Bosque del Apache Update

The photography at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico this year was definitely unlike any other in the last seven that I have been leading groups there. The conditions were severely handicapped from the start this year due to mismanagement of the reserve but at the same time the same management were able to rescue what could have been a dismal year for photographers. The total crop failure this year would have been a disaster but the refuge opened up a new loop road temporarily for the crane festival and at the same time the staff started feeding barley, brought in especially to feed the birds, sometimes very close to the road. This made for some very good opportunities for photographers on the farm field road and new loop road. Even though the conditions were far below the normal standard due to the crop failure there were still some good to great photographic opportunities at times thanks to the barley feeding and the opening of the new loop route. Although I did not lead a group of my own this year at Bosque I did co-lead a Birds As Art group for Arthur Morris. Our group was blessed with some great weather and more than a few quality opportunities. These are some of my favorite images made in the last couple of weeks at Bosque.

If you have ever thought about photographing at Bosque you should consider an instructional tour or workshop to make the most of your time there. I will be leading a photo tour there in 2012, look for more details posted here soon.

Sandhill crane landing in the early morning light, west farm field, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico. NIKON D300s and AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4G ED VR lens + TC-14E 1.4x II, 1/1600 sec at F5.6, manual metering on zero, ISO 320. Image Copyright 2011 Robert OToole Photography.

The cranes would congregate each morning in the farm fields but finding a single bird to photograph was almost impossible. Arriving very early with the right conditions did make it possible to get a the first groups of cranes landing with a clean green background before the field completely filled up with cranes.

Sandhill crane displaying in the early morning light, northern crane pool, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico. NIKON D700 and AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4G ED VR lens + TC-14E 1.4x II, 1/1250 sec at F5.6, manual metering on zero, ISO 320. Image Copyright 2011 Robert OToole Photography.

The cranes pools are always reliable and can be superb once the cranes groups thin out. As the opportunities get better with less and less cranes the photographer groups also thin out making it easier to move around and reposition, something I do here frequently. Once this group of cranes started displaying and I immediately called out to our group and rushed into position right in front of them. Only one person followed me but we were both rewarded with some great action in clean open water.

Sandhill crane pair taking off in early morning light, northern crane pool, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico. NIKON D700 and AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4G ED VR lens + TC-14E 1.4x II, 1/1250 sec at F5.6, manual metering on zero, ISO 320. Image Copyright 2011 Robert OToole Photography.

With any wind direction other than a west or northwest the cranes pools can be very good for images of cranes in flight. They roost overnight in the crane pools and take off in small groups once the sun rises. I always try to make images with the multi-colored bands of mountains in the background and always prefer images of synchronized pairs or groups since they are more challenging to capture.

Sandhill crane juvenile against storm clouds, farm field loop, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico. NIKON D300S and AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4G ED VR lens + TC-14E 1.4x II, 1/1250 sec at F5.6, manual metering on zero, ISO 500. Image Copyright 2011 Robert OToole Photography.

A huge band of dark, almost black storm clouds was headed our way and made some unforgettable backgrounds. Here an immature crane is calling out before landing close by. Manual mode was the only reliable way to make this image, any auto mode would have been overexposed the image due to the dark background.

Sandhill crane blasting off against distant cotton woods, farm field loop, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico. NIKON D300S and AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4G ED VR lens + TC-14E 1.4x II, 1/1250 sec at F5.6, manual metering on zero, ISO 400. Image Copyright 2011 Robert OToole Photography.

What an afternoon this was, the afternoon light angle and a southwest wind meant that the the cranes were blasting off right at us and only a handful of photographers were around to capture the action.