Archive for the ‘New Mexico’ Category

Geese of a morning

Sunday, February 15th, 2009
Geese of a morning

Heading out to capture the birds at dusk in Bosque is a bit unlike any other photo location.  Normally, when you are a photographer, you are generally alone in the dark and the cold, waiting for the light to come and wash its warmth and color across the landscape.  But in Bosque, with the birds following somewhat of a daily routine, and the sun coming up at a certain time, you are never alone in the dark.  In fact, once you take the Highway 380 exit off of Interstate 25, you find yourself among a stretched out line of cars, all heading to one place for one purpose.  You are one of many photographers, joined by a host of birders.  The families with the annoying rock-throwing children, fortunately, are too lazy to get up that early. 

At first glance at the main pond this morning, shortly after 6:00 a.m., there was no sight of the geese.  Joined by Roy, Mark, Eric, Donna and Cathy, we decided to go around the Farm Loop to see if the geese were at their late-afternoon spot yesterday.  No sign of them.  By the time we got back to the main pond, a moderate-sized group had formed.   Several waves come in, one by one, to join the main group, forming a large flotilla, the size of which I would not know how to estimate.  There were some thin, high altitude clouds in the skies, adding a nice detail that was absent yesterday. 

Consistent with yesterday, a massive group of geese exploded from the water and took the skies the moment that the sun came up over the mountains to the east.  But different from yesterday, a smaller group, but still numbered in at least the thousands, remained behind to bathe in the warm light of the sun.  This presented a nice opportunity to capture the geese in warm side lighting, and added a nice bonus to the morning.  But, eventually they left as well, joining the group in the fields to the north. 

A gathering place

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
A gathering place

Bosque del Apache is a superb gathering place for birds, as well as photographers.  At 57,191 acres, it provides a wide variety of habitat to birds of all needs, whether the dust traveling road runner I photographed earlier today, or the snow geese who favor the more wet areas of the refuge.  These days, the birds are not being predictable, as I noted earlier.  This evening, the snow geese and cranes decided to settle down in a completely different part of the refuge than they did yesterday.  I don’t know if this means that they will stay there for the night and I will have to look for them there in the morning.  It will probably be prudent to get to the park as early as they allow visitors and scout out the morning location.  I think it makes much more sense this way.  Wildlife should never be too predictable.  They are wild animals after all. 

Of course, all of these birds in one place brings a lot of people who are interested in observing and photographing them.  Birders and photographers fill out the vast majority of the visitors here.   Then there was the annoying family who not only allowed their screaming children to thrash about in the bushes near the main gathering of snow geese and cranes, but joined with their children in throwing rocks into the water.  I was too baffled and in a state of disbelief to say anything, like, “Take your children to the McDonald’s playground in Socorro, please.” 

But, back to this being a gathering place.  Since NANPA is holding its annual conference in Albuquerque in a few days, there is probably a higher concentration of photographers in the refuge at this time of the year than usual.  I am pleased to be in the field again with my friend Cathy Hart from Anchorage, along with other ASONP colleagues Jim and Robin from Anchorage.  Then, as circles of friends go, joining us today as well are Cathy’s friends Eric and Donna from Louisiana, as well as professional photographer Roy Toft from California and his friend Mark, from Canada.  As several of us sat having drinks and dinner at the Socorro Springs Restaurant & Brewery this evening, I felt a warmth, not just from the beer, but from the added bonus of being a nature photographer that I get to know such fine people. 

San Antonio

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
San Antonio

As you travel down Highway 1 to the refuge from Highway 380, you pass through a small town, if it can even be called that, of San Antonio.   It is a collection of scattered homes, a rail yard, some industry, and a church.  On my way back to my hotel room, after the light was too harsh for shooting wildlife, I stopped to capture some of the character of what I could see from the road. 

Around the loop

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
Around the loop

After my chance encounter with the roadrunner, I continued on around the Farm Loop to see what I could find. I wanted to at least catch a glimpse of where the snow geese and sandhill cranes go during the day before they return to the ponds for the evening.  Along the way, I saw all sorts of birds and waterfowl, from the bald eagle being harassed by the crows in the main pond to a glimpse of the daytime location for the geese and cranes. 

Road encounter

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
Road encounter

As I first started my way east along the Farm Loop, I saw some movement along the side of the road.  A roadrunner skimpered away from the shoulder of the road and into the bushes.  But as I continued down the road, I saw him in my rear view mirror back along the shoulder of the road again.  I pulled over, grabbed my tripod and camera, and walked back along the road.  Surprisingly, he not only let me approach me, but eventually worked his way down the road, passing me along the way. 

I am going to have to do some research about road runner behavior to understand what he was doing.  He wold make his way along the road, then stop and look into the bushes.  After a few seconds, he would puff out his feathers and sometimes chat into the bushes.  My guess is that he is looking for some love.  I would think it would be a bit early for that, but, hey, it is Valentine’s Day.  He simply kept repeating the behavior over and over, until he disappeared along a side maintenance road in the refuge. 

Sandhill Cranes

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill cranes are a bit more interesting to observe for the long haul compared to the snow geese.  Sure, the snow geese are fun to listen to, constantly chattering back and forth, rising and falling sometimes in volume.  But the action is limited to the short bursts when they take off and go somewhere else.  Cranes, particularly in the mornings, are a hoot.  While many are still trying to get as much out of their night’s sleep as possible, others are strutting around, chatting at each other, sometimes hopping and dancing, all along the way to the take off zone. 

First morning

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
First morning

Nature can be a funny thing.  I have read countless logs, journals, articles and commentaries on how mornings go at Bosque del Apache.  The geese in the refuge now aparently did not get the memo.  Normally, they do their mass take-off about a half hour before sunrise.  This morning, as another fellow Anchorage photographer, Jim Liebetz was asking, “I wonder what makes them all take off at once?”, the sun peeked over the horizon and their was an explosion of birds.  I had set up my digital with a shutter cable so I wouldn’t have to look through the viewfinder; instead, my attention was on the viewfinder in my Hassleblad.  While my right hand was clicking away on the D300, my left hand was on the cable release for the Hassleblad as I looked through the viewfinder waiting for the right composition of birds filling the morning sky.  Click. 

After the geese did their thing, I moved over to the “Flight Deck,” a viewing platform along the main pond, to photograph the cranes for a while.  Unlike the geese, the cranes work in smaller groups and, much like aircraft at an airport, take turns “taxiing” to the main take off area. 

Down in Bosque

Friday, February 13th, 2009
Down in Bosque

I flew down to Albuquerque today via Salt Lake City.  Funny how, from the airport, Salt Lake City reminds me of Anchorage.  While standing there waiting at the airport for my connecting flight, I looked over and standing by a bank of phones along the wall – yes, there are still payphones out there – was Wes Studi.  He had been in Anchorage for a few days talking to the youth of Anchorage about the importance of having dreams and following them.  An admirer of his work over the years, I had to thank him for his visit to Anchorage and tell him how much I have enjoyed his many movies.  He was on his way back to his home in Santa Fe, an exceptionally beautiful part of New Mexico.  Me, I was heading to the southern part of the state to spend a few days photographing prior to the NANPA Summit in Alququerque. 

First stop, the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of the town of Socorro.  Considered one of the premiere birding locations in the United States (along with Gambell, Alaska, if you can believe that), it is a large wintering grounds for snow geese and sandhill cranes, among many other bird species.  The current population numbers are about 23,000 snow geese and 14,000 sandhill cranes.  I will be spending a few days here, shooting in the mornings and evenings, exploring different ponds and areas where the birds gather and move throughout the day.