Bosque del Apache Crane Festival birding

I haven’t been birding much this fall. Between looking for a job, finishing up research, and the relative lack of interesting birds (at least locally), I didn’t have much energy for it. But I heard that volunteers were needed for the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR and this would force me to get out and see some birds I have been missing. Coincidentally, a friend in the biology department has loaned me a DSLR to use while he is away for Thanksgiving. Expect some better photos soon; I had a setting wrong and none of the shots turned out that great.

Melissa and I both headed down for a day in and around the refuge. We also planned to get a Buckhorn burger and some green chiles from Sichler Farms and then visit our friends in Socorro.

I tried to check in at the volunteer tent, but they didn’t know much about that. We wandered around the visitor center area, running into Rebecca and Joe, and decided to just head to the Marsh deck, where we would be present for two hours pointing out birds to visitors.

I was relieved to see an adult Bald Eagle perched on a snag across from the deck. The impoundment at the Marsh deck had a lot of great birds, but none that would really capture the interest of the average visitor. No cranes were present because the water was deep and most of the waterfowl were far across on the other shore. Other birders with scopes were often present to check the ducks so I kept my scope on the eagle so everyone could get a great look. I even gave a little boy some tips on digiscoping and he was thrilled with his eagle picture.

A few of New Mexico’s hard-core birders arrived at the deck shortly after our shift started. One of them picked out a female Common Goldeneye far across the water. We only got a few distant looks before the eagle took off and scattered all the waterfowl. The eagle remained in the area, but a lot of the ducks never came back.

digiscoped with point-and-shoot

The hard-core birders were at our station for one reason last Saturday: a male Surf Scoter (NM bird 307) had been seen in the area for about two weeks but was reliably present at the Marsh deck. It took some time, but someone picked the duck out on the far shore. We thought that would be our best view, but over the course of two hours, he lazily swam towards the deck and spent a good twenty minutes no more than 25 yards away! Scoters breed in freshwater lakes in Alaska and across northern Canada and usually winter along the coasts. Every year, though, a few migrate through the continent and end up far away from any ocean.

Our two hours went by pretty quickly and both Melissa and I were busy pointing birds out to people and telling them how cool they were. Most of the usual suspects were out on the water: Ruddy Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail, and Northern Shoveler. A trio of Eared Grebes fed halfway across the water, and one lone American Coot popped out of the reeds below the deck. We also noted a Marsh Wren or two calling nearby and one scurried along the shore right in front of the deck like a small rodent (and a real small rodent dashed by as well).

A very nice couple from Alaska, Casey and Carol (I think were their names), picked my brain for places to spot birds. I strongly suggested they make it up to the Sandia Crest house on Sunday for the first banding of the season. I hope that they made it!

Melissa and I drove around the refuge for about an hour, but didn’t note anything too exciting. The day had gotten overcast and windy, and green chile cheesburger had our names on them in San Antonio!


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2 Responses to Bosque del Apache Crane Festival birding

  1. Peggy says:

    Great picture of the surf scoter – what an opportunity to see such a beautiful bird so close up!

  2. Rebecca Gracey says:

    What a great sighting for your 307th New Mexico bird.

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