NOTE: Click here if you’re looking for the “Cranes in the Fire Mist” shot.

I’m sick, tired and making the long drive home to Gig Harbor, but none of that matters. I’ll be home in a few hours. When I get there, I will have traveled through eight states in 17 days, and driven 4400 miles in the new photo work truck. I will have met with a photowalking group in Salt Lake, made a speech at the raptor center near Boise, shot the Colorado river and Arches National Park as well as Shiprock, NM and of course the refuge at Bosque. Oh yeah, and did I mention I was sick? :)

The shooting at Bosque this year was darn good. In fact, the refuge itself was fantastic. I believe that the physical conditions at the refuge were as good as they’ve been in a decade. The right ponds were full of water. My friend Artie Morris was allowed to take a volunteer crew into the refuge to clear brush and provide good shooting lanes. Much of the excess vegetation that had grown around the ponds had been plowed under.

Last year, it was just the opposite. The refuge management had allowed vegetation to grow in ways that made it impossible to get good shots. They didn’t fill some of the best ponds, and photography there was nearly impossible.

While this year’s conditions were great, the weather wasn’t that helpful. It was very warm. And while my bones appreciated the warmth, the birds didn’t. Warm temperatures caused the birds to change their behavior. Additionally, climate change has caused fewer and fewer birds to make the trip to Bosque. Bird counts are down compared to a decade ago.

So we had fewer birds and atypical behavior due to the warm weather. But we had great physical conditions and the crowds were somewhat smaller than in past years so there was less competition for the best spots.

I spent much of my time this year leading private workshops or co-leading a workshop with Artie Morris. We got shut out most days on the fly-out. Either the birds left in complete darkness, or the bald blue skies gave us no color during the sunrise. But we did get one fantastic morning, and everyone got good stuff.

Of course I am thrilled because I got my long-awaited “Cranes in the Fire Mist” shot. I also got some species I had never been able to capture, including Hooded Merganser, Gadwall, Red-Breasted Goose, and Black-crowned Night-Heron.

I also admit to getting greedy. A second opportunity for the cranes in the mist shot looked like it might unfold. The north railroad pond was particularly good this year. While I didn’t actually get a second shot at the cranes in the mist, I did get a shot I’ve never been able to capture.

I shot directly into the sun with my Sigma 300-800 F/5.6 because there was just enough mist and fog in front of the sun to keep it from blinding me. (Don’t try this at home.) I then lined up birds flying through the sun. Once I had my lens pointed at the sun, I simply looked up and guessed when the birds were in the right place and fired. It was too dangerous to try to compose the shot with the sun large in the frame. It worked pretty well and I got some good stuff.

I got plenty of cranes and geese in flight. Those are always fun. But I also tried to concentrate on some more artistic stuff. I did some pan-blurs and zoom-blurs. I also experimented with slow shutter speeds and changing the white balance to give images a cool feel.

After the workshops were over I was pretty sick, but I still managed to make a few loops around the refuge shooting from my car window on the Kirk “Fatboy” bean bag. I got some salable stuff.

I also did quite a bit of shooting with my new Sigma 100-300 F.4 zoom lens. It’s a very nice lens for the money. If I had more time, I would have tested some other gear but I wanted to concentrate on the 100-300 as a flight lens.

Bosque remains an almost spiritual place for me. I do fear for its survival. The present management hasn’t always been friendly to photographers. We did get a breakthrough this year when they let Artie and the volunteers clear the brush. I hope this is a sign of things to come. But listening to the new “law enforcement” officer they hired at the refuge, it’s clear that restrictions on photography are at least being discussed.

If you want a chance to see this jewell in the National Wildlife Refuge system, don’t delay. Some of our most special places like Ding Darling in Florida have been ruined for photography by refuge managers who either don’t like photographers, or just don’t care about them. If this happens to Bosque, it will be a tragedy.

There’s still time this year. Anytime before New Year’s Day should be pretty good. Then there’s always next year. From year-to-year, conditions change at Bosque. There’s no way of knowing what it will be like when I get there next Thanksgiving. But I’m hopeful it will be as good as it was this year, and that I can make another signature image or two for my portfolio.

NOTE: Bosque del Apache is a National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico, about 20 minutes south of Socorro; about one hour and 15 minutes south of Albquerque. It’s a very affordable place to visit, with lots of $40 a night hotel rooms for those on a budget. Flights to Albquerque’s SunPort are readily available connecting through Denver and Salt Lake City. Rental cars are cheap and plentiful and the locals are friendly.

Also, there’s more than birds to photograph near Bosque. The Very Large Array telescope is nearby, as is White Sands and the Three Rivers Indian Petroglyphs.

P.S. The annual avian photographer’s Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Artie Morris was fantastic. But as a sign of the times, we found out it will be the last. The Luna Mansion in Los Lunas, NM is closing. There will be good memories. At least I didn’t have to eat Thanksgiving dinner at Dennys!