Bosque Critters

Guest post by Ray Shortridge

The Bosque, a Spanish word for a forest, is about a one mile wide stretch of trees and underbrush, dominated by cottonwoods, on both sides of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. The Bosque stretches some two hundred miles north to south along the middle reach of the river. The ecology of the Bosque is both interesting and daunting.

In Albuquerque, a state park interpretive center and multi-use trails (hiking, jogging, cycling, and horseback riding) are maintained by several public agencies. The trails meander for miles along both sides of the river, enabling people to experience nature virtually in their own backyards. The Rio Grande provides life giving water to a narrow strip of the high desert, and many species of critters inhabit the Bosque, as well as the river itself.

Around dawn, Owen (the namesake for this blog) rouses me to take him to the Bosque for a three to four mile walk.

Owen. Ready to explore

Along the way, over the years, we have encountered a number of critters, sometimes startling Owen into flight/fight mode, but more often, causing mere disinterest. Many of our encounters with small birds flitting about the underbrush or even larger ones seeking fish in the river or the irrigation ditches, for example, have little relevance for a canine. And Owen is a canine par excellence.

A heron surveying his kingdom
A peregtine falcon watching for prey

Owen pays little attention to beavers or muskrats swimming largely under water in an irrigation acequia.

Swimming beaver is safe from Owen.

However, once we came across a beaver on shore returning to its lodge a bit late from browsing on bushes in the moonlight, and Owen woofed at the poor critter and chased it until it plopped into an acequia and splashed him with water from a thump of its tail.

On another occasion, we followed a porcupine down one of the trails. Leashing a curious Owen to spare us a vet bill to remove quills, took some time, so the beast waddled off into the brush a distance.

We’re far enough away to be safe from the porcupine’s tail.

We have seen bobcat paw prints but have yet to spot one. A neighborhood website recently reported a bobcat wandering around, about a mile from the Bosque. A friend near the mountains reported that a female bobcat frequently peered through her patio door to terrify her domestic cats. Definitely, bobcats have a sense of humor, of a predatory sort.

Reportedly, here are reptiles in the bosque, mostly turtles (full disclosure: this turtle picture was taken at the Duck Pond on the UNM campus and that of the serpent at the nearby Petroglyphs National Monument.)

Turtles in the sun
The snake is too close for comfort

Cougar and black bears live in the mountain ranges on the east side of the length of the Bosque, and they travel through it as they move from one hunting range to another. Neither Owen nor I have spotted them, their spoor, or their scat. However, we have spotted the distinctive scat of coyotes. Once we spotted nine in a group, perhaps a couple of breeding pairs with yearlings and pups, heading north along the other side of the drainage ditch.

Coyotes are curious and have shadowed me and Owen on a number of occasions for a mile or more along the trails.

The Bosque is a migratory flyover route, and greater and lesser sandhill cranes migrate in from the Arctic tundra in the late fall and stay over until early spring. And, of course ducks and geese dwell in the waters of the river and the irrigation acequia.

Cranes having a grain party
Ducks enjoying a water break

Of course, the roadrunner is an interesting bird to watch, year around. It is so beloved, New Mexico uses its image as the logo for our light rail, the Railrunner.

Finally, one might encounter something mystical in the Bosque. This unicorn type beast is a whimsy of a quirky artistic soul, one of many choosing to live in Albuquerque.

Which of the Bosque beasts would you most like to encounter?

Balloons Over the Bosque

Guest blog by Ray Shortridge.

The rift valley of the Rio Grande del Norte makes Albuquerque an addictive destination for hot air balloonists. Every fall, Albuquerque hosts the International Balloon Fiesta and balloonists come from all over the world to show off their ballooning skills. An ideal ballooning environment is caused by the Sandia Mountain Range shading the valley for a couple of hours after dawn.

This keeps the cool night air from rapidly warming up, thereby prolonging the buoyancy of the hot air balloon. Balloonists launching at daybreak can enjoy a lengthy ride viewing the Rio Grande, the river’s bosque (the longest cottonwood canopy in world), the lights of an awakening city, and the mountains.

Balloonists inflate the balloons by using fans to blow hot air generated by liquid propane gas into the envelope or bag. At night, during Balloon Fiesta, owners often tether their balloons to the ground with the burners lit, which makes a dramatic sight and is known as a “Ballon Glow”.

People often hire commercial balloonists such as Rainbow Ryders to take them up to enjoy the heady experience of unpowered flight. Often this is followed by a champagne toast. If you’re up for this adventure, make sure to wear a hat. Those burners are hot! In fall, winter, or spring, wear layers The early morning air at full altitude may be cool but it will likely warm up during your ride.

The balloon on the left seemed to follow me down a trail in the bosque, reminding me of the cult British TV show, The Prisoner.

When the balloonist ignites the propane burner to reheat the air in the bag, it sounds like a dragon is approaching. The roar can be a bit unsettling because one can hear it before before the balloon comes into view over a ridge line of copse of trees. A bevy of balloons make a great roar

Balloonists like to hover over the river. The waterfowl don’t seem to mind.

Thousands of balloonists from all over the world will once again rendezvous in Albuquerque this October for nine days and two weekends. It’s a spectacle worth seeing. Have you seen the new special shapes? They rock.