Festival of Cranes: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

The Fly-Out in the morning and the Fly-In in the evening are memorable events. That’s part of the mystique, why the cranes get top billing here, why the organizers call this event The Festival of Cranes.

The refuge is open an hour before dawn and closes an hour after dusk, to enable visitors to be on hand when the birds begin and conclude their daily activities. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A week before Thanksgiving (November 15-20, in 2011), Bosque officials celebrate the birds’ arrival with six days of birding tours, field seminars, and formal lectures.

You’ll learn that these are ancient, ancient birds, and the sound they make is ancient and has never been imitated. It has echoed across geological time. They have seen mountains and rivers come and go. They have survived and adapted to everything.

Divided into two species—the lesser and the greater—sandhill cranes follow the seasons, the former summering as far away as Siberia and the latter in a refuge in southeastern Idaho.

Standing 4 feet tall on long, thin legs, with boat-shaped bodies, grayish plumage, featherless red caps, and ever-wary amber eyes, they are transformed by flight, fast becoming long, sleek, and sensual, powered by 6-foot wingspans.


We spent eight memorable days last November celebrating the return of the Cranes to Bosque. Bosque Birdwatchers RV Park, on State Route 1, several miles north of the Refuge, was our convenient home-base during this time. Long pull-through sites with 50/30 amp electricity, water, and sewer are available. Daily rates are $23-26. Weekly and monthly rates are also available.

Photo Tips

Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunrises and sunsets are magical times at Bosque, and often end up involving silhouettes. Silhouettes abstract objects into a two-dimensional shape, eliminating their color and texture.

Merging two cranes into one can either be electrifying or make the birds difficult to comprehend. In most cases, you’ll want to keep the objects in your photo separated and unmerged if you want the viewer to be able to make sense of the image.

For example, in Early Morning Anticipation, I worked not only to keep the four sandhill cranes apart, but I tried to selected moments when their heads and beaks were silhouetted against the water of the pond. Often times, easier said than done. That fourth crane just did not want to cooperate! You’ll require considerable patience and incredible luck—and a long lens that will accomplish this feat.


Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Operating Hours: Open year-round; Visitors Center: Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; weekends: 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; Tour Loop: 1 hour before sunrise-1 hour after sunset

Location: From Socorro, 9 miles south in I-25 to exit 139, ¼-mile east on U.S. 380 to the flashing signal in San Antonio, and 9 miles south (turn right) on Old Highway 1 to refuge entrance

Best Times: November-January

Festival of the Cranes: November 15-20, 2011

Admission: $3/vehicle; all federal lands passes accepted

Contact: (575) 835-1828

Address: P.O. Box 340, San Antonio, NM 87832

Website: fws.gov

Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR (Friends of the Bosque)

The refuge is open an hour before dawn and closes an hour after dusk, to enable visitors to be on hand when the birds begin and conclude their daily activities. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Website: friendsofthebosque.org
Note: This is the last of a three-part series on Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.

Part 1: Birding Hotspot

Part 2: Woods of the Apache

Worth Pondering…
A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends to do otherwise.

—Henry David Thoreau

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