Thursday, November 29, 2012

Totems on the Bosque

I was in Albuquerque this morning, visiting dear friends Peggy & Earl Loftfield. After coffee and a light repast of banana bread smeared with piñon butter they suggested a field trip to a patch of open space owned by the city near the Alvarado Elementary School (where Earl attended 2nd to 6th grades).

There, in a field that had been employed as a corn maze the month before, I saw thousands of Sandhill Cranes recently arrived from their summer breeding grounds in Canada, pausing to enjoy the clement weather and the abundant gleanings. They were peacefully sharing the space with rafts of Canada Geese (who were focusing more on the alfalfa than the corn). A variety of people were strolling or jogging on the dirt pathways that bordered the fields, enjoying the nearly perfect day of full sun, a slight breeze out of the north, and temperatures in the 60s.

I've always had a strong affinity for large birds. Perhaps their awesome grace and wingspan evokes in me a vestigial linkage with their majestic ancestors, the dinosaurs (in ways that mere wrens and robins do not). I love watching the long-legged cranes float in for landings, dropping their legs from the horizontal to help create drag just before they commence back flapping to spill their air speed.

While the birds closest to us kept a wary eye on our approach—fully prepared to honk a throaty warning if we got encroached within 50 feet or so—most of their brethren gave their undivided attention to the steadfast divestment of kernels from ears, in an earnest attempt to recapture the calories they had expended in migration. Their silvery backs glistened in the sunshine.

In addition to enjoying these birds because they were large and because they were many, I have an affinity this species because I live at Sandhill Farm and thus enjoy a namesake connection. For me, the Sandhill Crane is a totem (in part, I suppose, because they are seen all over the US). Back home, I'll occasionally see one or two in flight overhead or resting on one of our ponds during the spring or fall migrations. This isn't that surprising in that our farm is located in northeast Missouri and falls well within the boundaries of the greater Mississippi flyway. But before encountering the jackpot I witnessed this morning, I doubt I'd ever seen as many as 50 at one time. Wow!

As scrumptious as it was for the cranes to feast on unharvested corn in fields where humans aren't permitted to walk, hunting isn't allowed, and dogs must be leashed, they also need access to water and a safe haven at night (because raccoons and feral dogs do not honor no hunting signs and tend to enjoy fowl dinners every bit as much as we humans did last Thursday). When I asked Peggy & Earl where the cranes bivouacked at night, I was told that they repair to the riparian zone along the Rio Grande, whose wide watercourse snakes sinuously through the city just a mile to the west. 

The floodplain there is known as the bosque, and it's protected from development because of the unpredictability of water levels when the snow pack in the Sangre de Cristos melts each spring. Large cottonwoods thrive in proximity to the life-giving water and their broad branches make ideal nighttime perches for the visiting cranes—who are no doubt grateful for the spacious accommodation of their convention-sized numbers. From there it's an easy commute back to their corn(ucopia) each dawn.

Corny as it sounds, I was amused to realize that it was the Loftfields who introduced me, right after breakfast, to hordes of Sandhill Cranes lofting into fields for a breakfast of corn. The symmetry still makes me smile.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Not sure if your friends mentioned it to you, but 'the bosque' is home to the largest cottonwood forest in the world. It is our fear every year during fire season we could lose it, therefore the city has put in tight restrictions on access during those times. Also, just south of Albuquerque near Socorro, NM is the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Preserve where millions of birds from up north spend their winter vacations. Every November at Bosque del Apache is the Festival of the Cranes. I would say a second trip to NM too see this amazing event is in order for you.