I took my Point and Shoot Nature Photography Field Techniques students to the Friend’s Cactus Garden at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge at the end of our 3 hour class for some macro practice. No cactus in bloom in November of course, but cacti always provide lots of interesting macro detail. I was explaining “tele-macro” techniques so my camera was already at 600mm when I looked up to see this female Pyrrhuloxia sitting in the very tall yuca. Yes, I know, that does not look like a real word: Pyrrhuloxia, but it is the name of this close relative of the Northern Cardinal. They are more common in Southeast Arizona, southern New Mexico, and South Texas, and I was somewhat surprised to see one a Bosque. It turns out that there is an winter range extension up the Rio Grande Valley that brings them that far north. I am pretty sure this is my first Bosque sighting. This bird also has the least red on it of any Pyrrhuloxia I have ever seen. It may an immature female. Only the unmistakable bill and crest give it away. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Cropped and processed in Photoshop Express.
Somehow the angle of the light in this backlit Sandhill Crane caught the orange of the eye adding a bit of extra interest to an otherwise striking portrait of the bird. I could not have done better in the studio 🙂 And I could never have matched the glowing gold of the grasses in the foreground or the subtle texture of the out-of-focus grasses in the background. Just in the right place at the right time and ready. I have to say though, that the camera handled exposure on the somewhat challenging shot to perfection, holding enough detail in both highlights and shadows so that a satisfying balance could be achieved in post processing, no credit to me, but perhaps having the right camera in hand is part of being ready. That is part of the fun of the Point and Shoot method. Sony RX10iv at 585mm. Program mode. 1/1000th @ ISO 100 @ f4. +.3 EV. Processed in Photoshop Express. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro, New Mexico.
Okay, I started to write all about how my new Sony RX10iv makes birds in flight easy and why…really geeky stuff…and I am pretty sure not something that would interest most of you. It is really, as I tell people in my Point and Shoot Nature Photography classes (and in my Point and Shoot Nature Photography book, available on Amazon, for that matter), all about the results…all about satisfying images. I find this image of the three Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge satisfying. I like the detail of the feathers and the way the sun plays across the forms of the birds, painting light and shadow; the arrested energy of the flight; the way the lead goose is calling; the way the birds are isolated against the rise of the mountain behind; the complex pattern of the way the three bodies, flying so close, are interacting. I am happy that the camera made the shot possible at all, let alone as easy as it was. Still, as I also tell my students and readers, it is way more about being in right place at the right time and ready…than it is about equipment. And Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico in November during the Festival of the Cranes when the Snow Geese are crossing in front of the mountains in the mid-day light is certainly the right place and the right time. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Program mode with my Birds in Flight modifications. 1/1000th @ ISO 100 @ f5. Processed in Polarr.
It is rare to see mass movements of Sandhill Cranes during full daylight at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Generally the flocks get up and move only at dawn and sunset. During the day you see family groups of 3 to 4 birds in the air all the time, but not large groups. This afternoon, late afternoon, but still afternoon, was the exception. The air at the surface was heated and rising and the cranes were soaring high. It occurs to me now, that these must have been new cranes coming down from the north in the favorable air conditions…cruising high from the central valley refuges in Southern Colorado, over Albuquerque, and down the Rio Grande to settle at Bosque del Apache. The heated surface air allowed them to spiral down from great heights without apparent effort. It was as though they were falling into a cushion. The graceful glide and the lovely afternoon light make it all seem very choreographed or composed…very like a dance…very like a painting. Sony RX10iv at 585mm. Program mode with Birds in Flight modifications. 1/1250th @ ISO 250 @ f4. Processed in Polarr.
Walking back down Waterton Canyon southwest of Denver, I had two special treats. One was the group of Big Horn Sheep ewes and lambs in the road, which I posted about a few weeks ago now…the other was this Canyon Wren hopping on the rocks beside the road. I used to see and hear Canyon Wrens quite often hiking the canyons of New Mexico when I lived there 30 years ago, but it has been a long time now since I have seen one, especially one that would pose nicely for a pic. The wrens as a family tend to perky birds and this one is extra perky. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Program mode. 1/1000th @ f5.6 @ ISO 100. Processed in Polarr and assembled in FrameMagic.
