Sandhill Cranes: Experiencing the Wonder of Migration
Every November New Mexico's national wildlife refuge at Bosque del Apache, located in Socorro, celebrates the "Festival of the Cranes." This annual event commemorates the return of tens of thousands of birds on their migratory journey. Along with Sandhill Cranes, there are numerous varieties of ducks, geese and other winged wonders.
The sheer numbers of birds make the visit spectacular. This year I stayed overnight in order to see the in-coming evening flight and the out-going morning flight. Watching thousands of majestic birds back lit by the setting and rising sun was breathtaking.
Cranes are large, yet graceful; and can be truly elegant, yet at times they appear quite whimsical. With very long necks and long legs, they are known for "dancing" as part of their mating rituals. So their amorous antics appear playful and even comical. Averaging 41 inches in height, with a wingspan of 6 to 7 feet, seeing them at close range is quite dramatic. Their powerful gray wings can take them to altitudes of 500 to 2,500 feet (while some have reached a cruising altitude of 12,000 ft.); and they can travel up to 500 miles in a nine or ten hour day, according to, "The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior." Watching hundreds of them flying in formation is an incredible sight.
I have visited Bosque del Apache on several occasions and each time I am filled with wonder and delight. During this season, the calls of the Sandhill Cranes as they land, congregate and take flight are remarkable. Their conversations are loud and rather boisterous, yet have a deep almost haunting appeal.
You can hike on designated trails or tour the wetlands without leaving your vehicle. There is a beautiful cactus garden, gift store and wonderful exhibits at the Visitor's Center. The "Festival of the Cranes" is a fitting family outing and makes for a great annual tradition. Visiting Bosque del Apache year round is fun for all ages.
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