Wintering At The Bosque

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Everything is connected. This is the unifying organizational principle inherent in all patterns in Nature. This is a wonderfully spiritual and philosophical statement that sits comfortably with my armchair intellect.

However, as we move from our armchairs and engage the outdoors, connectivity in Nature becomes real, it becomes exciting, and it becomes alive. There is no better place to see this happening than at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. During the winter months, huge masses of migrating birds make this place their home. Bird watchers gather to fill their lists with names. Nature photographers gather with their expensive cameras to capture yet another image (amongst the thousands already available) of Sandhill Cranes. This is all pretty “ho hum” after doing it once or twice.

But, what is always very exciting to me is getting out of my theoretical armchair and really seeing Nature’s organizational principles in action. Sure, the physical presence of many interesting species is very exciting. And, I confess to making my bird lists and getting out my expensive camera like everyone else. But, to watch the coming together of many patterns in Nature in one spot is an unifying experience for me. It makes all of my book writing and theorizing become very real because I can see that Nature’s organizing principles are real.

The real world of Nature’s organizing principles really hits me first when I look at the massive numbers of birds of different species all gathered at Bosque del Apache. My amazement hits a peak when I realize that all of these birds come from widely different places to be here. Some species come from two or three diverse locations. They all know to come! No matter what the species. Somehow, their internal behavior patterns, common to them all, caused them to move from where they were to come here. The common attraction would appear to be the warmer clime and the fields of grain and corn purposely grown for them. They do remember, they do know how to navigate to Bosque del Apache, and they do seem to have expectations of what is waiting for them upon arrival. I’m constantly amazed by this innate common “intelligence” amongst species that we humans choose to relegate to our convenient black box that we call “instinct”.

One can start a day by viewing large flocks silhouetting the Eastern dawn sky as they leave their nightly roosts. Here we see the organizing principle of self-organization at work. The ordered separation in flight. The avoidance of objects and predators. The inherent determination to move from the night’s roosting area to the day’s feeding grounds. One can watch the beautifully quiet takeoffs of Sandhill Cranes, only a few at a time as if directed by an air traffic controller, to join their flock. Or the massive, noisy, and sudden lifting of full flocks of Snow Geese. These early morning spectacles are common and interconnected behavioral patterns in Nature. No matter what species, they all know to head to their daytime feeding areas.  As evening approaches, we see the opposite. Birds of different species slowly gathering and then flying to their evening’s rest. Sandhill Cranes flying in small quiet groups. Snow Geese moving in large noisy flocks. But, all to the same areas.

Beyond the interesting behavior of individual flocks, is the joining of flocks of different species. The interrelationships that take place. A congruence of complex systems – both in terms of physical and behavioral patterns. The sharing of common feeding grounds by Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes. The tense connection between ducks trying to feed and the Bald Eagles who want to eat them. The mixing of Snowy Egrets with other waterfowl.   These scenes are testaments to the idea that patterns in Nature are complex systems that are connected within themselves and between each other.

It is one thing to talk and write about patterns in Nature and complex systems. But, it is quite another thing to experience these ideas in real time. Along with trips to many of Nature’s wonders, I try to spend a couple of days each year at Bosque del Apache. Theorizing and philosophizing about connectedness, complexity, self-similarity, and self-organization is all much fun. But, getting out into Nature, engaging her, and experiencing the reality of her being is where it all comes together for me.

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My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

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