Experience the Great Migration of the Sandhill Cranes as They Return to New Mexico

Southward migration: underway! Sandhill cranes, ducks, and geese are arriving at Bosque del Apache! It is likely you will view them during your visit soon.

The world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things. 

—Excerpt from the poem Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is located in San Antonio, Socorro County, New Mexico. Situated between the Chupadera Mountains to the west and the San Pascual Mountains to the east, the 57,331 acre Bosque del Apache was established in 1939 to provide a critical stopover site for migrating waterfowl. The refuge is well known for the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, geese, and ducks who winter here each year. Over 30,000 acres of Bosque del Apache are designated wilderness.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seasons of wildlife

While there is always something interesting to observe, you will find the greatest numbers of birds at the refuge from early November to late January. In the spring and fall, migratory bird species are moving through the refuge resulting in high numbers of species. 

Each season, the Bosque del Apache offers unique bird and wildlife viewing opportunities. Peak visitation occurs in winter when bald eagles and thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese flock to the fields and marshes. Plan to visit the first week of December during the annual Festival of the Cranes. This world-famous event includes speakers, special tours, and arts and wildlife displays. More on the festival later

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter (mid-November through late January) 

Thousands of snow geese, Ross’s geese, and sandhill cranes spend the night in water to protect themselves from predators. Near dawn, the geese take off in a group in search of fields throughout the Middle Rio Grande Valley to feed in for the day. Smaller groups of sandhill cranes then leave the safety of the water for the same reason. Check the sunrise time and stop in the visitor center to learn the most recent roosting and feeding sites as they can change through the winter. 

In addition to viewing cranes and geese and many species of ducks, you can drive the auto tour loop or hike the trails and see hawks, eagles, blackbirds, ravens, coots, and other birds along with occasional mammals such as mule deer, coyotes, and jackrabbits. Check in with the visitor center staff for recent sightings. 

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring (mid-February through mid-May) 

The wetlands that were home to thousands of ducks, geese, and cranes all winter are slowly emptied of water in the spring providing prime feeding grounds for migrating sandpipers, stilts, plovers, dunlins, curlews, avocets, and twenty other shorebird species. Spring wildflowers add a bit more color to the landscape and greater roadrunners dart across and alongside the auto tour loop and Highway 1 in search of sluggish lizards and snakes.  

Spring is also when flycatchers, vireos, and a dozen species of warblers filter through either as a rest stop on migration or as they determine the best locations for their nesting territories on the refuge.  

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer (mid-May through mid-September) 

Summer is the time to see the colorful antics of black-chinned, calliope, broad-tailed, and rufous hummingbirds. The flowers of spring transition to the fruits of summer especially in the desert arboretum. Also look for the many young birds moving around the refuge. Some, like the quail, scurry around in long lines of a dozen or more. 

Mornings and evenings are good times to view wildlife in the heat of the summer—most creatures will seek shade in the middle of the day. Near waterways are good places to search for wildlife and signs of wildlife (such as tracks).  

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall (mid-September through mid-November) 

Late season sunflowers are a colorful contrast to the red-winged blackbirds that swoop and dart through the grasses. The first cranes and geese typically show up at the end of October during which time coyotes, mule deer, and javelina are moving through open fields as well. Wild turkeys begin moving to the northern part of the refuge to join up with other family groups in separate male and female roosting flocks.  

The Dabbler Deck or Willow Deck are good places to take a break and search for ducks dabbling in the water for food especially the northern shovelers and northern pintails.  

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Featured species

Because National Wildlife Refuges like Bosque del Apache are protected and managed lands, they can make ideal locations for the recovery of plant and animal species that are endangered, threatened, or have another special status through the Endangered Species Act. Bosque del Apache is a seasonal home to the endangered southwestern willow flycatcher and the threatened yellow-billed cuckoo. Bosque del Apache is a year-round home to the endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse and Rio Grande silvery minnow.  

The waters, trees, and skies of Bosque del Apache yield a changing mix of birds throughout the seasons. Over 20 species of ducks and geese regularly spend part of their winters at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Seeds of grasses and sedges that have been growing all summer are the reward after migrating south for large numbers of northern pintail, northern shoveler, gadwall, and American wigeon. In summer, smaller numbers of Mexican duck, wood duck, and cinnamon teal may be found in the wetlands and ditches. Sandhill cranes are a winter visitor—typically from late October through late January. 

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

34th annual Festival of the Cranes, December 6-9, 2023

Celebrate the return of the sandhill cranes at the 34th annual Festival of the Cranes, December 6-9, 2023 in Socorro. Join birding experts from near and far for a chance to learn about Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and many of New Mexico’s overwintering birds. The Festival offers over seventy creative workshops in the field at Bosque del Apache and indoor workshops at New Mexico Tech.

