I got back at the end of this week from my trip down to New Mexico. After Thanksgiving the engine on my truck went out on a pass outside of Santa Fe and I couldn't head back until a new motor was shipped in from Denver and installed, but in the end it actually worked out great. I was very fortunate to find someone special who helped me out without the least hesitation. Unfortunately I'm having problems with the new engine as well, but I had an amazing trip and would do every part of it all over again, without hesitation.

I have so many beautiful images that I'm actually having a hard time going through them and editing them, there are just too many keepers! I'm afraid that for the next couple of days you might be inundated with some of these images...

Some of you are already aware that I'm working on a project on North American Migrations. The work from this trip was primarily for that project. I was in Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is roughly 70 miles south of Albuquerque and just outside of San Antonio, NM. The refuge straddles the Rio Grande and has a chain of pools, much like the Seeney Wildlife Refuge in Michigan's upper peninsula. The surrounding land is dessert with the Chupadera Mountains on the west and the San Pascual Mountains on the east. So in a very real sense it is an oasis for wildlife.

While I was in the refuge there were 17,000 snow geese and 10,000 sand hill cranes. There is a large mix of other birds, but the snow geese and cranes steal the show...

Each day the Snow Geese "blast off" before the sun rises. They head out to other pools on the periphery of the refuge where they rest for a while and then head to feeding grounds. The sight is spectacular, you can't really comprehend the experience without hearing the geese as their excitement builds and then they take off in mass and you are surrounded by thousands of birds. I went into town after the second day and bought a digital sound recorder so that you can hear the sound. Later this week I'll try to put some of the sounds in another Field Notes.

Once the geese are gone the sand hill cranes have the main pool to themselves. They wake up a lot slower than the geese and are not active until the sun rises. They seemed to take little strolls in the pools to stretch their legs before the finally flew off for the fields that the refuge maintains for feeding the birds.

This is one of the secondary pools that the geese fly to after coming out of the main pool first thing in the morning. Wave upon wave of geese join the cranes that spend the night on the pool. Then there is another version of the blast off as the geese lift up and fly off to the feeding grounds. Every morning that I witnessed this a feeling of awe and joy washed over me. When we see a handful or flock of birds migrating south it's an event that we notice as part of the changing seasons. But when you are in the midst of thousands and thousands of birds that have journeyed across a significant part of the face of the earth you begin to comprehend that you are standing at a focal point of a phenomena of global scale, an epic story that is written across the face of the earth, year after year, for thousands of years.

At the end of the day the cranes would fly out of the feeding areas into the shallow pools where they feel safest during the night.  On the evenings when everything came together you could see birds flying and wading through the last brilliant colors of the day with the mountains in the background. On this particular evening a friend and I sat next to each other and just silently listened to the conversations of the cranes and watched the occasional flight of a late goose coming in as the light faded. I don't think there is any better way to describe this other than to say that it was magical. It is exactly moments like that when I feel most alive and filled with joy.

Charles St. Charles

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