The last time I visited Bosque I thought it was the last but here I was in mid-December. Most people come to photograph the sandhill cranes and the other migratory birds that spend the winter here. What keeps me coming back is the larger numbers of waterfowl - in the 100’s of thousands. In the mornings, the unison blast-off of thousands of snow geese as the sun emerges is a spectacle as impressive as that of the ungulate migrations in East Africa. Not just seeing the white clouds of feathers rising, but listening to the roar caused by the flapping of the wings, as the birds rise above the water impoundments where they spend the night.
Bosque Del Apache is a man-made refuge for wildlife where crops are planted to feed them. So it is not a natural habitat but is like a resort for the migrating birds to spend the winter in a protected area from hunting with a source of food. As soon as they leave the area, they are subjected to hunting and rare is the day that one does not hear the blast of guns along the boundaries of the refuge. Bosque is the ideal habitat because it provides food, a hunter-free zone but most important, the water provides a relative safe place from predators to spend the night.
The first morning I arrived in mid-December I was lucky to observe a group of sandhill cranes chasing away a coyote. This predator was hiding in the brushes along the shoreline waiting for the cranes to get closer but it was discovered. The alarm was given and group of the birds formed a vigilante posse and escorted the frustrated coyote away.
The routine at Bosque is to get to the park in the morning from nearby Socorro early enough to secure a good photographic spot and wait for the blast-off of the snow geese or the sandhill cranes in small family groups. The competition for space is noted - at times having photographers fighting for a specific waterfront spot.
The number of photographers is usually large and most carry long telephotos mounted on tripods; some use 2-3 systems on tripods to include recording devices and fire them selectively with wireless controls. Some use one camera for traditional photography and for videos. And this is why I ask myself why do I keep returning to Bosque? How many photos do I need of this place? With so many photographers going there, is it not rational to go to places where no photographer has gone before? But are such places left in the world?
Most activity occurs in the early morning when the birds depart to feed in fields outside the park and at sunset, when the birds return to water impoundments that offer protection against predators to spend the night. In between, I ride a few times along the loops inside the park and then I go roaming around the rural roads photographing landscapes and abandoned farms. Sometimes one catches surprises such as the screech owl above watching the tourists passing by without been discovered. And at the nearby park headquarters in the cactus garden, the Gamble’s quails are easy to photograph.
One day, I drove to the refuge of Bernardo, where the birds feed in the corn and alfalfa planted by the government. This was different with some of the cultivated fields still standing and a range of mountains as background offering a different landscape than the one at Bosque.
While here, I noticed a herd of about 15 mule deer with a male with a big rack at the edge of the cornfield just watching me. Suddenly they started running out in to the open field where the snow geese were eating and resting. As the mule deer approached they all took off to move out of the way landing again just a few feet away. This is one of those rare occasions when being at the right place allows photographers to capture unique events.
My biggest photography challenge is air travel. Being able to carry a backpack aboard a plane is becoming almost impossible due to the rules and to their loose interpretations by the gate and flight crews. But thanks to the I-Phones, in the near future there may no need to carry 30-40 pounds camera gear in a backpack. My friends were admiring the quality of the images and videos taken with such phones…the miracles of modern technology.