Birds of Bosque

January 31, 2022  •  Leave a Comment

Birds of Bosque

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_10Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_10A pair of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) take a drink of water after landing in a pond at sunset in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. I try to be very sensitive about revealing locations associated with where I photograph wildlife. It is best for the animals to not have a disruptive cacophony of loud voices descend upon them from photographers or wildlife viewers hoping to make images. 

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_6Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_6A single sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) starts to lean forward on a frozen pond in preparation for take off on a sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_4Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_4A single sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) runs across a frozen pond in preparation for take off on a sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_3Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_3A single sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) runs across a frozen pond in preparation for take off on a sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_7Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_7A single sandhill crane (Grus canadensis) takes off on a frozen pond pulling a ring of ice from the water on a sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. The cat is out of the bag, however, when it comes to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in southern New Mexico. This is a bird lover's paradise where probably thousands of bird watchers and photographers visit each winter to witness the migration of tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese and a myriad of ducks to the Rio Grande River Valley about 90 minutes south of Albuquerque.

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_8Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_8A family of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) take off from a frozen pond on a sunny morning. Sandhill cranes typically are seen in groups of three within the larger flock. These are two parents and an offspring. On occasion, two chicks will survive to migrate with their parents in winter. The youngster, the bird farthest to the left, can be identified by the duller red cap; the parents have a more vibrant red cap. I have been visiting Bosque for about ten years now, with a missed year here and there. I didn't go in 2020 because of the pandemic so I was eager to get back to this location, one of the best I know of for bird photography. The light of southern New Mexico seems to always have a warm tone to it and although the landscapes are bathed in brown, the sun lights up the landscape in a rainbow of pinks and oranges at sunrise and sunset. 

I planned my trip to coincide with not just the bird migration but a full moon. I had tried for full moon photos at Bosque a couple of times before. The clouds changed my plans on the first attempt. A family emergency changed my plans on the second. My luck changed on this trip. 

Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_9Sandhill_crane_BDANWR_2021_9A group of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) float into a pond at sunset. These scenes of sandhill cranes floating past a colorful sunset sky, played out each afternoon as the cranes return to the ponds to roost at night, never get old. Climate change also seems to have had an impact on this region as well. Warmer temperatures and reduced rainfall caused the refuge managers to decide not to plant corn in 2021. Several of the popular ponds for bird photography, like the large ones just before the visitor center, were dried up, barren of water and birds. The large pond by the flight deck still held water, and the cranes and geese used it for overnight roosting. I witnessed a morning blast off on one day but it happened before decent colors in the sky.

There was another pond on the far north side of the refuge that I had not photographed in previous years. Cranes and ducks mostly used this pond at night and the position of the pond offered optimal positioning for front lighting at sunrise and backlighting near sunset. The down side was that it took an extra 30 minutes to get to this location compared to the quick access of the entry ponds. Although I thought I had saved enough time to get to the pond for sunrise, I miscalculated and wound up on the east side of the refuge. It worked out perfectly as I was the only one in position at sunrise to catch the setting full moon above the Chupadera Mountains. A little patience and I had the image I envisioned all these years of the moon, mountains, beautiful light and birds flying in front of the moon. 

Bosque_Moonset_2021_1Bosque_Moonset_2021_1Sandhill cranes fly past a setting full moon at sunrise in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. This scene was one I envisioned for many years.

Remember that any time you travel to a destination for photography — whether you only drive five minutes from your home or you fly five hours to a far away location — you should create a mental shot list. This helps you have goals while you are out photographing so you don't scramble around but rather mindfully place yourself in front of the best light and best subjects. 

Besides the goal to photograph the full moon, I also hoped to build a collection of duck images. Over the years, I have built up quite a collection of photos of sandhill cranes and snow geese but this time I wanted to focus on some of the other birds that visit the refuge. This year I had the chance to photograph mallards, pintails, buffleheads and American coots.
Greater_roadrunner_BDANWR_2021_1Greater_roadrunner_BDANWR_2021_1A greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) runs across a dirt road on a sunny morning. Roadrunners are common birds at the refuge but they don't often give you much time for photos. Enjoy this collection of images from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. All images captured with the Nikon D850.

American_coot_BDANWR_2021_1American_coot_BDANWR_2021_1An American coot (Fulica americana) dives into the water to search for food at a pond in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. American_coot_BDANWR_2021_2American_coot_BDANWR_2021_2An American coot (Fulica americana) dives into the water to search for food at a pond in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico. American_coot_BDANWR_2021_3American_coot_BDANWR_2021_3An American coot (Fulica americana) dives into the water to search for food at a pond in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Bufflehead_BDANWR_2021_1Bufflehead_BDANWR_2021_1A small group of buffleheads (Bucephala albeola) fly low across a frozen pond on a cold, sunny morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Pintail_BDANWR_2021_1Pintail_BDANWR_2021_1A flock of pintails (Anas acuta) and a few gadwalls (Mareca strepera) and mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) take off from a shallow pond backlit by the setting sun in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Full_moon_BDANWR_2021_1Full_moon_BDANWR_2021_1The full moon rises as a flock of snow geese fly below the moon's yellow glow in Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.

Mallard_BDANWR_2021_2Mallard_BDANWR_2021_2A flock of mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) take off from a shallow pond in a marsh at Bosque del Apache National Wildife Refuge, New Mexico.


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