The Festival celebrates the survival and yearly migration of the enigmatic sandhill crane. The sandhill crane is an ancient species of waterfowl that migrates from Canada and the northern U.S. to winter in the Rio Grande Valley. The oldest fossil on record is 1.7 million years old. Both cranes and snow geese begin arriving in smaller numbers at the refuge in late October. By early December, tens of thousands of cranes and snow geese make the Middle Rio Grande Valley their home until they migrate back north in mid-February. 

Snow geese and Ross’s geese at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most popular presenters will return to offer education and up-close viewings of wildlife. Festival workshops focus on photography, birding, and environmental education as well as offering hikes and historical tours of the area. Registration for the general public opened Wednesday, October 11. Workshops are filling up quickly but many still have plenty of space available. To register and learn more about this year’s Festival, click here (https://friendsofbosquedelapache.ticketspice.com/2023-festival-of-the-cranes-registration).

Field workshops will be outdoors at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge with buses taking registrants to various locations. Additionally, there will be three nighttime photography workshops at the Very Large Array on the San Agustin plains, one hour west of Socorro. Indoor workshops will meet in classrooms at Macey Center on the New Mexico Tech campus in Socorro.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Expo Room located in the downstairs and upstairs lobbies at NM Tech’s Macey Center for the opportunity to meet and explore unique offerings from several vendors including camera and optics companies, eco-tourism partners, and this year’s art contest winner, Lisa Benham. The Expo Room is free to enter and open to the public. Anyone coming to the Expo Room on the first day of Festival will receive a welcome packet with great coupons and other goodies.

What do people love about Festival of the Cranes? Guests who attended the 2022 Festival shared that they loved the sense of community the festival provided. “Being able to gather with people from around the world and of all ages in a unique environment was an unforgettable experience,” said one attendee. Other guests were amazed by the educational quality of the workshops and the new skills they learned. Many attendees appreciated the opportunity to be outdoors and experience the amazing sites, wildlife, and healing energy of nature.

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Festival Facts

Why: We gather to celebrate the annual return of sandhill cranes and the delicate oasis ecosystem that supports them at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Festival is an opportunity for people who care about New Mexico’s wildlife and wild places to have fun outside, meet like-minded people, and learn how to sharpen their birding and photography skills.

What: 34th Annual Festival of the Cranes

When: Wednesday, December 6-Saturday, December 9, 2023

Where: Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (outdoor workshops) and New Mexico Tech (indoor seminars)

Sandhill cranes Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cost: Varies with some events and activities cost-free.

Who’s Invited: EVERYONE! Visit the fragile oasis in the high desert—a rare jewel that has been cherished by New Mexicans from all walks of life for generations.

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

The 10 Best Day Trips in Southern California

Did your favorite Southern California experience make the list?

Home to so many large urban centers, Southern California is also incredibly rich in diverse ecosystems that range from deserts to mountaintops. Small charming towns provide a wonderful, relaxing destination in their own right while national and state parks offer active recreation but also an opportunity to get close to the natural world.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Located in the heart of the Sonoran Desert, Palm Springs is known for its healing hot springs, luxury hotels, world-class golf courses, and pampering spas. Palm Springs has a number of great mid-century modern architecture examples especially in its downtown shopping district on Palm Canyon Drive.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just outside the city is Coachella Valley with excellent trails for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. Take the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to the top of San Jacinto Peak for spectacular views of the city. Visit the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens to see what thrives in the sparse desert ecosystem. Enjoy the 1938 Palm Springs Art Museum to learn about regional art, performing arts, and natural science.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian

Julian is a charming historic town and a popular mountain getaway in the scenic Cuyamaca Mountains. Julian was in the heart of the only San Diego gold rush when gold was found in a local creek in early 1870. The gold rush did not last long but many miners stayed to farm the rich land. Many remnants from the gold rush era are still standing and visitors can travel back in time by visiting the historic 1870 buildings.

Related: Out and About In Southern California

Mom’s Pie House, Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold made Julian, but apples made Julian famous. Its legendary crop won first prize at two World’s Fairs and is still the reason many visitors flock to this mountain town. No trip to Julian would be complete without digging into a slice of the town’s famed apple pie.

