Snow geese

Flocks of migrating snow geese and a wide variety of other fowl are becoming a common sight up and down the middle Rio Grande valley this month.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge will be a busy place next week as hundreds of people with backpacks, tripods and hiking boots start arriving Tuesday, the first day of the 32nd annual Festival of the Cranes. Many will have traveled quite a distance to attend Socorro County’s most successful annual event.

This year’s festival features about 150 workshops, hikes, guided tours and hands-on activities including over 60 photography workshop and lecture sessions with 12 professional photography workshop leaders.

Prices for attending programs range from free to $12 to over $100, with all proceeds going toward the Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge which works on behalf of birds and wildlife, helping to protect the critically important habitat of the Refuge, and helping to educate and inform the public about the value and beauty of wildlife in the region.

JulieAnna Blomquist, Festival of the Cranes Manager, says the main attraction is, of course the Sandhill cranes.

“It’s amazing. You wait all year to start hearing the cranes,” she said. “You can hear them here at the visitor’s center. I can go stand outside and in just a moment you’ll start hearing cranes and the snow geese calling, and you hear them throughout the day. It’s amazing. Sometimes you’ll see them fly up.”

Photo opportunities are limitless this time of year, but one has to know where, and when, to point the camera. “One thing for local folks if they come out. They can come in and borrow binoculars, give them a test run,” she said. “Hunt’s Video and Photography do the equipment loaning.”

The morning fly-out is something that has to be seen to be believed, when thousands of cranes and geese take flight.

The Walk Out to Fly Out, Thursday through Sunday, 5:30-7:30 a.m. “is one event you shouldn’t miss,” Blomquist said. “Dress warmly and meet in the visitor center parking lot for a short bus ride and walk to the roosting area. Many times there is additional room on the bus for walk-ons.”

Conversely, the fly-in at twilight offers the breathtaking sight of cranes coming in for a landing.

One event of local interest is Friday morning, the Old Mission Church Tour, which is a three-plus hour excursion by bus beginning at 8:15 a.m. The tour visits all six mission churches in Socorro County and at each stop host Nick Keller will give a talk about that particular mission, but all are a testament to the faith of the early settlers.

The J.E. Smith Museum Tour returns. Friday afternoon Suzanne Smith guides visitors though the past with a personal accounting of the house and the Smith family. The house on Central in Socorro is the former home of territorial photographer Joseph Edward Smith. From cowboys to businessmen to simple street scenes of 1880’s Socorro, Smith captured the lives of working people in the old west. The museum includes an archive of his equipment, written material and other artifacts. Seven generations of the Smith family have occupied the house. Suzanne is the great grand-daughter of J.E. and Myscie Smith. To join the $12 tour, meet at the Smith residence at 3 p.m. (the 5th house on the right off Spring).

JulieAnna Blomquist, Festival of the Cranes Manager, says visitors come to the festival not only from all over the country but internationally. as well.

“We’ve got friends members from around the globe. I think there’s just one state we don’t have friends members in,” she said. “We just had someone from Italy join the Friends group.”

One look at the guest book tells the story; Oregon, Florida, California, New Hampshire. A glance at the guestbook in the Visitor Center reads like a virtual road map: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Reno, Nevada; Tucson, Arizona; Evergreen, Colorado; Madison, Wisconsin; Thermopolis, Wyoming; San Francisco, California; Denton, Texas; Stuttgart and Hanover, Germany; and Taos, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Farmington, Los Lunas and Sandia Park in New Mexico.

Blomquist said the Festival of the Cranes is the perfect time to discover the Bosque’s and Socorro County’s fascinating trails by taking part in informative group hikes, led by expert guides.

“There is no better way to get to know this region’s natural beauty than by walking through it,” she said. “We’ll have a total of eight hikes,” she said.

Mines in the Magdalenas is a geology and cultural hike is scheduled for Thursday morning. The three-plus hour hike along an old wagon trail in Water Canyon goes past the remnants of a long-gone miner’s sluice where miners used water and gravity to separate heavier ore-bearing rock from soils and lighter stones. The hike offers interesting geology and the beauty of the pine forest, and follows ridge lines at an elevation of 8,400 feet. Only $16 and meet at the Water Canyon campground.

Another hike is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. when J.R. Seeger and Lise Spargo lead the group on a 2.5 mile round trip along the very wide and sandy Solitude Arroyo and through a narrow canyon. The hike offers opportunities to enjoy mammals hiding in the rocks, birds nesting in the sandstone cliffs and geologic features carved by flash floods over the ages.

“The best part of the Canyon Tour is once you reach the plateau, you can sit down on a bench up there and watch the cranes,” Blomquist said. “It’s a high point.”

The hike is offered again on Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. when naturalist Vannetta Perry leads the group.

Saturday morning the Sevilleta Mesa View Hike, at Socorro County’s other National Wildlife Refuge, provides wonderful views of the Ladrones as well as a wide diversity of awe-inspiring landforms. The 3.5 mile trek climbs the mesa and is a moderate to strenuous hike over uneven surfaces.

