Here’s part one of my Bosque diary in case you missed it.
I’m writing this entry on Thanksgiving day. It’s crazy how crowded the reserve is. There are about 100 serious photographers shooting today. I guess the world does in fact have some understanding spouses – or more single people than I realized.
The weather was typical Central New Mexico in early winter. This morning for the blast-off, the temperature was 27 degrees at dawn. By sunset, the temperature had risen to 64 degrees. My cold-weather gear certainly came in handy this morning. This afternoon, not so much.
Sunrise is officially at 6:48 AM but the action starts about 20 minutes before that. The birds can blast off from the pond as much as 20 minutes before or after. When you try to figure out where to shoot from, there are three main considerations.
2. Wind direction
3. Sun angle
These are hard and fast rules in bird photography as far as I am concerned. (I put that sentence in there so all of you needing an excuse for faux outrage today can send me scathing email saying there are no rules in photography :))
These all apply during the blast off, but in ways that are somewhat unusual. The birds take off into the wind. If the wind is coming from the north and you’re south of the birds, you’re going to get wonderful shots of their butts. You have to pay attention to the wind. Then you have to find a nice background. Usually that’s the sunrise. Lastly, you have to think about sun angle. Usually, you want to shoot birds on sun angle, but during the blast off, you can shoot them backlit.
Today I nearly got shut out. I simply couldn’t get far north enough to get the birds as they lept out of the pond. I got the one shot below but I have made better images of the blast off. Some days are like that. When the winds are from the south it’s MUCH easier but as you may expect, the winds are rarely from the south, because lately, it seems nothing is easy :)
If there’s no big blast off or you miss it, you head to the crane pools. These are the ponds that you see on the west side of the road as you drive into the refuge. Some years, there’s no water here. This year, there’s a little water, but not as much as I’d like.
After shooting the crane pools, you usually head back into the refuge and cut through the middle to go to the northern end of Bosque. This year, there’s no corn there and that means no birds. The drought has severely impacted Bosque del Apache and frankly, conditions are very poor for photography. But, that said, each day has still presented plenty of great opportunities, just fewer than usual.
The new extended tour loop has helped. It is cool to see a part of the Bosque I’ve never seen before, but the sun angle is impossible there any time other than early morning. When it’s cloudy, it’s a good place to go – if the birds are there. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. The birds seem just as confused as the photographers this year. The counts are down. You have to work to find birds. Most years, the birds find you.
If there isn’t some rain soon, the shooting here will be terrible next year. But before I sound too negative, let me say that I have high expectations given the success I’ve had here in the past. I remember it in the good old days. If you’d never been here before, you’d have a great time shooting here and you’d wonder what all the fuss is about.
One advantage of coming here so often is that when conditions are tough, you have fallback spots that almost always produce. That has been the case so far. But better news might be coming. We’re supposed to get some weather tomorrow. Bald blue skies and northwest winds are killers here. When there’s weather, anything is possible. Spots that normally don’t work all of a sudden do. The birds change their behavior and all standard bets are off. It’s exciting.
One thing I should mention is that the refuge management, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the railroad have decided to permanently close off the area known as the “railroad pond.” If this sounds familiar, it’s the location where I made Crane’s in the Fire Mist. So unless you’re willing to break the law, risk arrest, jail and fines, you can’t shoot at that pond which means nobody can copy my shot. It also means I can’t shoot there either. I’m not sure how I feel about that but it doesn’t matter. It is what it is. The only thing constant at Bosque is change.
Even with the challenges, two days into this shoot I have some pretty good images. I am really happy with my attempts to shoot stills. Now I’ll start spending time trying some video and time lapse. Before I close, this chapter of the diary, I want to make a personal observation.
Some in my audience seem to have genuine concern about my decision to spend Thanksgiving on the road shooting. I appreciate that concern. But really – it’s fine. I like being here. There is a sort of family here too. Part of the joy of being at Bosque del Apache during Thanksgiving is seeing old friends. The same folks who usually come here every year keep coming back and eventually, some of us become friends. Beyond that, there’s always my pal Artie Morris. He’s here for the 17th straight year. He hosted his usual Thanksgiving brunch. It was a great time with like-minded people.
There is a special camaraderie amongst bird photographers. Bird photography is one of the hardest kinds of photography you can ever do. Those who do it at the level you see practiced here at Bosque are the best of the best. I’m proud to be here among them, doing my best to tell the stories of the birds of Bosque.
I’ll have at least one more installment of the Bosque diary and I appreciate all the kind comments I’ve gotten about it so far.
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