To the Feeding Grounds
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge lies about 90 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico, along the Middle Rio Grande. During late fall and early winter the refuge hosts tens of thousands of migratory birds. This year was exceptional since there was extremely cold conditions with about 12 inches of snow in the Socorro area. In fact, highways were closed due to treacherous conditions. Even the refuge was closed for a couple days. I was concerned that folks joining my tour would not be able to get in. However, things did open up and we had a great tour. Here are a few images that show the conditions.
Ice on the Crane Pond
Into the Blizzard
During the height of the storm, before the start of the tour, Rich Eltrich, a tour assistant, and I got out to the "Crane Ponds" and photographed morning accessions of sandhills and pintails lifting off into a fierce wind. These images are probably not as sharp as they would be due to the blasting snow. However they offer a different set of conditions that , I believe, add to the "artistic" quality of the image.
Cranes and Storm
Here's a pintail trying to do the same thing.
With the freezing conditions (single digit with one morning down to -3° F) bird behavior changed. The traditional "Crane Ponds", which are just outside the refuge and which normally offers great flight images of the comings and goings of sandhills, were covered with a substantial sheet of ice, forcing the birds to seek out more protected areas. However, we did find other places to get crane pictures.
I did try a few different things including "blur" images, which give more impressionistic effect. These were taken with slower shutter speeds, from 1/15 to 1/250 seconds. I find that getting good "blurs" are harder to take than the normal sharp images. "Blurs" are really contradictions to traditional bird photography, which is to get the sharpest images possible. The sharper the better. But I feel that "blurs" can be more artistic, and I have found that they are quite compatible to many people's taste for wall hangings. The following three images were taken to achieve just that.
Cranes heading North
Because of a number of problems, mainly due to drought conditions, the corn fields on the refuge did not produce like they should. This is the main staple for the snow geese during the winter months. However, barley was brought in, courtesy of the Coors Beer Company, to provide food for the birds. Once we found where they were delivering the grain, we got plenty of geese images, including single and group flight shots as well as experiencing several "blastoffs". This is what the refuge is known for.
Goose in Flight
In the morning, the area near the Flight Deck provided some good shooting. This required waking up about 4:30 am to get out there at 6 am, an hour before sunrise--cold but endurable with warm layers, good gloves and heat pads. Sometimes it was hard to find the shutter button.
White Geese Blast
The above shot, as with the one below, was taken with a slower shutter speed at 1/250 second to achieve a "blur" quality, again, to get a slightly impressionist effect. This is great technique with low morning and evening light, but can also be done during midday hours if one stops down the ISO. (Hooray for digital)
Snow Goose Flight
Although Bosque del Apache is known primarily for the cranes and geese, but there are plenty of other bird species to focus on. Every year I visit the refuge I come away with different species and in different lighting and position. Bird photography is capturing an instance in time, which can never be repeated. And to get a bit more philosophical, life on earth will never be repeated, as well as the earth, as well as the solar system, as well as our galaxy, as well as....you know.
Kestrel in Flight
During the last couple days of the tour we had some exceptional morning hours in terms of light and mist. It was very localized, and one had to be in the right spot and the right time to achieve the maximum effect of these special conditions.
Pintail on Ice
We were also greeted with a full moon during our last evening. It's nearly impossible to get both the moon and birds in flight both clear and sharp since the distance between the two does not come within the camera's depth-of-field. You can try and stop down to f/16 or more, but you give up shutter speed, and that will not make for sharp birds, at least if they are in flight. For the image below, I was shooting with a 600mm lens and 1.4 converter at f/5.6 which has a depth of field about as thick as a pancake. It turned out okay, but I would much preferred both the birds and the moon in sharp focus. The way to do that would be to take a single shot of the moon and then of the birds, and then layer them together. I've seen this done with other photos--not something to be condemned since when you take the photo, based on normal vision, both the moon and the birds were present. Right?? But mine was not done that way.
And we spotted Javelinas.
The javelina, also know and a peccary, or skunk pig; comes from the Portugeses javali and Spanish sajino or pecarí. This animal is a medium-sized mammal of the Artiodactyl order (which includes even-toed ungulates like cattle goats, sheep, antelope, even the hippopotamus) in the family Tayassuidae, or New World Pigs. They are found in the southwestern North America….and throughout Central and South America and measure between three to four feet and weight between 40 to 90 pounds. Peccaries are found in the Americans, but are sometimes confused with the pig family Suidae, which originated in Afro-Eurasia and include the domestic pigs that have escaped over the years and now run wild as razorback hogs in many parts of the U.S.
That's probably all you wanted to know about this subject, so I will leave it at that. But just to say that this was the first time that I had seen javelinas on the refuge.
The last day of the tour we had a lunar eclipse, which was still visible early morning when we got out and situated ourselves near the Flight Deck. Although we were taking shots into the sunrise and geese, I told folks that behind them there was an lunar eclipse. So folks turned their cameras and shots were taken of that spectacle. Later they asked if this was planned as part of the tour. Of course , I said.
But I was lying.
I will conducting a 2012 tour to Bosque del Apache from Dec 5 through the 8th. If you're interested, let me know and will send more information.