the Rio Grande and 9,100 acres are areas where water is diverted to create extensive wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests. The rest of Bosque del Apache NWR is made up of arid foothills and mesas, which rise to the Chupadera Mountains on the west and the San Pascual Mountains on the east. Most of these desert lands are preserved as wilderness areas.

The tour loop is a 12 mile, one-way graded road with a two-way cut-off which divides the full tour into a shorter Marsh Loop of 7 miles and a Farm Loop of 7.5 miles. Both portions provide excellent winter viewing of wetland wildlife and raptors; the Farm Loop passes close to daytime winter foraging areas of cranes and geese.

We did a short boardwalk and then the driving tour to see the Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. We also saw a number of coyotes. We went to the Flight Deck viewing area for the sunset and to watch the birds flying in for the night. They stay in the water as it provides more safety from predators and then fly out at sunrise to the surrounding fields for food.

There weren't many birds flying in and as the park closes an hour after sunset we had to drive out. We found a parking area about 8 miles south of the visitor centre for yet another cold night (-8° C).

We got up at 5-30 am the following morning. It was dark and bitterly cold. We drove back to the wildlife refuge and decided to go to a different area where we found a large flock of snow geese and sandhill cranes. We wanted to watch them fly off.

The video is absolutely amazing and needs no description and was worth getting up so early in the freezing cold weather!

26.000 snow geese flying off in the morning.

We spent the rest of the day there and saw deer, coyotes and, of course, lots of birds! We returned very early the next morning but this time we had to wait a lot longer and the birds didn't all fly off at the same time. So Helen made up for it by playing the silly goose!

We drove out at 7-30 am and stopped along the road for some more photos. We could have spent days here but we really needed some warmer weather which we thought we would get if we headed south. (We were wrong!!)

We drove to White Sands National Monument arriving at 2pm. Kirsten wanted to get some sunset photos. We wouldn't be able to get sunrise photos because the park doesn't open until after sunrise. So we would have to make do. Anyway, it only cost $3 per person and our entrance fee was valid for 6 days. Can't complain!

After the photos we set off on the loop road back to the entrance. We'd just set off as it was getting dark and saw a man in a T shirt trying to hitch a lift. It was already below freezing so we stopped to pick him up.

It turned out that he had been wandering around looking for his car. It is very easy to become disorientated here and he had given up trying to find where he had parked and decided to try and hitch a lift to the visitor centre and ask a ranger for help.

Well, he didn't need to do that because we offered to drive him around the loop and look into all the possible parking areas. Helen got out and offered the man the front seat. She was going to jump into the back but needed to direct Kirsten whilst she did a U turn in the narrow road.

As she made a sharp left turn to start the manoeuvre, Winnie's back end swung out and knocked Helen onto all fours into the sand!! But we did manage to find the man's car. It was about 2 miles away and it would have been very difficult to find in the dark. So our good deed for the day was complete and we drove into Alamogordo for a pizza and a Wal-Mart car park for the night.

It was Thanksgiving Day the following day and we went to a campground. We hoovered and cleaned and had showers and then made ourselves a wonderful meal of spare ribs, potato gratin and fresh green beans. Yummy!

We ended up staying at the campground for a week. Helen got her hair cut and we did a lot of sorting out, cleaning and general tidying up.