Friday, December 20, 2013

Bosque Del Apache

Last year I went with Dick Pick down to the Bosque Del Apache national wildlife refuge about an hour south of Albuquerque, NM. I decided to give it another try this year.  Why this refuge?  It is a great wintering spot for over 100,000 birds.  They flood several areas with about 18 inches of water, which serves as protection and a source of food. While a lot of the roads through the refuge are closed to anyone but park employees, there is a nice driving route that loops around and gets you access to most everything.

One of the primary residents is the Snow Goose.  Tens of thousands of snow geese. They aren't quite as big as a Canada Goose, but they are a hell of a lot bigger than a duck.
The most amazing scene is when the geese suddenly decide it is time to go somewhere else.  Within seconds, the sky is full.  You definitely want to be wearing a hat when thousands of geese are flying over your head. I don't think scientists have figured out exactly which goose gets to decide that it is time to leave.

There are about 10,000 Sandhill Cranes in the area and they seem to be the photographers' favorite.
They are long and lanky with a definite prehistoric look.  They always take off and land into the wind and if you get a good stiff breeze, they almost come to a complete standstill in the air before dropping to the ground.
One evening a few cranes were flying into a big pond.  One decided to join a few others, perhaps to become friends.  I guess not.  The existing clique was particularly anti-social and aggressively ran the newcomer off.
In addition to the geese and cranes, there are tens of thousands of ducks.  Pintails are everywhere. I think they are one of the more attractive ducks I see.
There wasn't much ice, but I found this little Pintail parade going for an ice walk.  I like their reflections.
Mallards seem to be common almost everywhere in the US, but in the Bosque, they are fairly uncommon.

And back to a bit of snow geese....  This one seemed to be conducting, but his companions weren't really buying into the idea.
Every afternoon when the geese returned from the fields to the ponds, they needed to get rid of the day's dust.  They would flip, splash, and even roll upside down to clean up.  Each bird seemed to want about five minutes of "showering" before it was good enough.
One sad note was the number of birds that were dying.  I think it was avian cholera. Any time that many animals pack into such a small area, disease spreads quickly.  Every day the airboat went out to pick the dead geese out of the water.  If they left them there, the cholera would spread rapidly through the water.  I would much rather be the air boat driver than the dead goose getter.  Seniority?

The refuge has lots of non-waterfowl species, but you have to look a bit harder to find them.  They seem to number in the dozens or hundreds, not tens of thousands. This little sparrow and I were having a staring contest.  He won, but I got his picture.
This little bird was busy hovering a few feet above the ground and then diving for bugs.  He (she?) looked a but like a Kingbird, but I was never certain.
One of my favorite birds to see down south is the Roadrunner.
This one was kind enough to accentuate his name by running down a road. I desperately wanted to see a coyote, and they are on the Bosque, but no such luck.
There were bald eagles, harriers, kestrels, and other raptors, but they tended to be off too far for me to get a decent photograph.
I knew ahead of time that there would be a full moon while I was there.  I thought about the kinds of shots I wanted and tried to be in the right place at the right time.
There was some weird atmospheric thing going on.  When the moon was down by the horizon, it was golden, soft, and a bit wavy.  It seemed like something I might expect when you are looking across a hot dusty desert at a rising moon.  It was neither hot nor dusty, so I couldn't figure it out.
You never quite know what you'll find.  While I was waiting for the moon, I got a nice colorful sunset with some wonderful reflections.  I did leave a bit of moon in.
One morning I was getting ready to shoot some bird photos with other photographers.  I turned around and behind me, the early dawn was making a nice silhouette. No one else seemed to care, probably because it wasn't a bird.
The last evening I was there it was getting too dark to really see the cranes returning to the pond, but the sunset was pretty.  I decided to try a strong silhouette.  The odd shapes of the cranes made for very interesting results.
They were landing into a fairly stiff wind, so they dropped their landing gear (legs) very early and slowly coasted in.  It was really cool to watch.
And finally the sunset was just amazing.  The colors in the sky and reflected on the water were incredible.  It's nice to get lucky.
Unfortunately, the luck ended abruptly.  I went back to the hotel, copied my photos to my computer, and got my cameras ready for the next morning's shoot.  Within minutes, I was suffering from diarrhea and then vomiting.  I either had a stomach virus or food poisoning.   I spent hours worshiping the porcelain gods and then had a miserable day getting back home.  My photography trip was over, but at least I got about 80% of my shooting in.

Bosque Del Apache is a great place for birdwatchers and wildlife photographers to visit, primarily between November and January.  Not only can you see birds, if you're lucky you can see elk, deer, bobcat, mountain lions and coyote.   You can get more info from here.

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