David Nichols
Wildlife Photographer
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'Under a Blood red Sky'
Bosque Del Apache - January 2002

Dawn, on a cold January morning, I can hear the family groups of Snow Geese on the pool. As the first shafts of morning light reaches the water I can make out their shapes through the mist.

The Sun rises quickly and the light changes in colours of Gold, Red and Orange as it refracts through the scattered high cloud above the mountains in the distance. 'Its just good timing' I'm thinking to myself, if these birds just hold on a few minutes longer with a bit of luck I'll be rewarded.

And so I was; on this morning the flock of thousands waited just long enough, long enough for the light to turn orange-red through the hanging mist over the pool. Then they left, started by a few at the back and moving forward towards me like a Mexican wave at a ball game until the flock of thousands were in the air above my head and the ground vibrated with their wing beats and calling.

I returned to my car with a feeling of awe and elation the same feeling I have experienced on every morning I have witnessed this wonderful spectacle. This was my third trip to Bosque Del Apache in New Mexico in as many years where it was good to meet old friends and make some new ones. This year I planed for five days, three before two after New Year.

Dawn on my first day (26th December) was bright and cold with a little ice in the air, no cloud and no red sky, but there would be other mornings!

There are two tour loops at Bosque, the Farm and Marsh loops that are about seven long miles long, so you need a car from which photographs can be taken. Mine, a 1979 Chevy Blazer (borrowed from by girlfriend's son in Albuquerque) was ideal with large windows and good clearance, I fixed by gitzo tripod across the passengers seat and was 'set to go'.

With a little patience and some close manoeuvring excellent images of small birds can be achieved working from the car: Say's Phoebe and White-crowned Sparrow on the right.

Some shots like this buck Mule Deer would be almost impossible on foot. This individual walked within a few feet of the car allowing me to make some great 'close ups'

December 27th, 'The Day of the Hawk'……………………………

The day started cloudy, thick dark clouds so photographic opportunities were limited. It was nice to relax, talk to other photographers and bird watchers and share experiences. Increased Eagle and Hawk activity was noticeable today. Up to twelve Bald Eagles were feeding on a carcass across the marsh, Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers were hunting. I watched an Adult Bald Eagle tear a wing from the carcass and carry it to a tree to feed in peace. As the sun broke through I decide to drive the loop.

I found that the best technique is to drive along at about 5 mph, stopping near the subject, take a shot or two get a bit closer, go back a bit, if you get out of the car 'its off'.

So, I found a Hawk, a little branched out and not in perfect light. I would have kept driving except that it looked different, certainly not a Red-tail. No matter how I positioned the car I could not get a decent angle for a shot so I got out set up the tri-pod and tried stalking it. It stayed there just looking at me; I walked up to it and captured this head shot through the branches.

Later a birdwatcher from Texas confirmed my identification as a Harris Hawk, unusual for Bosque.

I changed my technique, where possible, after initially photographing from the car I would try on foot.
Over the next few days I successfully photographed a male Coopers Hawk plus adult Bald Eagle and Prairie Falcon illustrated below;

Following a trip to the Grand Canyon and New Year celebrations in Albuquerque I returned to the Bosque on January 2nd.

The Sunrise was perfect, scattered clouds, still and cold. The Geese preformed under the blood red sky and I worked with a wider-angle lens to capture the moment.

Bosque Del Apache has a long and interesting history; following many years of land grants and different owners the area became a National Wildlife Refuge in 1939 for 'migratory birds and other wildlife'. Today it is one of the world's premier sites for observing these wonderful birds at close quarters and is visited by wildlife photographers and bird watchers from all over the world.

It is no accident that thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes winter at the refuges, they are encouraged to do so. The planting and regular harvesting of corn ensures plenty of food for the birds and the large pools provide safe roosting.

This year the corn was harvested close to the farm loop and the birds could be photographed arriving to feed in early morning sunlight.

On reflection, this was my best trip of the last three years.

I was lucky enough to experience some great sun rises and add some significant new species to my portfolio.

Although, without any doubt the Geese and Cranes are the 'star attractions' for most visitors to the refuge, spare a thought for the following supporting cast……………………….


From Top left, Clockwise.
Greater Road Runner, Loggerhead Shrike, Downy Woodpecker and Ross's Goose.

David Nichols
Wildlife Photographer – January 2002

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