Bosque del Apache NWR is a wildlife photographer’s paradise every winter.
John Larson | El Defensor Chieftain


The wetlands of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge are beginning to teem with sandhill cranes, snow geese and other migrating birds by the thousands. What will again be missing this year is the one big festival that brings thousands of visitors every November to the refuge and Socorro County.

Echoing last year, the Festival of the Cranes, per se, is still on hold. What is happening, however, is the next best thing, the Crane Fiesta. This is the second virtual event for the Friends of Bosque del Apache.

Festival Manager Julie-Anna Blomquist said the decision to go virtual again was made in April.

“We have to start making plans every year in April,” Blomquist said. “Back in the spring, we didn’t have a very good idea of what COVID was going to look like. We had to decide in April whether we were going to be virtual again or in person.”

Citing the health and safety of Friends’ members, visitors and staff, Blomquist said, “it was decided it was safer at that point to make the commitment to go virtual again.”

The decision was not made lightly.

The Refuge is home to countless wildlife species and is one of the premier wildlife habitats in the world, attracting visitors from around the United States and internationally.

“The festival is too important not to find an alternative,” she said. “It went really, really well last year.”

Crane Fiesta 2021 will be three days of online Zoom workshops, webinars, and even the Fly-In and Fly-Out live on Facebook Thursday and Saturday.

The festival, in any normal year, schedules up to 150 events over four days. But this year is again anything but normal.

“We’re not going to be able to have the same amount of programs, but each day we will have from five, up to six events, from bird videos and webinars to raptor ID and duck ID events,” she said. “Education has always been one of the key parts of the Friends of the Bosque del Apache. So we definitely will keep the education aspect going, even if we can’t do it in person.”

Sessions will run 45 minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the program.

“Right now the ones that are attracting the most attention are the birding ones,” Blomquist said. “But we do have quite a bit of interest in photography as well. We’ll have photography presenters from all over the United States. There will be a virtual component of the virtual Expo Tent, so people can come and ask their photography-related questions.”

One of the upsides of going virtual is a convenience for participants.

“What we encountered last year with the virtual festival is that a lot of folks are very interested in it. Folks that can’t go to the festival, or travel or finances,” Blomquist said. “It’s a lot easier to find time for a virtual event for a lot of people. You don’t have to take a week off … you don’t have to take four days off work.”

Although it’s a virtual festival, she said two of the events connected to the Fiesta are in person.

New Mexico Tech’s Performing Arts Series, with Baracutanga, is Friday night at Macey Center.

“Then there’s an onsite tour of the historic ruins of Fort Craig,” Blomquist said.

Fort Craig played a critical role in frontier campaigns and is associated with many notable Native figures, including Geronimo, Victorio and Nana. Other prominent figures whose stories are interwoven with Fort Craig include those of Kit Carson, Rafael Chacón, Captain Jack Crawford, as well as the famous 9th Cavalry, better known as the Buffalo Soldiers.

“Those are the only two in-person events,” she said.

At the refuge proper, the Visitor Center itself is closed, although the Friends’ Nature Store will be open for business.

“The Nature Store is located inside the Visitor Center, but it’s got a side door that folks can come in and make purchases,” Blomquist said.

The refuge loops are open, as well.

Blomquist hopes to see bird and nature lovers take advantage of this unique version of the Festival.

“It’s ramping up,” she said. “The cranes are coming in and we’re very excited.”

The Crane Fiesta is Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18-20

For the complete schedule and registration, go to