12-Hour Birding Day at the Bosque del Apache

Earlier this week I took advantage of the beautiful warm weather and decided to spend an entire day at the Bosque del Apache wildlife refuge.  I had never been there before at dawn so was really looking forward to it.

In order to be there at sunrise I had to leave my house at 4:30 am. It was worth the early alarm as I had a fabulous day.

My goal for the day was to get a good photo of a male bufflehead, see the snow geese fly off in mass ascension, and get a decent photo of a bald eagle. My friend Joe had told me they had been spotted there recently.

So warm clothes donned, camera and tripod loaded, and a large cup of coffee I hit the road. I was greeted at the entrance to the refuge by a stunning sunrise.

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I love my Nikon 1 camera as it is very small and lightweight and my zoom lens goes to 810mm. But sadly its performance drops in low light even with a tripod. So my photos of the dawn flights of the sandhill cranes are not very sharp.

But it was fun to watch them climb up onto the ice before taking off.

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Sandhill Cranes

After watching the cranes for awhile I thought I’d see how the snow geese were doing at the pond next door. Sadly I missed the mass ascension. I hoped I’d get to see them later in the day.

I then drove around the large ponds at the main part of the refuge. I caught a mallard in mid lift off but the light was still pretty low.

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Mallard

I stopped to watch a few of the various songbirds feeding in the bushes along the road.

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Song Sparrow

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Western Meadowlark – Can you see two of them?

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White-Crowned Sparrow

While watching these birds I happened to hear a Marsh Wren. I was determined to get a photo as its a new bird for me. I managed to get a pretty decent shot. They are tough to photograph as they are fast, shy and usually stay hidden in the reeds.

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Marsh Wren

Next I visited the main pond. I saw lots of Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintail – which I think are elegant.

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Northern Shoveler – love the purple sheen

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Northern Shoveler – female

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Northern Pintail

Then much to my delight I saw several pairs of Bufflehead! Success! One of my goals completed! I wanted to capture the beautiful colors on the male’s head.

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Bufflehead – female

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Bufflehead – male

I saw a few other waterfowl but not in great numbers like the shovelers and pintails.

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Green-Winged Teal

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American Coot

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Ruddy Duck

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Lesser Scaup

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Killdeer – cute looking head on

I had at this point been birding for several hours. I hadn’t seen any bald eagles and was also surprised I hadn’t seen any deer. But I did run into my friend Joe 🙂  He was there with his friend Terry and it sounded like they had a good morning as well. It’s always great to see him out in the field. 🙂

On the back road of the refuge I came across an old timer Heron. You could tell he has been a long time resident of the refuge because he was perfectly at ease being photographed from just a few feet away and I even got out of my car. I watched him preen for a good several minutes.

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Great Blue Heron

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Great Blue Heron

And right next to the Heron I watched a doe and two babies walk out of the deep grasses.

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Young Mule Deer – you can still see some spots on its rump

I continued to drive along the back road and was happily surprised by seeing a pair of bald eagles relaxing in a shade tree. Success again on my goals! They were a ways away with no way of getting closer but I’m still pleased with my photo.

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Bald Eagles

I drove along the farm fields on the refuge. The snow geese were there in great numbers but in the far back 40! So still no luck getting photos of them. But the sandhill cranes were close by as well as a couple of roadrunners and a hunting kestrel.

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American Kestral

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Greater Roadrunner

I saw several Red-Tailed Hawks at great distances. A number of Kestrels and several Northern Harriers. The last of which I was able to get a decent photo in flight. I’ve been practicing those “in flight photos”.

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Northern Harrier

As I was making my way back to the visitors center I decided to stop and photograph some coots that were in a canal close to the road. I always love the coots. Most people overlook or dismiss them. But because I didn’t I was rewarded by a beautiful find. Sitting not 8 feet from me just grooming peacefully in the sun was a Common Gallinule. I was just standing there watching several coots when I realized this bird was different. I watched that bird for some time and he was never concerned about me being so close. He eventually walked back into the reeds. I was so thankful for such a wonderful experience.

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Common Gallinule

I was one happy birder at this point. It had been a wonderful day so far.

I decided to see what was at the feeders at the visitors center as Joe mentioned seeing White-Throated Sparrows. And indeed there were those Sparrows along with Song Sparrows, dove and to my delight a Pyrrhuloxia!

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White-Winged Dove

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White-Throated Sparrow

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Pyrrholuxia

The number and variety of birds was increasing as I sat and watched the feeders. I was curious to see what else might come in to feed when all of a sudden a Northern Harrier swooped in, grabbed for a bird and took off. Everything scattered and disappeared! So much for watching the feeders….

It was starting to get late in the day. I was hungry as I hadn’t eaten since 4 am and it was now 3:30 in the afternoon. I was having so much fun I hadn’t even felt hungry.

I made my way to the entrance pond and saw a large number of photographers set up filming a large number of snow geese. I immediately thought “mass ascension”.

I quickly found me a spot among the more professional photographers with their many thousand dollar camera and lens setups. You know….those giant lenses that need their own tripod…

I got several nice pics with my little Nikon 1 camera that didn’t break the bank…

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Snow Goose

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Snow Goose

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Snow Goose – Blue Phase

I saw another goose that I initially thought was a dark morph snow goose. But upon closer inspection realized it was a Greater White-Fronted Goose. The same goose I had been looking for on my last birding day out. 🙂

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Greater White-Fronted Goose

Then all of a sudden the Snow Geese started taking off in waves of mass ascension! They were heading off to their preferred sleeping pond. It was so spectacular! Joe and Terry ended up there with me too. We all enjoyed the beautiful sight!

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Snow Geese

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Snow Geese

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Snow Geese – last wave of mass ascension

Now by this time I was feeling very thankful for the wonderful experiences of the day. Seeing God’s beauty and wonder in the varied wildlife and scenery around me. Thankful that my health had improved so much that I could spend an entire day soaking up the miracles of the refuge.

But sadly some of those photographers with their thousands of dollars in equipment just didn’t appreciate what was around them. After the last wave of snow geese had flown away this photographer next to me picked up his gear and mumbled “I waited 2.5 hours for that?! They didn’t fly in the direction they were supposed to for any good pics and they didn’t fly all at once as was expected.”  He continued to grumble as he stomped grumpily to his car. I felt very sad for him that he had lost sight of the wonders around him because he couldn’t get a perfect photo…

As I left the refuge I was flying high on my experiences of the day. I was starving as it had been 12 hours since I had eaten. But I had to stop one more time for a few more pics as I saw a field with Sandhill Cranes and a huge flock of a variety of blackbirds.

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Various blackbirds flying in front of Sandhill Cranes

A beautiful ending to a fantastic day. I drove home with thankfulness in my heart for the opportunity I had to visit the refuge and its winter migrants.

6 thoughts on “12-Hour Birding Day at the Bosque del Apache

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