Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

ZEISS Birding was in New Mexico for the Festival of the Cranes 2017 at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The Festival of the Cranes is held each November and is, almost certainly, the oldest birding festival in the United States.

This year is its 30th anniversary. The festival was first organized in cooperation with the town of Socorro, to celebrate the Sandhill Crane migration at a time when it was much in the news. An attempt was being made to re-establish a population of Whooping Cranes by placing Whooping Crane eggs in Sandhill Crane nests, and allowing the Sandhills to raise the Whooper chicks.

The hope was that as the Whooping Cranes matured they would mate and their offspring would continue to migrate with the Sandhills as their ancestors once had. Unfortunately the Whooper chicks identified themselves as Sandhills, and the only successful mating produced a single Sandhill/Whooper hybrid. Though the experiment failed, the festival continues to thrive.

And there is plenty to celebrate each year as up to 15,000 Sandhill Cranes and 20 to 30,000 Snow Geese migrate into the Rio Grande Valley to winter.

Bosque del Apache NWR is managed for wildlife, and is home to deer, elk, bobcat, mountain lion, turkeys, coyotes, mallards and pintails and wigeon and mergansers, Clark’s and Western Grebes, Gambel’s Quail, herons, many raptors and owls, Bald and Golden Eagles, White-crowned Sparrows, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-winged Blackbirds and many other songbirds.

And Greater Roadrunners. I’ve seen more Roadrunners this year than I have ever seen at Bosque before.

While the mission of the refuge is wildlife, Bosque del Apache is also successfully managed, especially during the festival, for people. Fields are flooded and brush cleared to bring the birds close to observation points so that birders and nature lovers can see them.

There is no experience quite like standing while 2,000 Snow Geese leap swirling into the air in a panic, and circle many times close overhead.

The sight and the sound is enough to make children of us all… you want to clap and sing and shout and jump up and down it is so wonderful.

When geese and cranes come into their night roosting ponds, silhouetted against the often-amazing sunset and mountains surrounding the Rio Grande Valley. It is so beautiful you might find yourself tearing up in the best possible way.

ZEISS Birding had been an integral part of the festival for many years now, and a we are proud to continue our support.

Stephen Ingraham

Stephen Ingraham has been watching and photographing birds for over 40 years. He served for 12 of those years as the Birding Specialist for ZEISS Sports Optics. In retirement, he still travels the world as the Senior Brand Advocate for ZEISS Birding. Much of his time today is devoted to promoting an appreciation of nature through Point and Shoot photography. He produces The Point and Shoot Nature Photographer blog ( and recently published his book “Point and Shoot Nature Photography”.