Much head turning and bobbing as the Sandhills converse, exchange greetings, leaping upward, even doing a little of their pair-bonding dance. Then one by one they follow the sentinel Crane, and they open their great wings to lift them aloft in the clear dawn air of a New Mexico winter sky.
Alice Lindsay Price
Each November Sandhill cranes descend on the Bosque del Apache, a wildlife refuge in south-central New Mexico. Thousands of them–it’s a noisy gathering.
Many migrate from Grays Lake in southeastern Idaho. The lake, really a large shallow marsh covered with bulrush and cattail, is where the huge birds (four-feet tall with six-foot wingspans) mate, nest, and raise their young. It’s a 700-mile trip to the Bosque (forest), situated on the Rio Grande, where they spend most of the winter.
Not far behind the Sandhills are the birders, many of whom probably travel farther than the cranes. They come armed with binoculars, telephoto lenses, and tripods hoping to get the perfect shot. In her book, Cranes: The Noblest Flyers, Alice Lindsay Price describes the thrill of seeing the flock take flight at daybreak on a cold winter morning.
Next week is the annual Festival of the Cranes, a six-day event filled with crane behavior seminars, wildlife photography workshops, and birding hikes. The cranes will stay on after the festival, many until February when they begin their journey north with a stopover in Colorado’s San Luis Valley for a few weeks before returning to Idaho.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to get to Bosque del Apache while the Sandhill cranes are in residence, so will have to make do with this moment in nature from last week’s CBS Sunday Morning show.