I recently returned from an epic trip (for me) to South-Central New Mexico. Every year at this time, the Fall migration brings tens of thousands of migratory birds through one of the premier spots in the United States to photograph them: Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Bosque Del Apache is Spanish for “woods of the Apache,” and is rooted in the time when the Spanish observed Apaches routinely camped in the forests alongside the Rio Grande river. The refuge is spread over 57,331 acres, and is located at the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert.
The heart of the Refuge is about 12,900 acres of moist bottomlands–3,800 acres are active floodplain of the Rio Grande and 9,100 acres are areas where water is diverted to create extensive wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests. The rest of Bosque Del Apache NWR is made up of arid foothills and mesas, which rise to the Chupadera Mountains on the west, and the San Pascual Mountains on the east. Most of these desert lands are preserved as wilderness areas.
The Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is located about 1 1/2 hours south of Albuquerque, NM. The nearest substantial town with amenities is Soccorro which is a fifteen minute drive North of the refuge, so making the obligatory sunrise and sunset shoots along with a mid-day trip back to Socorro for lunch and a nap is totally doable. Most mornings I arrived about an hour before sunrise and staked my spot near the main pond and made sure both cameras were ready to go for the shots I had planned for that morning. Just about every morning produced a unique and stunning sunrise. Shortly after the first light would emerge over the distant mountains, thousand of Snow and Ross’s Geese would fly over the ridge and join the Geese that had spent the night in the main pond. As the noise of 10,000 or so birds increased as the sun came up, you could literally feel a suspense increasing slowly as the inevitable “blast-off” of these many birds approached. Suddenly, and without any warning, all of the birds would “blast-off” into the sky in one incredible moment comprised of the sounds of wings flapping and the calls of the most birds you will ever see in one spot in your lifetime. Simply AMAZING!
Below is a typical morning’s “Fly-in” of the many thousand Arctic Geese and Sandhill Cranes. If you desire, you may watch the video full-screen by clicking the small icon in the lower right corner of the player.
Some time after the many Geese would depart their evening roost, they would fly over to the nearby corn fields to fuel up for the day. Along with the birds, the photographers would make their way there as well to get in some fantastic flight photography in the glorious morning light. Bosque is primarily known for the thousands of Arctic Geese and Sandhill Cranes the congregate here ever year at this time, but for the willing and driven photographer who is willing to put in the time and effort to explore not only the refuge itself, the many wildlife hotspots in Southern New Mexico will provide countless opportunities to view a large variety of species. In my short time there, I photographed seven or eight species of bird that I had never seen before including the elusive Roadrunner (Beep! Beep!), as well as the very beautiful Curved-bill Thrasher.(below)
Having a full week of non-stop photography available to me, endless subject opportunities, close proximity to the birds, and fantastic light and weather provided me the chance to really experiment and expand the range of the typical types of shots one takes when photographing wildlife. Creative and artistic blurs are more and more being included in photographic competitions, and are much more difficult to capture effectively than a “freeze the action” type of shot. Depending on the proximity of the subject and how fast it is moving, ties in very closely with the shutter speed that will best convey the feel of the image that the photographer is attempting to create. Along with this, the photographer may have to pan the camera along with the movement of the subject(s) at an equal speed to keep the body of the subject relatively in focus, aside from its extremities which will ultimately create the artistic blur effect. It is always the challenge for the photographer to create something unique and emotionally effective upon the viewer, to draw them in and allow them a moment behind the photographer’s eyes and into the world they are viewing.
Needless to say, I came away having an incredible life experience during my time spent at Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced the sounds, the sights, and overall beauty of Southern New Mexico. I hope you take a few minutes and enjoy the images I created while I was there as well as the video I included of the incredible morning blast-offs of thousands of Artic Geese and Sandhill Cranes. If you ever find yourself in New Mexico in the Winter time, consider taking a morning to make a trip to the refuge, I can personally guarantee you will not regret it!
Three galleries of images from my trip can be found under the “Galleries” tab in the top menu of any page on my site, or directly here: