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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Thousands of cranes and geese migrate to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico every fall. Bird enthusiasts come out before dawn each morning during the five-day Festival of the Cranes to watch as thousands of birds fly into the sunrise. Elaine Baumgartel from member station KUNM sent this audio postcard from yesterday's fly-out.

(Soundbite of birdsong)

ELAINE BAUMGARTEL: Birdwatchers brave temperatures in the lower 20s to get a front-row seat near the shallow ponds where snow geese and sandhill cranes rest at night. Some of these birds will stay all winter, while others are on their way South. Robyn Harrison, the organizer of the Festival of the Cranes, waited with other birders while the sky slowly lit up.

Ms. ROBYN HARRISON (Coordinator, Festival of the Cranes): It's one of our many treasured New Mexico mornings. The sky is turquoise with apricot-colored clouds drifting laterally.

(Soundbite of birdsong)

Ms. HARRISON: That's the crane. It sounds like a little bit of a yodel. Kind of like - I call it a chortle. The geese are just kind of a squawking sound. But the cranes have almost a musical sound. And you could tell the difference - you'll be able to tell the difference when they start flying.

BAUMGARTEL: As if on cue, tens of thousands of geese rose simultaneously from the marsh, their white bodies shimmering against the desert landscape.

(Soundbite of birdsong)

Ms. HARRISON: They're all overhead now. It's just strings and ropes and ripples of geese flapping, talking to each other. Nobody wants to be last. Let's go, let's go.

BAUMGARTEL: It wasn't just cold for the bird lovers. John Vradenburg, senior biologist at the refuge, says the birds are not immune to the temperature.

Mr. JOHN VRADENBURG (Senior Biologist, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge): Some of the cranes are pulling their feet up today. They do that on these really cold mornings. They tuck their feet up and it - they have blood that goes up and down their legs, and so it helps them conserve energy and heat. But they look really abnormal flying without their feet hanging out.

BAUMGARTEL: Vradenburg says park officials struggle to get people in the perfect spot to witness the morning fly-out, and this day was a success.

Mr. VRADENBURG: That was exactly what you expect. That was a really good fly-out, when they spread out like that. They didn't get in one line and just go one direction. Everybody got birds over them. That was a good one. And you could see them all across the horizon, and they were real pretty against the mountains.

BAUMGARTEL: The sandhill crane and snow geese population will peak in December and January at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. For NPR News, I'm Elaine Baumgartel in San Antonio, New Mexico.

(Soundbite of birdsong)

HANSEN: KUNM's Sarah Gustavos(ph) contributed to our report.

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