What a great place to photograph! We left on Saturday morning and thankfully the weather held out. About a week or so ago most of the high country in AZ and NM were hit with storms and snow. It made for a beautiful drive, but I was a little nervous we would make the 6+ hour trip and the weather gods would not be on our side. Thankfully, it was mostly clear skies for the trip with nice sunsets. We arrived in Socorro around 3pm and after checking in to the hotel,we made our way to the refuge. There were about 30 or so photographers shooting a few early cranes and ducks, waiting for sunset. Once things got closer to sunset, the cranes flew in…in mass. The sunset was very colorful and made for a nice background and crane silhouettes.
They are a loud bunch! A sight to see for sure. We didn’t make it into the “loop” area the first night, the first water area turned out to be just fine. We made our way back to the hotel and called it a night. This was my first trip to Bosque and to Socorro. A tip to anyone going there… bring cash. We were surprised a number of times during the trip how many places didn’t take credit/debit cards. I know better for next time around. :)
On Sunday morning we made our way to the first water area again and joined the 30-40 other photographers waiting on the sun to rise and the cranes to take off. Seeing them there standing in ice/freezing water was something else. The temperature was 21 degrees with frost on the ground and the water frozen. The cranes when they started moving would slide on the ice and then punch through it.
Once the cranes started warming up, they took flight. The morning light made for some nice shots. I’m not a bird photographer by any means… much respect to those of you who are. It’s challenging to say the least…but I did try my hand at some panning shots…most were not “keepers” and only a few turned out decent.
After shooting the first water area, we made our way to the “loop” for more shots. As we drove off, I noticed something in a tree across the waterway… it was a bald eagle. I’ve never seen one (a mature adult) in the wild, this was exciting to say the least. This is where I wish I had a 600mm or 800mm with an extension tube. The following images are heavy crops. I was shooting with the D850, 300mm PF, and the 1.7x TC.
All in all… not horrible… but would love to have had the extra reach.
Next, we made our way to the loop. No cash… no entrance. At this point in time, the only way to get cash is to buy a $25 duck stamp. So, we passed and decided to come back out in the evening and enjoy the loop. This gave us time to explore around the area to see if we could find anything else to photograph. There were plenty of red tail hawks, but most were way out range for the gear I had with me. This one was nice enough to sit still on top of the power line pole. It isn’t the most pleasing background/rest… but the hawk is pretty/handsome.
After our adventure outside the refuge, it was time to rest for the evening. A storm was moving in and the sky was cloud covered. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to capture more images. This time we went out to the “loop” and it did not disappoint. I imagine, November/December is the best time to visit as the bird density must be higher. There were plenty of birds to see and photograph…several hundred snow geese were resting when we arrived. Several photographers were photographing them, and I joined in. I snapped about a dozen shots and then the group erupted and took off. It caught be by surprise as the sky filled with snow geese… I wasn’t ready but…. I fired away and was able to capture some shots.
The snow geese did not return, I imagine they went to another water way…far away from people to enjoy the rest of the evening.
On the way back to my truck, a colorful pheasant emerged from the brush to feed. A dozen or so shots later… I had a few nice images.
Upon leaving the park area, we turned a corner and a car was pulled over looking into a field… several mule deer were feeding and making their way across the road. I stopped, grabbed the camera as the light was fading and snapped some images. Then… I hear a “BANG” on the windshield of my truck and my wife was frantically pointing to my left to look. A beautiful 6x4 buck was standing there looking at me. He wasn’t all that nervous… as he casually grazed in the deep brush. The shots below turned out better than I had hoped. I tried to walk as quietly as possible to get a little closer and he roamed around the area. The does had their eyes on me…but… never panicked. I still have several shots to work on in this series… these are some of the nicer ones with him looking at me and feeding. The first image in the deer series, the buck is actually standing in chest deep brush eating.
On the way up, we saw antelope and, on the way back we saw another herd of about 70 in total. I stopped this time around and tried my best to capture some images. I haven’t worked them all just yet, here are a couple I thought stood out. The pair has their eyes on me. It was amazing to see them react to the camera noise, I was about 300-350 yard from them and they could hear me snapping away. On the way back 11 elk were grazing… great to see but too far to photograph.
As we made out way back to Phoenix, we stopped in Show Low…this raven landed on the back of my truck and then ended up in a large pine tree. Just a snapshot.
The quick trip was very fruitful! I only really shot for what I would call three sessions… 3000+ images later…reflecting on the trip… I can’t wait to go back at the end of the year. Lessons learned… I need a longer lens combo. The 300mm PF is outstanding and with the 1.7x tc attached most of the time… it did a great job. I think a 500PF or a rented 600 F/4 would be excellent options along with the 300mm. Thanks for making it this far…it’s a long post.
If you want to learn more about Bosque del Apache, have a look at the Friends of Bosque del Apache website, lots of great information on there about the refuge.