Saturday, October 23, 2010

Southwest Boogie, Oct. 23

We drove all afternoon yesterday and spent the night in Van Horn, TX. Woke up early in the morning, partook of our Holiday Inn Express "breakfast" and hit the road.

Our first stop was White Sands National Monument where we placed the very first stamp in our new National Parks Passport.


Unfortunately, it had rained heavily a couple of days prior so half the park was closed to traffic. But even access to half the park is pretty impressive! It's basically large white dunes made of gypsum. In fact, they're reputed to be the largest gypsum dune field in the world: 275 square acres. The National Park only uses part of the White Sands area. The rest is used by the US military for missile testing. In fact, the Trinity Site (where the first atomic bomb was detonated) lies at the northern end of the dune field.

Not much in the way of birds other than an easily identified Say's Phoebe. Any other birds we saw were small and flying away from us. So we spent our time looking at the vegetation and the way it interacted with the dunes in which it grew -- the sand giving these hardy plants a home and, in return, the plants giving the dunes some stability against the wind and rain.

After White Sands we drove back to Las Cruces, NM because we HAD to have a couple of #2 combination plates from Nellie's. It was the first time I've gone off my diet -- but it was necessary. If you've eaten at Nellie's you know. If you haven't eaten at Nellie's, get thee there ASAP!

We drove farther north and spent the afternoon checking things out at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in San Antonio, NM. This refuge is famous for its wintering flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. Although the bulk of the populations hadn't yet arrived, there were sufficient numbers to have brought out over a dozen photographers. In fact, I DO believe we were the only "just plain birders" there.

While we were watching, a small flock of Ross' Geese also flew in, landing near the larger Snow Geese and giving us a nice contrasting view of the two species.

We drove around the area for a while to see what else was around. We came across a field filled with American Crows, a few smaller birds scattered in different trees, and two falcons: an American Kestrel and a Merlin (photo below).

As the sun began going down, we decided not to complete the Marsh loop. Avi was reluctant to drive too much after dark in rural areas. So, we continued north and marveled at an incredibly beautiful sunset with luminescent clouds, followed by a bright full moon over the New Mexico desert.

We're staying in Albuquerque tonight and tomorrow hope to have time to get in everything we have optimistically planned.

Rather than post a bird list at the end of each day, fighting exhaustion, I'm just going to break it down in a final post after I've arrived home.

So, I'll leave you with our sunset and moonshine photos.

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