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Watching the cranes in the desert

By Dave Buchanan
I spent the week before Thanksgiving in New Mexico at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro. This is way south in New Mexico, fewer than 200 miles from El Paso, Texas, and nine or so hours from home. It's in some of the northernmost reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert, the largest North American desert and a classic rain-shadow desert dominated by mesquite, agave (think tequila) and ocotillo. But the drive is worth the effort, for the Bosque is where thousands of lesser and greater sandhill cranes winter. You can read about sandhill cranes here and here. And you can read about the crane festival here at the Web site for the Friends of the Bosque, a support group of volunteers that is the national model for such groups.cranes reflected crop.jpg I spent a week getting up at 4:30 a.m. to get out for the fly-out, when the cranes leave their roosts in shallow ponds and wetlands, and after fly-out I would spend all day watching, photographing and drawing the cranes in the fields and wetlands as they fed. Cranes aren't the only birds wintering at Bosque, naturally. There also are tens of thousands of snow geese (around 60,000 or more at the height of the winter migration) along with thousands of other waterfowl. But it's the cranes that draw the crowds. This year there were around 5,000 cranes at the refuge during the festival although that number may quadruple by mid-December. There also was seen a Sun grebe, a bird that fooled many of the talented birders at the refuge since apparently very few people in North America have seen this bird. It's a native of Central America and according to some of the birders I talked to, may never have been previously reported in the U.S. Wikipedia has a pretty good entry here. So all this means I didn't spend much time drinking wine except for a bottle of Robert Mondavi Private Selection 2007 Pinot Noir I received as a sample just before I left for New Mexico. I don't have the press sheet with me so I can't tell if this is 100-percent pinot noir, although Mondavi's 2006 Pinot Noir was blend of 76-percent Pinot Noir, 16-percent Syrah, 4-percent Mourvedre, and 2-percent each Petite Sirah and Merlot, according to a review I saw. And while Anthony Cevola, author of the immensely entertaining and informative blog "On the Wine Trail in Italy," loves to poke fun at bloggers who write what he calls "Mommy, mommy" blogs (here's what the esteemed Jeremy Parzen of "Do Bianchi" says about Cevola's label), I decided anyway to report the Mondavi Pinot Noir proved delicious, a bright, fruity and hugely drinkable wine that went well with the green chili cheeseburger made famous by the Owl Bar in San Antonio (N.M,, not Tex.) It's hard to find a decent pinot noir (which means one that tastes like pinot noir) for less than $20 today but the Mondavi is a pleasant surprise. The wine has loads of red fruit and a bit of pepper for spice and at $11 retail is terrific for everyday or maybe a couple times of week. I had more wine waiting for me when I returned to Colorado, and we'll get to those ASAP.

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