We’re in New Mexico today, our first day of photography on Backcountry Journeys 2019 Bosque Del Apache & White Sands tour.
Bosque Del Apache is a 57,000-acre wildlife refuge located in south-central New Mexico, and it is currently booming with migratory wildlife as thousands of Snow Geese, Ross’s geese, and Sandhill Cranes have arrived at these valuable wintering grounds along the Rio Grande.
Each morning the birds will leave the safety of the waters in which they sleep, seemingly all at once, flying off in search of sustenance. If you’ve not previously experienced the morning “blast-off,” it is a phenomenon to behold – and of course photograph, and that is precisely what we are out doing today!
These amazing and photogenic birds travel great distances each year in order to get to Bosque. Part of their mystique perhaps comes from this instinctive nature to migrate. While there are several different waterfowl spending winter here, most folks seemingly attract most to the Sandhill Crane, and I suppose we all fall into that category, as well.
Because of this attraction, we thought it might be fun to take a look at 10 cool things that make these cranes awesome.
Ten Cool Things that make Sandhill Cranes Awesome
- A fossil of a crane was found in Nebraska that is estimated to be nearly 10 million years old. This makes cranes one of the oldest known species of birds in existence today.
- Not dissimilar to humans, Sandhill Cranes choose their partners based on their dancing abilities. Once chosen though, they mate for life.
- In fact, these birds are well known for their dancing skills. Displaying birds stretch their wings, pump their heads, bow, and leap into the air. This behavior is sought after by wildlife photographers the world over. Capturing an image of a dancing crane is one major thing that has drawn many of us in our group here to Bosque this week!
- During winter migration, crane families group together with other families and nonbreeders, forming loose roosting and feeding flocks—in places like Bosque Del Apache these numbers in the tens of thousands. Watching the great ‘blast-off’ is another MAJOR reason many of us are here this week!
- Cranes attack aerial predators by leaping into the air and kicking their feet forward. They threaten terrestrial predators by spreading their wings and hissing, eventually resorting to kicking. Another fantastic photo opportunity, if it should present itself!
- Sandhill Crane chicks can leave the nest within eight hours of hatching and are even capable of swimming.
- The oldest Sandhill Crane on record was at least 36 years, seven months old. Originally banded in Wyoming in 1973, it was found in New Mexico in 2010.
- The Sandhill Crane’s call is a loud, rolling, trumpeting sound whose unique tone is a product of anatomy: Sandhill Cranes have long tracheas (windpipes) that coil into the sternum and help the sound develop a lower pitch and harmonics that add richness.
- They are simply incredible to watch as they blast off into the sky each morning, or return in huge numbers in the evening during their winter stay in places such as Bosque Del Apache.
- The elegance of cranes has inspired people in cultures all over the world—including the great scientist, conservationist, and nature writer Aldo Leopold, who wrote of their “nobility, won in the march of eons.” (Sandhill Crane facts borrowed from allaboutbirds.com)
As interesting as these birds are, the Sandhills crane is not the ONLY draw on this fantastic New Mexican tour! In addition to photographing the cranes and the Snow geese, who are also here in huge numbers, there are many species of duck, hawk, eagle, and other birds along with occasional mammals, such as mule deer, coyotes, javelina and jackrabbits to find as well.
To the delight of our landscape photographers, our tour itinerary will take us this week to neighboring White Sands National Monument. At White Sands, we’ll create magical, almost haunting landscape images of the world’s largest gypsum sand dune field. White Sands is truly one of the world’s greatest natural wonders and perhaps somewhat hidden gem (Read more about the haunting nature of White Sands here).
We’ll also be dining at charming and tasty local eateries, spending time with talented and interesting like-minded new friends, in addition to growing our photography skills. All of this sounds just too good to miss out on! We do hope to see you in New Mexico, or on another Backcountry Journeys tour in the coming year!
Kenton Krueger has spent the past several years guiding backpackers, hikers and photographers into the wild places of the American West such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Katmai, Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, as well as internationally in Costa Rica & Brazil. In addition to backpacking and camping, his adventures include rock climbing, exploring the slot canyons of southern Utah, mountain biking, and bagging 14ers in Colorado’s San Juan Mountain Mountain Range. Kenton is a trail runner, former pilot, and has had several of his writings and photographs published in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper. Kenton looks forward to utilizing his years of guiding experience, combined with his passion and experience behind the lens to provide memorable and unforgettable experiences at the wild places we will visit together.