Old Town Temecula © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Town Temecula

Located in the heart of Temecula, the Old Town district is a unique blend of historic buildings, shops, restaurants, museums, hotels, weekly farmers’ markets, and special events in one walkable area. History buffs can wander the streets viewing rustic buildings, sidewalks, and storefronts reminiscent of the historic golden west in the 1880s. Take a step back in time and stroll along the wooden boardwalks past rustic western-era buildings, antique shops, and specialty boutiques.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is a house museum in Desert Hot Springs. A large, Hopi-style pueblo was built in the Pueblo revival style by homesteader and adventurer Cabot Abram Yerxa in the early 20th century. The four-story 5,000-square-foot house was entirely hand-made from found and reclaimed objects and has 35 rooms, 65 doors, and 150 windows.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The house museum is a fascinating portrait of the life adventures of Cabot Yerxa and his family. It includes many household artifacts collected during their adventures through the Dakota Territory, Mexico, Alaska, Cuba, France, California, and the Southwest. There are also many artworks from Alaska Native and Native American cultures as well as curious memorabilia of desert homesteaders’ life.

Related: California’s Timeless Getaway: Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park has two distinct desert ecosystems, the high Mojave Desert and the lower Colorado Desert. It is home to an incredible diversity of plants and is characterized by stark, empty desert landscapes and rugged and colorful rock formations.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park got its name for one of the most common trees in the region: The twisted, strange-looking, bristly Joshua tree. The incredible beauty and strange energy of the place have long attracted painters, musicians, and other artistic types.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, the park offers all kinds of adventures, from exploring the Indian Cove Nature Trail to rock climbing at Echo Cove or any of over 8,000 climbs and 400 rock formations to strolling through the magical Cholla Cactus Garden.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

Anza-Borrego Desert, the largest state park in California, and was established in 1933 to protect unique and fragile desert ecosystems. The park is framed by rugged ranges of the Bucksnorts, the Santa Rosas, the Jacumba Mountains, the Vallecito Mountains, the Pinyon Mountains, the Anza-Borrego Mountains, and the Carrizo Badlands.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 500 miles of roads run through the park, over rocky hills, deep sands, cool streams, and steep hills, some requiring an off-road vehicle. The park includes some of the warmest temperatures in the country as well as rich 6,000-year-old archaeological findings. Visiting the park in the spring will award visitors with a spectacular mosaic of wildflowers. The park is home to many animals including mountain lions, coyotes, and bighorn sheep.

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge

As a US congressman from California, Sonny Bono fought for funding to save the Salton Sea which suffers from water depletion, pollution, and too much salinity. The refuge was established in 1930 as a breeding ground for birds and wild animals and was renamed to honor Bono after he died in a skiing accident in 1998. 

Related: Spotlight on California: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Sony Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 400 bird species, 41 species of mammals, 18 species of reptiles, four species of amphibians, and 15 species of fish have been recorded on the refuge. The refuge features a visitor center, an observation tower, and a trail that climbs to the top of a small inactive volcano—two miles out and back.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Temecula Valley Wine Country

For many visitors, the Temecula Valley Wine Country is a surprise. After all, a lot of people just don’t expect to see gently rolling hills blanketed with rows of vineyards in Southern California. But the Temecula Valley has been producing top wines since the 1970s. And like the best vintages, this wine country just gets better with age.

Temecula Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s a diverse growing region, home to everything from cooler climate grapes like Chardonnay to such warm-weather loving varieties as Syrah and Grenache. The tasting experience is varied, too. Visit posh wineries with lavish restaurants overlooking the vines and summer concerts featuring top performers.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Coachella Valley Preserve

One of the most unique places in the Coachella Valley is the Coachella Valley Preserve. The 17,000-acre site has 25 miles of hiking trails and is home to the spectacular Thousand Palm Oasis which is fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also several other palm oases including the Willis, Hidden Horseshoe, and Indian Palms. Located in the center is the Paul Wilhelm Grove which is also the location of the Preserve’s visitor’s center. The preserve has several hiking trails including the McCallum, Hidden Palms, Moon Country, Pushawalla Palms, and Willis Palms.

Related: Road-tripping on California’s Less-traveled Lanes

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monsters in the Desert

The desert landscape near Borrego Springs has been changed forever by the appearance of prehistoric creatures that pop up alongside the roadside. The original steel welded sculptors, the craft of artist/welder Ricardo Breceda, began arriving in April 2008 on Dennis Avery’s private parcel of land known as Galleta Meadows Estate.

Borrego sculptors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are now over 130 meticulously crafted metal sculptures sprinkled throughout the small town of Borrego Springs. Elephants, raptors, mammoths, sloths, and saber-toothed tigers prowl the desert off Borrego Springs Road north and south of the town proper. From ground-hugging desert tortoises to rearing horses, each rust-colored sculpture is filled with intricate detail–from the curling eyelashes of 10-foot high elephants to the shaved metal fur of the equally imposing sloths.

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no name, where the streets have no name …

Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987