On Saturday, the Rio Viejo Hike at 10 a.m. is an easy hike through woods where mule deer, coyotes and pheasants call home. Vannetta Perry leads the two-mile flat walk among native cottonwoods and screwbean mesquite.

Saturday at 12:30 p.m. is a two hour-plus hike into the Indian Wells Wilderness Area.

The John P. Taylor Memorial Trail hike at 1 p.m. winds through the bosque that has been developed and is managed to simulate the natural meandering flow of the Rio Grande. Turkeys, cranes, geese, deer and elk are usually seen, and at the end is a plaque that features and image from 1846 of the bosque and cranes.

Blomquist said there are tours and seminars every day through Saturday, with many popular ones returning.

• IRIS PASSCAL Tour. This tour offers an insider’s look at the facility on the New Mexico Tech campus that is involved with studying the Earth’s crust, mantle and core, which brings a better understanding of earthquakes, volcanoes, crustal deformation, mantel convection, global geodynamics and history of the planet’s continents. The tour begins at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Sandhill cranes

The stars of the show during the festival are the sandhill cranes, thousands of which migrate every fall to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge from the northern U.S. and Canada.

• Crane Basics Seminar. Sandra Noll and Erv Nichols talk about the basics of crane biology and behavior designed to enhance your crane-watching experience. Become familiar with cranes’ family life, body language and range of vocalizations. Cranes are even more interesting to observe once you become familiar with their habits. Facts about these birds are presented with humor and photographs in this one hour session. Wednesday and Friday 10-11 a.m. in the Expo Tent.

• Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Chihuahua desert. Nearly every plant in the Chihuahua Desert has a use for food, fiber, medicine or building material. Thursday and Saturday beginning at 1 p.m. Tom Hyden gives a 90-minute tour of the desert arboretum teaching about the plants and their uses. After the tour, participants can indulge in a wild food tasting at the Friends House.

• An Endangered Species Tour. On Saturday from 1-3:30 p.m. refuge biologist Jeff Sanchez will lead a group will into closed areas of the refuge where endangered species habitat has been restored. Learn about the four federally listed species that inhabit the refuge and the challenges each one faces. Wetland management techniques that support waterfowl will also be covered.

The Festival offers fun and education for both kids and their parents in Bosque de Apache’s Wildlife Zone. Blomquist Said Saturday is the best day to bring the kids.

Archery and Alt Spear Throw

Over the years archery has gained popularity because of the valuable skills one learns and the competitive nature of the sport, as well as the popularity of the heroine in The Hunger Games. Learn skills like: dominant eye, proper form, bow grip, release and follow through. Mentors will be on site facilitating a structured yet fun archery shoot. A safety briefing will initiate the commencement of the shoot followed by an explanation of whistle commands for shooting and arrow removal from targets. Mentors will be on site facilitating a structured yet fun archery shoot. Also, learn to throw spears that cultures hunted with. Multiple sessions are offered Saturday morning with the first at 9:30 a.m. There is a limit of 12, so check with the Festival Information Desk early.

Duck Banding on the Refuge Flight Deck

Be a wildlife biologist by helping the refuge staff attach leg bands to live ducks. This is a Saturday event with an emphasis on kids experiencing wildlife. This is a chance to see and touch waterfowl, while learning how wildlife biologists study migration. Every year the biologists participate in the Central Flyway project marking ducks so that their migratory patterns can be studied. The birds are caught in a net earlier in the day. Participants are shown how to hold a duck and fit an identification band on its leg before it is release back into the water. Since it’s hard to predict how many ducks will be cooperating participation is first come-first served. Two 30 minute sessions – 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. – are being offered with registration. Addition sessions may be offered if ducks are available. When all times fill, check in at the visitor center Festival Information Desk for possible expansion and an event refuge pass.

Young Birder’s Walk

Aspiring birders and their families can take part in a free late Saturday morning walk around the refuge headquarters conducted by a BRANT (Birding Research and Nature Tours) tour guide. Whether the youngster is already a die-hard birder or just getting into it, BRANT looks forward to taking them out to enjoy the birds and nurture the up-and-coming generation of bird watchers. Gather at the bus stop at 10 a.m.

From snakes to turtles to lizards

The NM Herpetogical Society promotes the scientific study of the state's reptile and amphibian populations and the recognition of these animals' role in the ecosystem. Members include biologists, students, laymen and amateur herpetological enthusiasts interested in a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians of New Mexico.

Prairie Dog Pals

Learn about the importance of this keystone species.

Other events that can be shared by the family:

Star Party – Friday from 7-10 p.m. at Etscorn Observatory on the New Mexico Terh campus.

Guided Hikes - seven hikes are offered Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Rescued Wildlife - Hawks, owls, falcons and more.

Walk In to Fly In and Walk Out to Fly Out - Thousands of cranes and geese fly over your head as they take flight at dusk and dawn.