Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge

Bosque del Apache, New Mexico

Earlier in the month I visited the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. This will be the third time I have been to the area in the past few years. The video above is from a few years ago capturing one of the more memorable sunrises I remember here. Having said that – it seems many more mornings, than not, have excellent colors for the bird silhouettes to dance in front of as the sun breaks light.

As for this year, bird counts were a little lower than normal in general. Warmer temperatures up north kept the birds from heading down southward when they usually start to. In the end, this didn’t matter too much; there was still plenty of photography to capture! I will briefly take you through a day at the refuge for a photographer.

The Early Bird

Anyone here in Bosque del Apache that plans to photograph the plethora of birds knows that you plan to wake up early! My alarm was set for 4:30 am each morning, and I would head out by about 5:15 am, which would give me an arrival time of about 5:45 am at the refuge. It’s a relatively easy 30-minute drive, half of which is interstate. More than likely you will be staying in Socorro, where most of the hotels are located. Most of the people arriving this early are nearing an area called the Flight Deck. The purpose of setting up here is to capture the sunrise as your backdrop along with the Snow Geese flying in. Well, that –  and hopefully a “launch” which happens around the sunrise time. This occurs when the geese all take off at one time, in what could be described as a rolling wave motion. The count for these launches can be hundreds of Snow Geese at once, if not more. This one is a slight roll of the dice and some days are better than others. If you have persistence and you are in the area for a few days, the odds will be in your favor, though. Others times the geese will launch far away, which lays the groundwork for a shot like below.

After sunrise, many people head over to the “Crane Pools.” There is a few of these, within a mile stretch or so, and the Sandhill Cranes fly away, usually a few at a time, after spending the night in the pools. The idea is to capture the sunlight on them as the fly off. There is usually a huge row of photographers here! Afterward, it will be approaching the 8 or 9 am hour. Some people take a break for breakfast and others return into the reserve looking for the various species of birds that populate the area this time of year. Some by the singles, some by the dozens and then as we know, some by the tens of thousands, in the case of the Snow Geese. There are miles of dedicated path to drive about and various decks to watch from within the reserve. This American Kestrel Falcon was a quick find from atop one the decks. You have to be on your toes at all times with wide open eyes and ready to capture the moment because the opportunities here can happen at any time and end just as fast.

Time Flies, and So Do the Birds

There is plenty of decks, birds, and paths to explore. Hours can go by before you know it. But there is one more event that happens each day that is another treat for all photographers. As sunset starts to happen, the cranes will return to the pools to rest overnight. This also just so happens to create a perfect recipe for some excellent silhouette shots of them approaching the pools. Mix in a few clouds to the west, and you end up with some pretty dramatic scenes. If you miss the first shot… Not to worry! They approach one at a time and a flock at a time, there’s usually several chances to capture the magic!

This is a quick summary of a typical day at Bosque del Apache. A lot of these scenarios change fast and happen when you least expect it. This is a huge reason aside from the birds that this is one of my favorite places to come and photograph. It forces you to be on your game at all times and you never know what you will capture! If in the area I would also suggest checking out the visitor center here and trying all the good food Socorro has to offer. If feeling adventurous even head out to the Very Large Array and check it out. My next blog will take a look at the Very Large Array, both inside and out, both day and nighttime! Be sure to head over to my Birding Gallery to see some more shots from this area!

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