Over the River and Through the Bosque


A Duck’s Head Cloud. Maybe.

I’ve fallen in love. With a bird.

To be more precise, I’ve fallen in love with a migratory waterfowl, the Sandhill Crane, after my wife and I visited the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge this Thanksgiving. The Bosque, as it’s more widely known (the word translates as “woods”in Spanish), is a series of now-manmade marshes that butt up against the Rio Grande River as it passes through central New Mexico, and is the stomping grounds for tens of thousands of migratory waterfowl during winter.

That’s right, bird fans: tens of thousands. A cursorial check of today’s bird counts on the Bosque, as provided by the Friends of the Bosque del Apache NWR, includes: 3,899 cranes, 9,269 ducks, 13,401 light geese, 245 water and shore birds and 210 Canada Geese. And if that’s not enough to overwhelm you, today there are, apparently, 60 raptors sailing somewhere overhead in the refuge: kestrels, hawks of all sorts, and eagles. On our tour, an American Bald Eagle posted himself upon the top branch of a dead tree in the center of one of the marshes. Delightful? Certainly. Ready-made amateur photographer’s dream come true? Absolutely.

In short (from a non-birder who nevertheless adores them), there were birds out the wazoo. But it was the cranes that lifted me, and the Sandhill Cranes specifically. Gray bodies, crimson pates, long necks and beaks. They stood about as tall as a yardstick, and when they flew into a nearby marsh–in groups known as “echelons”–their skinny legs dangled behind them in some secret form of untapped symmetry. They squawked right up to touchdown, and continued squawking among themselves, hopping up and down in what was surely their mating dances.

As I watched the cranes, I had that sense of collectiveness that I only rarely feel, the idea that our world is comprised of millions of causes and effects, where cause begets effect and new effect becomes new cause, until everything begins to relate to everything else in either large or small ways. I felt a sense of gratefulness as well, especially for those who recognized the need to recreate the Rio Grande’s wetlands during the depression. Dams and diversions there had weakened the river’s ability to support the birds, and numerous of the species who count on wintering there, including the Sandhill Cranes, would have suffered without us taking the time to fix the problem.

We returned to Tucson Sunday evening, but just west of Hatch, New Mexico, where we ate at Sparky’s and purchased our obligatory numbers of world-famous chiles, Deborah and I noticed a cloud formation that looked suspiciously like a duck’s head. Maybe it doesn’t, and maybe it does. Or maybe, after we had the privilege of watching so many beautiful beasts carrying on in their ancient migratory ways, we were just a little more in tune with the earth. And thereby, with ourselves.

I’ve so far failed in every attempt I’ve made to write one poem about the Sandhill Cranes. I suppose I should leave that to poets who do well with nature, like my friend Scott Edward Anderson (whose excellent collection, Fallow Field, I reviewed here several months ago).

Knowing me, I’ll keep trying. And, knowing me, I’ll enjoy each and every failed attempt. In the meantime, it’s probably time to consider when we’ll visit to the Bosque del Apache again.


3 thoughts on “Over the River and Through the Bosque

  1. Enjoyed this post, Rick. So glad you and Deb came to visit, and hope you again soon. I too have been captured by cranes- so much so that we are considering visiting the Platte river and International Crane Foundation this spring or next.

  2. I think when the cranes leave there they journey up to the Platte river in Nebraska for another rest stop in the spring. It certainly is a site to see. Wish we could have been there with you. Squaw Creek (near us) is another truly wonderful site for us birders. We love it there….counted 154 eagles one year. Snow Geese by the thousands.

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