My assistant Anthony and I arrived safe and sound in New Mexico. This Thanksgiving, like many, many, many before it, I’ll be photographing at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. The primary attraction at the refuge is migrating flocks of snow geese, ross’ geese and sandhill cranes. There are plenty of additional bird species – including several hard-to-find ducks, along with some pretty great scenery.
Bird photographers from around the world make the annual trek to Bosque for Thanksgiving. Those lucky enough to get their spouse’s permission will be shooting on Thanksgiving proper. Most come the days before or after.
We drove from Las Vegas, making two stops. On the way down we visited the Grand Canyon only to be completely shut out by a low-hanging cloud bank. We spent four hours on a vista hoping for a sun break with no luck. No worries – a bad day at the Grand Canyon is better than a good day most anywhere else. I didn’t make a single exposure but still enjoyed my time there.
The next day we had better luck. We stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park. We didn’t venture very far into the park because of time constraints, but I did get to finally make some images I liked. Anthony even made a few images.
Then it was on to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the annual Waffle House visit! (Yep I know – not the healthiest place in the world but I splurge one week a year. Cheesy eggs and raisin toast – hash browns – smothered please!) We gassed up, rested, sorted the gear and made plans for the first day of shooting at the refuge.
Before I go on I should note that bird photographers interested in some variety can visit the Albuquerque Zoo. It has a very large duck pond and all sorts of birds fly into and out of the area this time of year. Concurrently, New Mexico Tech in Socorro also has a nice duck pond which I regularly visit.
If you’re not a full-time bird photographer, there are lots of landscape opportunities in the area, including the Very Large Array (VLA) telescope, the Three Rivers Indian Petroglyphs and White Sands Missile Range just south of Socorro near Alamogordo, NM.
As has been my habit lately, I am traveling with much less gear than I used to in the old days. It might seem like the opposite when you read the list but in years past I’ve had twice as much gear.
This year my gear list reads as follows:
Two Canon 1D MK IV bodies
Two Canon 800mm f/5.6 lenses
Two Olympus E-P3 bodies
One Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens
One Olympus 12mm f/2.0 lens
One Olympus 17mm f/2.8 lens
One Induro CT414 tripod
Two Induro CT214 tripods
One Induro BHD3 ball head
One Induro BHD1 ball head
One Induro GHB2 gimbal head
Two Hero HD2 video cameras
One Nikon D7000 body
One Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye lens
One Kessler Crane Travel Dolly
One Kessler Dolly Motor
Assorted other camera supports, bags, filters, memory cards, card readers, hard drives, and other small photo accessories
You’ll note there are several duplicates on the list. That is because when you come this far, and end up this isolated, you need backups. The Canon 800 is the primary go-to lens for this shoot so I needed two of them. It’s crazy to own two so thanks to BorrowLenses.com I got a spare one – just in case.
Trips to Bosque in early winter also require lots of clothing. The temperatures can swing 30 degrees in a day, so I have lots of hats, gloves, boots, jackets, warm socks, etc. So far I haven’t needed them, but I have them.
Anthony has returned home to Vegas to spend Thanksgiving with his family so now I am working on my own for the first day. This is my routine…
Once I get established in my base hotel, I break everything down and transfer most of the gear to one bag and a photo vest. I also work out of the truck, using it as a blind, shooting with the 800mm lens mounted on a bean bag over the window sill for support.
I’ll be using the Hero cams for time-lapse. The Canon with 800mm lens will be the primary kit, used to make portraits. Group shots will be made using the Olympus micro 4/3 for landscapes and group shots of birds. The Nikon D7000 with fisheye lens will solely be used for fly-outs (the moment at dawn when tens of thousands of birds leave simultaneously from the retaining ponds.)
The weather is warmer than usual and there has been a significant drought in the area. The tour management has built an alternate route north of the refuge. This route has never been opened to photographers and may never be again so I am excited to see what sort of shooting opportunities arise. My first trip down this road helped me realize it’s a morning shot because of the sun angle, so tomorrow I’ll go early.
We’re expecting traditional blast offs and fly-ins but during the day, the usual spots at the refuge might not be as productive. I guess that means nap time during the day. I’d say conditions are far from optimal, but as you can see from this post, I already have some pretty good images, including a mini-Cranes in the Fire Mist – II which I’ll talk about later.
More from Bosque soon.
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