Wildlife photography is all about being the right place at the right time and ready. We stopped for the first big group of Sandhill Cranes along the Tour Loop at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, in Socorro New Mexico, late in the afternoon on the north loop where they are knocking down corn for the Cranes and Snow Geese to feed. After about 10 minutes I noticed that there was a lot more action, especially birds in flight, at the south end of the field and we moved the car and ourselves down the road several hundred yards. The Cranes would come up out of the field and fly close across a hedgerow stand of Cottonwoods on their way to another group of Cranes at the end of the field two fields down. I was at the right place at the right time. I set the Sony Rx10iv in Program with my custom birds in flight modifications: center tracking auto focus, continuous focus, minimum shutter speed Auto ISO pegged at 2000th of a second, low speed continuous shooting (3.5 fps), and exposure linked to the focus point. So I was ready, or as ready as I could be. And the Cranes put on their show. I, and the camera, did not nail every shot, but I got many keepers over the next 30 minutes. The simple subtle grays and delicate feather details of the Cranes against the jumble of fall cottonwoods…and in great light. What more could you ask? Right place, right time, and ready!
When I saw this flock of birds murmurating (which is what that swirling motion of a flock of birds is called…it is a murmuration of birds) I assumed they were Starlings, or at least mostly Starlings with a few Brewer’s and Red-winged Blackbirds mixed in. Starlings are the famous murmuraters. However, when I got the image up on my iPad’s larger screen and zoomed in, I realized that they were all Red-winged Blackbirds, males and females. That makes the image just that much more interesting to me. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode. Processed in Polarr.
Many of my photos from Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico were taken within an hour of dawn or sunset. That is when the birds are most active, leaving their night roosts or returning to them. This Sandhill Crane was taking off a half hour after dawn to go out to the corn fields at the north end of the refuge to spend the day feeding. The low golden light picks out every detail. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. My birds-in-flight and action modifications of Program mode. Processed in Polarr.
At dawn at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico, the Snow Geese gather in huge flocks before rising in mass with sun to move out to the fields where they feed for the day. If you are in the right place, in this case, the Flight Deck Pond, you can see them come into the pond to join the flock, and then watch them lift off as the sun rises. I took my Point and Shoot Nature Photography class out in temperatures well below freezing to be there for the whole show. Here the Snow Geese are coming in just ahead of sunrise. Sony RX10iv in Anti-motion Blur mode. 3 shots at 1/250th and the equivalent of ISO 1000 at around 50mm equivalent. Processed in Polarr.
I got caught up in photographing the dried flowers and seed heads along the Canyon Trail at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico last week. For one thing I was testing the Macro Mode on my RX10iv, which I had just happened on while teaching a Point and Shoot Nature Photography class the day before. My theory is that if there is a specially designed mode for a particular situation, we owe it to ourselves as Point and Shoot photographers to see if it works. No point in doing it the hard way, if there is an easier way that gets the same results. This is the seed-head of Cliffrose, which grows on dry hillsides all through New Mexico. It is also called, locally, Navajo Diaper. I always assumed, when I lived in New Mexico, that the Navajo somehow used the feathery seed-heads to line their cradle boards, but a bit of research this morning informed me that it is the shredded bark of the plant that they use, and that they weave it into a mat. Still, I have always loved the feathery delicacy of the seed-heads, and the beauty is, I think, particularly visible in this image. Sony RX10iv in Macro mode at 600mm equivalent. Processed in Polarr.
Every sundown, at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, beginning in November, the Sandhill Cranes gather in shallow pools of water to roost for the night…at least a little safer from predators who don’t like wet feet. As they gather, and before they settle for the night, there is always a lot of territorial conflict and mating display going on…often it can be framed agains the sunset reflections on the water. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Anti-motion Blur Mode. Processed in Polarr. (Anti-motion Blur mode takes 3-4 exposures at a faster shutter speed and lower ISO than a normal single frame exposure and “adds” them together, while processing out motion artifacts. It is brilliant in low light.)
I always have to try. I have not gotten the shot I want yet…but I am getting closer. You stand at the edge of the shallow pond where the Sandhill Cranes roost for the night, as the sun sets to the west over the mountains, and keep your ear open for the calls of Cranes coming in behind you on a course that might take them near the moon. In the meantime you are busy photographing Cranes against the setting sun, and Cranes coming in to land among their fellows, and all the time, too rapidly, you are loosing the light…but you have to keep half your mind on the moon. Because, one of these days a small group of Cranes is going to fly in front of the moon and you are going to catch it! This is as close as I got this year. Each year I get a little closer, and of course, I miss the one shot where the Crane actually crosses the moon. Sony RX10iv in my special Birds in Flight and Action modification of Program mode. Processed in Polarr. And here is the second best shot.
During November, when thousands of Sandhill Cranes gather to winter at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in the high Rio Grande Valley of south central New Mexico, there is always a lot of action among the flocks. Sandhills mate for life and some mating behavior goes on all year, as does ritual combat between males. It is often hard, for the causal observer, to tell the difference between the two. 🙂 These two birds were doing an abbreviated dance of one kind or the other, but this is the first time I have caught this particular variation…with their beaks locked. Interestingly, my colleague Bill got a similar shot this year on his very first visit to the Bosque. Sony RX10iv in my special birds in flight and action modification of Program mode. Processed in Polarr.
In keeping with yesterday’s “it is not all Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes at Bosque” theme, here is one of the many Northern Harriers currently hunting the fields of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. More Harriers this year than I have ever seen at Bosque in the 25+ years I have been going there. Mostly I saw them far off cruising the back edges of fields. This one came right over on its way from one field to the next and I caught it! Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. My custom Birds in Flight and Action modifications to Program mode. Processed in Polarr. Makes me really glad I am not a mouse or a vole!
It is not all Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (Socorro, New Mexico) when I visit in November each year. There are a few passerines around, especially around the Visitor Center. The feeders in the Cactus Garden attract White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Pyrrhuloxias, to name a few. I rarely get to see a Pyrrhuloxia, so I do enjoy watching the feeders. This female came late one afternoon when I snuck out of the exhibits tent to see what was happening at the feeders. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode. Processed in Polarr.