Return to Bosque del Apache
My trip to Bosque del Apache NWR the weekend after Thanksgiving has become a tradition. This year’s outing was particularly rewarding, both because of the number of birds which were present and the number of high-quality images I was able to capture through a combination of tenacity and serendipity. This is an image of Snow and Ross’s Geese on Chupadera Pond which greeted us on Friday evening as we were entering the refuge. It represents just a small section of the expanse of birds that covered the water.
By the time we drove around the Farm Loop to the Flight Deck, close to fifty people-mostly photographers-were squeezed onto the platform. I jockeyed for position and began shooting. The cranes were landing at the northernmost end of the pond. I made this image as the sun was setting. I was struck by the bands of pastel colors which seemed to divide the scene into layers. Soon after the light was gone and we headed back to the motel for the night.
The next day, Saturday, we took a leisurely drive around both the Marsh Loop and the Farm Loop. At the north end of the latter, we found several hundred of the more than fourteen-thousand Sandhill Cranes that were estimated to be at the refuge that weekend. The two below are “dancing”; such posturing is practiced from an early age to improve co-ordination, train flight muscles, and share emotions. Dancing is a form of social bonding in a family unit and is also a prelude to mating. For obvious reasons, this posture is called: “the jump”.
As we drove through the refuge, the cacophony of cries, hoots and wails from the birds reminded us that we were in an extraordinary place. As I mentioned earlier, there were more than fourteen-thousand cranes at the refuge at the time we were there, but there were also: eighty-seven-thousand ducks, fifty-seven-thousand geese, and a number of other avian creatures too numerous to count. Once again, as we had the night before, we found ourselves at the “Flight Deck” as sunset approached. This evening, however, we found a less crowded place from which to view and photograph the flight: a small, flat area at the north end of the pond, right at the water’s edge, where a couple of other photographers had already assembled. From this vantage point, we had an unobstructed view of the incoming cranes and, as most of them were favoring the north end of the pond, we were much closer to the action than we would have been on the deck. I made this image of a Sandhill crane as he stretched his wings shortly after landing. The sun was low and the light subtle.
Of all the times to photograph the birds at the Bosque, I think the best (and the most difficult) is at sunrise. On Sunday morning, we were at Chupadera Pond just before the sun came over the Oscura Mountains to the east. The cranes were beginning to stir, and as they performed their morning rituals, they had to pull their feet through a skim of ice on the pond. All the grooming, squabbling, dancing, and posturing is preparation for the morning flight when the cranes leave their watery roosts and take to the skies in search of food.
These two are exhibiting a behavior which signals an imminent take-off. They stretch their necks, leaning forward as if to test the wind before they pull the trigger and take wing. Usually the birds will then fly off to the fields, but sometimes, they will fly only a short distance and then return to the pond.
I captured this male as he was landing during one of these turn-arounds. There were several hundred birds at the Chupadera Pond that morning. We stayed and photographed their comings and goings for nearly three hours before the last of them finally flew off. As we left the pond, we decided to make one last drive around the entire loop, which includes both the Marsh Loop and the Farm Loop. Near the southern end of the marsh, I noticed movement in the diversion channel and pulled over. It was there that I found this Great Blue Heron hunting for his breakfast. I carefully got out of the car and set up my tripod and camera. As he moved up the channel, I followed him. Finally, we were both rewarded as he darted forward and came up with his morning meal.
As a photographer, I gain a great deal of satisfaction from images such as these. The ability to capture a fleeting moment and preserve it for others to enjoy is perhaps the ultimate reward.