Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bosque del Apache, NM: Festival of Cranes: The Ducks

Mallard duck, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Whoa! The Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge almost got away from me, even though it was on my list of events to attend from even before I arrived in New Mexico.

Because I didn't catch my oversight until yesterday afternoon, I knew in advance I'd miss the climax of the event, either the sunrise or sundown, which means the cranes either leaving Bosque del Apache for the day or returning. Tomorrow, Sunday, is the final day of the Festival of Cranes. (But since the cranes don't care when the festival begins or ends, I may see about catching a dawn or sunset this coming week.)

In the meantime, below is a beautiful video filmed by New Mexico Tourism in 2011, very relaxing, with cranes, snow geese, and ducks at Bosque del Apache:

I left Alamogordo a little after 6:00 a.m. for the 2.5 hour trip.

On Highway 54, between Tularosa and Carrizozo, the mountains on the west glowed pink as the sun rose over the eastern mountains.

The trip there was uneventful, and I arrived 10 minutes before the bus for "duck banding' was to leave. And it was pure luck that I was able to participate, as most people had registered a month ago and the event was full. But I guess there were some no-shows, so I and some other lucky folks got to go.

Biologists had arrived early in the morning and trapped the ducks with a net while the ducks ate corn scattered along a lake bank. Before we arrived in two vans, the biologists had already sorted the ducks according to species (pintail and mallard), gender, age, and those unbanded versus previously banded.

Sorted ducks, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

We were shown how to hold the ducks and how to identify gender.

All of us got a chance to band a duck with an aluminum band. One of the participants, a gentleman from Texas, who hunts birds, has collected numerous bands from his and his friends' kills. When you send a band in to the appropriate location noted on the band, you get a certificate of appreciation that explain where the bird was originally banded.

Collection of bird bands, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

The process included: 
  1. Slipping band on duck's leg and closing it with pliers
  2. Noting band number, wing measurement, and weight on written log
  3. Measuring duck's wing
  4. Weighing duck
  5. Releasing duck

Measuring wing, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Putting duck in sock before weighing, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Releasing banded duck, Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Nearby, people logged in data on the birds that had been trapped, but had been banded previously. Participants really got into holding the ducks. Twice, a duck flew out of the arms of an attendee and the biologist literally caught them on the fly. In the instance I saw, caught the fugitive, mid-flight, with her left hand, while she held another duck in her right. The photo below shows her holding the two ducks.

Festival of Cranes, Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

There came a time when everyone had to release their ducks.

And we were finished. I think everyone loved being part of this event.

Up next: Raptors, wolves, and snakes

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