Here is a photo of a Blue Goose flying with a Snow Goose. The Blue Goose is generally considered a color phase of the Snow Goose, and there will be a certain number of Blue Goose in any flock of Snows. I tried to do some research this morning, using internet resources, to determine just what that ratio of Blue Goose to Snow Geese is in the overall population. Certainly based on my observations of Snow Geese in November (early in the migration) at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro New Mexico, the Blue Goose still seems to be relatively rare. Going through my photos of geese in flight and on the water, there seems to be no more than 1 Blue for every 100 Snows. I found similar published ratios for California populations, but much higher ratios for nesting and Central Flyway birds. If you look at the hunting forums, for instance, the recommended ratio of Snows and Blue decoys is 3 to 1, based on a 3 to 2 observed population ratio…indicating that hunters, at least, expect 40% of the central flyway population to the Blues. I have never seen a flock with that high a concentration of Blues. To complicate matters, the ratio seems to vary based on where you are even in the same flyway, with Snow Geese tending to use the western routes and Blue Geese tending to favor the eastern routes. One thing most researchers agree on is that the ratio of Blue to Snow is increasing as the overall population of Snow Geese increases. There are now over 5 million adult, breeding, Snow Geese of both phases…up over 300% from the mid-70s. And that increase is despite efforts to control the population through increased hunting, and despite the loss of considerable breeding habitat. I found several researchers who believe that the Blue Goose is actually the dominant gene expression, while the white Snow Goose is the expression of the recessive color, requiring recessive genes from both parents. The only thing certain, when it comes to Blue and Snow Geese numbers, appears to be that nothing is certain…at least not yet. At any rate, I am still delighted whenever I catch a Blue Goose in flight with the Snows. Whatever the truth is, I still consider the Blue Goose rare. Sony RX10iv at 600mm. Program mode with my special Birds in Flight modifications. 1/1000th @ f5.6 @ ISO 100. Processed in Polarr and TouchRetouch (to remove a Snow Goose behind and overlapping the Blue).
Before it slips too far back in my photo stream, here is a Rocky Mountain Bighorn ram from my hike up Waterton Canyon outside Denver. I did get close views of ewes and lambs right on the road, but the rams were already well up on the canyon walls, looking for a resting spot for the day, by the time I got into the canyon. Still, a magnificent creature. Sony RX10iv at 600mm equivalent. Cropped and processed in Polarr.
While teaching a Point and Shoot field workshop at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, we came across an amazing sight: at least 50 hen turkeys walking mostly two by two, in a straight line along a berm…like the graduating class at Turkey High. The line stretched out over 100 yards at least, moving sedately, but steadily, past a gap in the foreground brush, going somewhere with great purpose. It was a behavior I had never seen…but then I am accustomed to Eastern Wild Turkeys, a very different subspecies from the Rio Grande subspecies common at Bosque del Apache. (There are 5 distinct subspecies of Wild Turkey in the US.) The Rio Grande differ in appearance, size, and, apparently, behavior. No self-respecting Eastern Wild Turkey, past the pult stage, would ever be part of such a procession, especially with a group of humans standing 50 feet away watching. They are not emotionally equipped for lines, and in the presence of humans tend to fly off in all directions. The Rio Grande variety is apparently better socialized and somewhat tamer. Watching the procession, I was, of course, reminded of Thanksgiving. I had to wonder if the hen at the head of the procession had promised her followers a safe haven somewhere up the berm. (Hunting is tightly regulated on the refuge, and the turkey population has a right to feel safe there.) And looking at the image this Thanksgiving morning, I can not help but think of the whole tradition of Thanksgiving. Later today I will sit down with extended family to do justice (if not homage) to a relative of these birds (though descended from the Southern Mexican subspecies). And I will do it with a thankful heart. Thankful, among many other things, that Wild Turkeys still roam our fields and refuges where we can appreciate their beauty. Happy that I get to be there to appreciate them. Happy Thanksgiving to you all, and to all of yours.
The geese in this photo were so far away I could not hear them, and if you have ever experienced a panic this large at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro New Mexico, you know that is very far away indeed. Taken at 600mm on my last afternoon at Bosque. Sony RX10iv. 1/1000th @ f8 @ ISO 100. Processed in Photoshop Express.
Bosque del Apache is one of the best places in the US for Birds in Flight. There are always Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese in the air. A great place to practice. The new Sony RX10iv, with fast tracking auto focus, makes it almost easy 🙂 This shot of a Sandhill carving into a turn captures some of the wonder of birds in flight. 1/1000th @ ISO 100 @ f4. 600mm equivalent. Processed in Polarr.