I accompanied friends Skip Stubbs and Phil Colla to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge for a few days starting in late November. Bosque del Apache means "woods of the Apache" and was named by the Spanish who observed Apaches routinely camped in the riverside forest there. Bosque is slightly more than an hour by car south of Albuquerque, along the Rio Grande Valley in Socorro County, NM. It is located on the northern edge of the Chihuahuan Desert, with an elevation that ranges from 4500 to over 6200 feet above sea level.

Why would a photographer of "marine-related" subjects go to the desert?
While over 300 species of birds and many other animals can be photographed there, I was concentrating on two species of large marine birds that migrate from the north to Bosque in the autumn and winter months–sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) and snow geese (Chen caerulescens). A count taken the day before we arrived indicated about 5,000 sandhill cranes and almost 33,000 snow geese were there–as well as over 26,000 ducks.

I'm not a "bird photographer" and lack the typical birder's lens–a 600mm f4, with a 1.4 or 2X teleconverter. At peak times (sunrise & sunset) there might be 40-50 photographers around, most with a camera setup like that or something similar. I was using a 300mm f2.8 and an 80-400mm zoom. So most of my shots were of the "scenic" variety, rather than tight shots of individual birds. Fortunately we had great weather (cold–one dawn was 26 degrees–but very clear) and loads of scenic photo opportunities, so I managed to contain my lens envy. Logistics were also easy. Bosque was only a few miles from our hotel in the town of Socorro, and each photo site had parking and adequate space for setting up tripods and cameras.

Sandhill cranes can reach a height of four feet, with a wingspan approaching seven feet. My favorite shots were of cranes flying back for a landing in the ponds, with the golden light of sunset.

With that sunset light in the background, stationary shots of the cranes were also worth taking.

We'd get to Bosque before dawn for the sunrise, rest at mid-day, then go back in the afternoon for the sunset. When the sun was well up in the sky, there were opportunities for sandhill crane reflections and "takeoff" shots.

Snow geese approaching as the light turns golden at sunset.

The snow geese would look very tranquil, such as the scene above left, then something would set them off…

Sunrise, at least for me, was not as productive as sunset–the birds had a tendency to fly away from, rather than towards us. Still, it was worth watching.

A fun trip, and relatively easy to do compared to a lot of my other journeys!

Best to all,


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