|Sand Hill Cranes (有丹頂的美洲沙丘鶴) in New
Mexico - 18,000 of Them Concentrated
1. Red-Crowned Cranes
Red-crowned cranes (丹頂鶴) are highly revered big birds in China and in Japan for their elegance and beauty,
symbolizing auspicious (吉祥 ) and longevity (壽 ). Red-crowned cranes often appear in many artistic paintings,
poetry, songs, silks and sculptures in China and in Japan. Japanese people consider the red-crowned cranes
as the Japanese sacred national bird. The colorful Japanese wedding gowns (kimonos) have large images of
red-crowned cranes as symbol of happiness.
2. Bosque del Apache
But we seldom see the real, wild and live, red-crowned cranes in nature. This is one of the main objectives of
my tour of New Mexico in February 2006 to enjoy watching 18,000 of sandhill cranes in Bosque del Apache
National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in New Mexico, USA. This birding site in New Mexico is one of the meccas of
wildlife photographers in the United States.
In the spring, summer and fall seasons, these sand hill cranes live in Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Alaska in
northern USA or in Canada, or even in Siberia. But in the winter season, these sand hill cranes migrate south
to stay in the warmer climate in Bosque del Apache (i.e. Spanish for Woods of Apache Indians) along Rio
Grande (i.e., Great River) in New Mexico.
In addition to 18,000 sand hill cranes, there are about 30,000 Snow and Ross's geese and 40,000 ducks in
this NWR in the winter season.
3. Large Number of Big Birds
The greater sand hill cranes stand at about 4 to 5 feet tall with wingspan of 7 to 8 feet. Such wide wingspan is
comparable to those of bald eagles and golden eagles (金鵰 ). Therefore, these greater sand hill cranes are
very large birds. Seeing one or two of such large birds is already very exciting. But we can see 18,000 of such
large birds in Bosque del Apache NWR in the winter season and it is quite a treat of sight and sound.
During daytime, these sand hill cranes spread out searching and eating foods in the farm fields in Bosque del
Apache NWR as shown in the following Pictures.
田園丹頂黃鶴仙姿， 亭亭玉立， 神采飄逸。
Four sand hill cranes on farm field in Bosque del Apache NWR. As you can see here that these sand hill
cranes have red crown.
Many sand hill cranes and snow geese on the farm field. As you can see that the sand hill cranes are much
taller and bigger than the snow geese.
A group of sand hill cranes coming in for landing at sunset time
Two flying sand hill cranes
Three flying sand hill cranes
This formation looks like a squadron of 5 jet fighters
空中芭蕾， 翩翩起舞， 精彩絕倫。
In addition to the 18,000 sand hill cranes, there are also many other wildlife in Bosque del Apache NWR, such
as 30,000 snow geese, 40,000 of several species of colorful ducks/water birds, plus many Canadian geese,
road-runners, pheasants, bald eagles, hawks (鷹 ), mule deer, beavers, cormorants, etc.
Many flying snow geese in formation
To sleep in the evening, all these sand hill cranes and snow geese fly in to roost and to stand in a special place
of shallow water which provides safety protection against some predators such as coyotes or bobcats as
shown in the following picture.
Sand hill cranes roosting (standing) in shallow water to sleep in the evening
Three sand hill cranes are flying in for landing with their landing gears down
4. Spectacular Fly In and Fly Out
The most spectacular view of these large numbers of big birds occurs during the sunset time of flying-in to
their evening roosting place and during the sunrise time of flying-out from their evening roosting place.
One of many waves of sand hill cranes flying in to evening roosting place
Big waves of snow geese flying in at sunset time to evening roosting place
The flying-in continues even after the moon rises.
During the sunset flying-in time, there are waves after waves of sand hill cranes, snow geese and ducks flying in
various formations. Furthermore, these big birds are not quiet but are quite vocal and loud to communicate with
each other while they are flying or on the farm field or roosting on shallow water. It is a fantastic experience to
observe such whole sky of flying big birds and to hear their very loud communications for one to two hours.
I have also observed large number of snow geese at sunset flying-in time at Bombay Hook National Wildlife
Refuge in Delaware as shown in the following web page:
I did not get a chance to see the morning fly out. But the following YouTube websites provide fantastic picture of
the whole sky of flying snow geese with associated description and the sound of the morning fly out.
After mid-February, the sand hill cranes begin their northward migration. The Platte River Valley in Nebraska is a
major stop for them to rest and to replenish their energy reserves before continuing on to their nesting grounds
in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Real time web-cam during spring migration period from mid-February to
mid-March plus photos and video clips of large number of sand hill cranes at Platte River can be seen at the
following National Geographic website:
5. Road Runner
I have seen TV cartoons on roadrunner and coyote, but I have never seen a real live roadrunner before. In this
trip, I am happy to see real live roadrunners all over the places in New Mexico. These roadrunners seem to
prefer to run on the road even though they can fly too.
Another group of sandhill cranes in flight
A very colorful pheasant in Basque del Apache NWR. This is the first time experience for me to see such
beautiful and colorful pheasant.
Three of a group of mule deers with antlers in Basque del Apache.
A bald eagle
Hawk on tree
Group of snow geese in flight
Many sandhill cranes and snow geese in flight and on farm field
A group of ducks in flight
Sandhill crane in flight in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, USA
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is 57,191 acres of protected area located along the Rio Grande
about 20 miles south of Socorro, New Mexico. Socorro is at the junction of Interstate Highway 25 and Highway
60 and is about 80 miles south of Albuquerque.
Direction to Bosque del Apache NWR:
From the north (Socorro, New Mexico): take Interstate Highway 25 south to San Antonio exit 139, then take
route 380 east for 0.5 mile, then take State Highway 1 south for 8 miles to this NWR.
From the south (Truth or Consequences, New Mexico): take Interstate Highway 25 north to San Marcial, then
take State Highway 1 to go north for 9 miles to this NWR.
Map: Click here to see Google Map showing location of Bosque del Apache NWR
It has a 15-mile loop to make it easy for visitors to drive their cars along the 15-mile loop to enjoy watching
many kinds of wildlife in action. More information on Bosque del Apache NWR is available at the following
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Another hawk on tree.