There’s no sound like it on earth. Thousands of birds leaving at once, flying skyward in search of food. There’s no visual like it on earth. The sky can seem to darken as the mass of birds obscures the sky on their flight northward. Only those who have been there in person really know what it’s like at Bosque del Apache near Socorro, New Mexico. And once the place has its hooks into you, it’s hard to shake it.
I’ve been going to Bosque on and off since the late 70s. It’s special.
I’m sad to say that my time at Bosque del Apache is coming to an end. I’ve spent more than 15 Thanksgivings in central New Mexico. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the people of New Mexico and the photographers who migrate there every winter with the birds. And I’ve had the distinct honor and pleasure of the company of the birds. Without a doubt – the birds have been my favorite part of each winter trip. They are a constant source of amazement and inspiration to me.
While I wish it could last forever nothing does. My age, my health, my business obligations and the passing of time are all conspiring against me. This will therefore likely be my last trip to Bosque. I hope to make it a good one.
I made the most fulfilling photograph of my life at Bosque – Cranes in the Fire Mist is something I’ll never forget and most probably never repeat. After I made that image I thought I might be done with the place. But alas, I am not. Why? The call came one more time. What call? It’s corny as Hell but the call of the wild. I don’t know how to explain it. I am sure it sounds crazy to most of you. I can’t help that. I can only tell you I hear the call and feel I must go. It’s like a tug at my heartstrings. Believe me when I tell you I’ve tried to ignore it. That time of year, only a crazy man would leave the confines of a sunny, warm Las Vegas, Nevada for the cold, maybe even snowy central New Mexico. I guess I am crazy.
One more time I want to go meet the birds on the pond. I want to wait for them to flush every morning so that I can make my final images of their fly out. I want to follow them north to the corn fields where they feed every day. I want to document their literal life and death struggle with their natural predators – the coyotes. I want to record their time in flight – making beautiful patterns and sounds that humans can only dream of duplicating. I want to wait for them at the Flight Deck each evening when they return with the sunset. I want to sit with them while the sun sets and passes into night. I want to say goodbye to them with a photographic and yes even video tribute that is worthy of the pleasure they have given me over the years.
I’ve grown as a photographer – even since the last time I was there. Because of that I feel that I must go back one last time. I want to work on things like HDR, time-lapse, video and more. I want to give it my one last best shot. I want to see if there’s just another drop I can squeeze out of my camera gear that will help tell the story of these birds and my deep affection and appreciation for them. I also don’t want the pressure of leading a workshop. More often than not my time at Bosque was spent teaching. Not this time. No workshop for me. I’m just shooting. It should be fun.
I have something very special planned. It may fall through because it is very big. I can’t and won’t talk about it because I don’t want to jinx it, but if it comes together, I think I will be able to have a hand in documenting in a very special way the magic that is Bosque. I’ll fill you in as the event draws closer.
Bosque is a place of special beauty. I am worried that it is in danger of going away. Climate change, over zealous park rangers, the war on photography, and over-population are all working to keep the bird counts lower every year and the place generally less accessible to anyone, especially photographers. I want to take one last shot before the battle is lost. And it is a battle.
Just five years ago, the light goose count at Bosque was nearly 60,000 birds. Last year it wasn’t even 20,000 birds. The sandhill crane population is off by about 25% compared with just a few years ago. While nature is strong and these birds could bounce back, I fear it won’t happen. So I want to make images now before it’s too late.
But enough of that sad talk. I want to remember the place when it was in its gloryI remember when there were tens upon tens of thousands of sandhill cranes, ross’ geese and snow geese flying out every morning in search for food so that they can build the strength they need to finish their journey. I remember the noise they made and the goose pimples I got during each morning fly-out, no matter how many times I saw it. I want to bring that positive sense of happy memory to my last images there.
I feel a certain obligation to the birds to tell their story one more time. As I have often done on these pages, I will chronicle my journey. If these birds and their habitat will end up being consigned to the history books, I want to be the man who helps document their remaining time here.
This could be looked at as my last trip to Bosque and therefore an ending. Or, it could be looked at as I want to look at it – a new beginning and a new opportunity to inspire others to take up the mantle and the chance to tell the birds’ stories.
As I make my journey south from Las Vegas, Nevada to Socorro, New Mexico I hope you’ll join me here on Photofocus. I’ll leave just a few days before Thanksgiving and it will probably be a short trip. But no matter how long it is and how often I report from there, I promise to do what I can to make it entertaining and enlightening. I also promise to do the best job I can of telling the story of the birds of Bosque.
Thanks for indulging me in this very personal effort.