Jan 9-10, 2011 Bosque del Apache NWR Safari

This is one of those locations that I can’t ever imagine being anything but a fantastic shoot.  From November through late February tens of thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes call Bosque del Apache NWR in the Rio Grande River Valley in central New Mexico home.  From my home in Tulare, Ca its about a 830 mile drive … or just a long day.  I left about 3:30am and arrived at the refuge about 5pm, just in time to really miss the sunset shoot.  I connected with Diane Tomita and Steve Sholly later that night and we made plans for the following morning.

Sunday, January 9th dawned clear and cold.  The ponds on the refuge road near the entrance sign were full of cranes and geese.  We choose the first pond on the west side of the road with a mixture of the birds.  For some time we shot into the rising sun as lines of cranes floated past.  On previous trips getting close to the snow geese had been difficult but on this occasion the geese leap-frogged on our pond until they were right in front of us in beautiful light.

Snow Goose stretching at Sunrise

Over the course of about two hours I shot out 4 8-Gig cards, or about 1600 images.  It was a target rich environment for any photographer with any lens.  There were about ten or twelve other photographers shooting that pond as well, and cars came and went as folks arrived and then departed for other ponds.

Northern Pintail duck lifting off

After a few hours we drove into the main refuge and ended up at the north end on the “Field Road” at a cornfield.  A refuge tractor had just plowed under a row of the cornfield close to the road.  When we got there thousands of snow geese and hundreds of cranes were picking through the field.  But to the north and west the skies were filled with skeins of approaching geese.  For the next 90 minutes we shot the arriving/departing geese.  In past years while I’ve shot great goose images – this was by far the best as the birds were passing so close to us.

Snow Geese arriving at the Cornfield

After a while we had all max’ed out our cards and headed back to Socorro to download cards and have lunch.  It’s nice that a good sized town is just 15 miles away.  In the afternoon we returned to the cornfield and continued our shoot.  Flocks of blackbirds swept into the fields made for interesting, contrasting images with the geese.  Northern Harrier’s came in hunting mice and small birds, and when larger hawks or the occasional Bald Eagle overflew the field the geese got nervous and many lifted off.

Snow Goose landing at Cornfield

The Landing Deck, normally an active location at sunset, was surprisingly slow that night.  There were beautiful cloud formations in the western skies as the sun dropped below the horizon.  The morning chill of about 15 degrees warmed in the afternoon to the low 40’s and so sunset was comfortable, but cool

Tuesday started out much the same – an amazing morning shoot followed by another active shoot at the cornfield.  We traveled the other roads and saw deer, roadrunners, eagles, hawks, coyotes, and thousands of ducks and other birds.  At times there were so many snow geese coming into the cornfield from so many different directions that they would nearly collide – avoiding each other with dramatic turns.

Sandhill Crane landing amid the Snow Geese.

Mix in the sandhill cranes and the landing pattern at the cornfield turned into a mass of birds all trying to force their way through from one direction or another.  It was an amazing spectacle to watch and attempt to photograph.  The multiple layers of birds played havoc with the auto-focusing system, but practice makes perfect and eventually it became easier to photograph the large groups as they collided together and fought for landing privileges at the cornfield.  I’ve shot game birds so many times before but this was truly unique.  There came a point of saturation when I didn’t think there was anything new I could photograph – but the energy of these birds (and the noise) kept me shooting anyway.  The Northern Harrier (below) flashed by me so close that I couldn’t get it all in frame, but I enjoyed the results anyway.

Northern Harrier hunting near the Cornfield

We were all pretty exhausted shooting the geese and cranes by late in the day and Dianne suggested spending our third day at White Sands National Monument to make a subject change.

Instead of adding that shoot to this blog I’m going to create a new blog article for the White Sands shoot.

Bosque is a shoot of superlatives.  In many ways it has the most birds, the best light, the greatest birding landscapes, the best access, and on and on.

Snow Goose going full-flaps for landing

About brentrpaull

Professional Photographer
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1 Response to Jan 9-10, 2011 Bosque del Apache NWR Safari

  1. hunter says:

    amazing pictures!!!

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