Friday, January 29, 2010

1/19 to 1/21 in New Mexico - Bosque Del Apache Area

For our 3 days in San Antonio, we stayed at Casa Blanca B&B. We highly recommend this B&B since it is only 10 minutes from Bosque and is run by great people. Phoebe, the owner is a great hostess and her partner Phil is the former manager of Bosque so he is a wealth of information about the refuge and conservation in general. You can check out our review on tripadvisor here (EDH_Traveler).

Based on advice from Phoebe, we were out before dawn and took the auto loop at the refuge. She mentioned that Willow Deck was a good place to start since the mass geese lift off had been inconsistent the last few days. As dawn approached, we could see that no geese were in the Willow Deck area, but we heard them cackling off in the distance and could just make out the mass of geese as they flew up in the distance. We missed the liftoff, but were enjoying the hundreds of cranes and ducks that were having a bit of a feeding frenzy in the pond out in front of the deck. As more cranes came in, the sounds got louder and only the constant clicking of my camera shutter broke up the natural sounds of the area.

As I was taking pictures of pretty much anything that moved, Karen whispered..."Would it be too much to ask for a bobcat to walk by?". Yeah..right. I thought.

Unfortunately, having the camera on the tripod pointed out towards the pond cost us a great photo opportunity based on what happened about 10 minutes later. Karen grabbed my arm and pointed down toward the bottom of the elevated deck. Walking right below us not 15 feet away was a huge bobcat. I tried to quietly get the camera off the tripod but only succeeded in making some slight noise which alerted the bobcat to our presence. It looked right at us for a second or two and they quickly walked into the willows beside the deck and out of sight. The whole experience probably lasted less than 10 seconds but it was great. This was our first bobcat sighting and it was amazing to be so close to it and to stare it in the eyes. Of course, the only disappointment was the lack of photographic evidence, but we still have the images in our minds.

Since we felt that Karen's earlier declaration about seeing a bobcat must have led to the eventual sighting, we made sure she kept it up the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, we didn't have the same luck again. However, she did end the trip by saying "Wouldn't it be nice if we won the lotto". So, we have that going for us...which is nice.

Breakfast was being served at 8:30AM so we needed to head back. We followed the north end of the auto loop, which yielded some white-tailed deer, four bald eagles, and more cranes. Our bobcat sighting was a hit at breakfast and Phil told us that he had seen two in that area recently. So, we knew we needed to go back to try our luck again.

Bosque Del Apache is an amazing place for nature lovers. The huge auto loop makes it really easy to get close looks at the thousands of birds that hang out in the trees and ponds. Plus, there are many native mammals and reptiles to encounter. Since it was winter, we had no reptile sightings during our stay, but that is one more reason to come back a different time of year. Bosque Del Apache also has a few trails that provide ample hiking opportunity through the different ecosystems that exist at the refuge.

The rest of our day was spent on the auto loop, hiking some of the trails, or stopping at the Prairie Dog town in hopes of spotting one of its residents. While we did manage to see 3 of their Black-tailed Prairie dogs, they were too far away for pictures and didn't venture far from their burrow. However, we did have some great photo opportunities through out the day.

We ended the day by spending sunset at the Flight Deck and then heading to Socorro for dinner at a great Mexican restaurant where we took stock of the days sightings. While the bobcat was the obvious highlight of the day, we also spotted many white-tailed deer, coyotes, more roadrunners (who were fast becoming our favorite birds) and of course thousands of ducks, snow geese and sandhill cranes.

For the next morning, we had the choice of going to Willow Deck again with hopes of trying to see the bobcats in the area or trying to locate the mass snow geese liftoff. We opted for the latter since we wanted to experience that once during our trip. Unfortunately, we woke up to overcast and cold conditions. By the time we reached the refuge the rain started and so did the wind. So instead of standing out in the rain trying to figure out where the geese would take off, we decided to head to the ponds in the main road just outside the auto loop since we knew that once the snow geese lifted off, the ponds were their destination. This turned out to be a good choice since we could stay in the car to avoid the elements and still see the action. Soon after our arrival, the rain let up and we were able to walk around. The ponds already had about a thousand cranes in them who obviously spent the night there. Just before the sun came up, we could hear the snow geese coming. Wave after wave of snow geese arrived and landed in the ponds cackling the whole time.

