Bernardo Waterfowl Complex

Last winter, my husband Roger and I packed up a cooler of snacks and thermoses of hot chai, bundled up in our long johns, scarves and mittens, and headed south from Albuquerque on I-25 to the Mountainair exit.  Just a tiny bit east and north of the exit on Route 116 is the Bernardo section of the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex.  This place of refuge for migratory cranes and snow geese has saved our sanity through those first winters of COVID.  We met each time with different friends, masked and social distanced and shared the cacophonous thrill of the evening fly-in.  The sunset never failed to paint the distant hills in layers of pink and deep purple, lighting the reflections of the cranes in the water.  There’s no better way to be together than in the fresh air, surrounded by such views and such volume.

We discovered Bernardo just last year after enjoying Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for many years.  The Bosque is wonderful, but Bernardo is only 53 miles south from Albuquerque rather than 90.  It’s also more compact, with a 3-mile, one-way loop road that takes you past fields planted for the cranes and geese and offers two stops at lookouts above the fields.  Many birds feast there during the day and then make the short flight to the water at the far end of the loop for the night.  Others fly in from miles away.  We like to meander down the road, stopping for photos of mule deer or spotting an eagle now and then, all awash in the lengthening shadows and gold of the descending sun. 

About 45 minutes before sunset, the intense action begins.  Flocks of 20 or 30 birds appear one after the other, heading toward the marsh.  They circle and then gracefully drift down to settle in the icy water, all the while announcing their presence with their lovely trumpeting call.   Just when you think there couldn’t be more, small black dots appear on the horizon.  When it’s almost completely dark, sometimes there is a rush of wings and raucous honking as the snow geese fly in to take what’s left of the marsh.  One night, as the sun sank behind the hills, we turned around to the sight of a huge full moon rising in the east, bathed in the last pink and orange of the sunset.  We looked at one another with a sigh of awe and wonder. 

If you would like more information on the Ladd S. Gordon Complex, you can call (505) 864-9187. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish website provides a flyer with a simple map and description of the area.

by Nancy Harmon