Attendees of this year’s Festival of the Cranes are in for a special treat with a refurbished observation/flight deck at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
Located on the northwest side of the refuge’s north loop, the “T-shaped” deck offers a walk out into the water and a different perspective for viewers and photographers. It’s wheelchair friendly and easily accessible for people with disabilities.

Russell Huffman | El Defensor Chieftain
A refurbished observation/flight deck at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is making life a bit easier to get perfect photographs of the early-arrival Sandhill Cranes before the coming Festival of the Cranes in December. The in-place spotting scopes are being replaced with newer, clearer upgraded versions.

It’s the only one of its kind in the refuge, and last week, Melbourne, Florida resident Brian Lail took advantage of the new angles while getting shots of early-arrival Sandhill Cranes that are the stars of the coming Festival of the Cranes in December.

The college professor is a graduate of New Mexico State University. While he’s extensively traveled in the state, it was his first time at Bosque Del Apache, but he was maneuvering around like a man of experience.

“It’s my first time here in the Bosque Del Apache. I’ve been along the area but never been in the actual park,” Lail said. “It’s beautiful. I know it’s early in the season, but seeing the cranes flying in over the field, flying in and out, and with the sunrise coming up. Beautiful, and the colors are just incredible.”

Lail’s packing the equipment needed for sharp close-ups of the sandhill cranes, geese and ducks spread out in the waterway in front of him.

“This is the Sony A1 camera body and a 200-600 zoom lens, giving you some flexibility. I’m super happy with it. It takes some nice sharp shots,” Lail said.

Like any good educator, Lail researched what he would need to satisfy what he describes as a serious passion for photography. Combined with his previous living experience in New Mexico and some research, he was getting the great shots he wanted.
“I did my homework to be somewhat aware, and so I knew the general layout, and I knew there were a couple of loops and spots up there. I can’t remember all the names, but I knew of the general spots I was looking for,” Lail said. “I would think I came reasonably prepared. The observation deck? I think it’s great. It looks like a perfect spot. It seems like the evening light would really be nice here when you have a lot of birds out in this area.”

With cranes already arriving at the Bosque Del Apache, there’s excellent promise the number of birds will be higher than last year. Weather conditions play a considerable role in the migration of cranes, and last season, warmer temperatures kept the cranes farther north.

Suppose you’re considering attending the Festival of the Cranes set for Dec. 6-9. In that case, there are workshops on everything from bird behavior to photography to falconry, and it’s a good idea to get registered online at

On the friends’ website, you’ll find lots of helpful information like what to bring to be prepared and comfortable. It includes recommendations like a water container, dressing in layers,

warm hats, wool socks, waterproof boots (the shorelines can be a bit muddy), and hand warmers such as Hot Hands or HeatMax to tuck into your gloves, mittens, and boots.

There’s also bringing a headlamp/flashlight to assist with walking in the dark, field notebook and pencils, binoculars, camera gear, microfiber cloths for camera lenses, binoculars, eyeglasses, handkerchief (if your nose runs in the cold), lip balm (lips and eyes can dry out quickly in the desert), mobile phone with bird ID apps installed (the friends website recommends Merlin).

In recognition of Veterans Day (Nov. 11), all national wildlife refuges and other U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands that usually charge an entrance fee offer free admission, so it’s a great time to take advantage of the special.


Russell Huffman, El Defensor Chieftain Asst. Editor