Unlike refuges in our area, you can get really close to the birds here and they don't seem to mind. Some photographers were less than 20 yards from the birds but we stood on the edge of the pond about 50 yards away. All of sudden, the snow geese started to take off. Even though they only took off in groups that were probably less than 1,000 strong, they flew right over our heads. The sound was deafening and it was truly a great wildlife spectacle. Thank goodness birds tend to poop right before they take off as opposed to right after since we would have been prime targets. Zippy ended up taking a hit right in the windshield but we left the scene unscathed.

As great as the snow geese lift off experience was, back at breakfast we learned we missed the bobcat at Willow Deck that morning. One of the couples staying at the B&B had decided to go to Willow Deck that morning based on our sighting the morning before. They had great luck as the bobcat was actually hunting in the pond in the low light. We now knew what we were doing the following morning.

The wind really howled for the rest of the day and put a bit of a damper on our plans to hike and take pictures. The forecast was for some nasty weather to come in and the wind was just a precursor so we knew we needed to make the best of it. We nearly got blown over taking the Marsh hike and many of the critters were hunkered down from the winds, but we did manage to see harrier hawks, a sharp-shinned hawk, cormorants, ducks and a couple racoons.

The wind didn't seem to bother the snow geese and cranes however since they were just as lively as ever.

In the afternoon, we decided to get out of the wind and take a drive to see the area. Phoebe recommended that we drive up to Water Canyon which we did. This is a really pretty area and we got to see around 50 pronghorn on the way which was a nice treat. We would have ventured deeper into the canyon but the rains we had the night before turned into snow here and the road weren't plowed. So, we went back to Bosque and spent the rest of the evening driving the auto loop and watching the cranes.

On our last morning at the refuge we were out about 1/2 hour before dawn and at Willow Deck. Our new friends from the B&B were already there hoping to repeat the great bobcat sighting from the day before. Unfortunately, the bobcat didn't come back. We think this was mostly due to the fact that the huge number of ducks in this pond the last few days had moved on so there wasn't any food sources for the bobcat. After about an hour in the numbing cold, we gave up, returned to zippy to warm up and moved on. Since we were leaving for Arizona after breakfast we wanted to take one last tour of the refuge. The snow geese and cranes didn't disappoint.

After breakfast, we packed up and headed back to Arizona. Since we had more time, we took the more scenic Highway 1 south instead of the freeway which was nice. We stopped at Elephant Butte Lake State Park on the way out to see the mass of Common Grebes that were spotted in the area but the wind had picked up again and the choppy waters made it tough to see the grebes.

The 3 hour or so trip to Portal Arizona had its share of adventures, but none involved wildlife unfortunately.

This first adventure I will call "Troubles with a Tumbleweed". This adventure actually started at Elephant Butte Lake where I couldn't avoid running over a tumbleweed that blew into our path in town. We didn't hear any noises when it went under the car and it exited out the back intact so I thought nothing more of it. An hour and a half later, we stopped in Deming to get supplies for our next destination. The car was making a noticable whining sound at slow speeds in Deming. Karen suggested that the sounds actually started soon after we ran over the tumbleweed. Well, that's impossible right? How could a little round dried up plant hurt a car. So, in my infinite wisdom I think I actually uttered "Jesus...It's not the tumbleweed". (I used italics to emphasize the "tone" in my voice.) Well, the noise got worse and we pulled off into a parking lot. I got out to look under the car and what did I see....a huge hunk of rock hard tumble weed stuck up under the car. Contrary to what us tumbleweed virgins think, it's not just a dried up plant. It's really hard thick wood that didn't want to come out from under the car. I eventually got it out and said my apologies to Karen (who was nicer than she should have been) and we set off again towards Portal.

As we were driving 80 on highway 10 and getting close to the lovely metropolis of Lordsburg New Mexico we noticed this low cloud out in the the distance. The funny thing was, this cloud wasn't white or gray like a storm was brown. We quickly realized that this was no cloud, it was a dust storm. I flashed back to all the "Zero Visibility Possible" signs along this stretch that we saw a few days back on our way to Bosque and realized that we didn't want to go through this. Luckily, a quick map check showed an alternative route south coming up that appeared to go around the dust storm. So, we got off the freeway and only looked back long enough to see that this dust storm looked pretty big and that we did the wise thing.

We arrived at our destination in Portal, in the late afternoon. But, the winds were once again blowing really hard so we decided to stay inside until the morning. It was nice to relax and retire early.

Click on the "Older Posts" link below to view the last trip report from this trip.

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