My friend and fellow photographer, John Van’t Land, posted a shot of a White-crowned Sparrow yesterday, with the note to the effect that he can never see too many White-crowns. And I agree. They are delightful, perky little birds, and their flocks, when they arrive from the high alpine regions where they nest to winter in the “lowlands” of the west (we got them at 6500 feet in Rehoboth New Mexico when I lived there and they were certainly abundant at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro New Mexico at 4500 feet during the Festival of the Cranes) they are always a cheerful sight to see. This shot is in the brush near the Visitor Center at Bosque. My daughter Sarah and I were chasing Gimbal’s Quail (without success…we saw many, photographed none) when this small flock of White-crowns blew by and stopped to pose.
Nikon P610 at 1440mm equivalent field of view. 1/250 @ ISO 100 @ f6.5. Processed in Lightroom. Cropped slightly on the right for composition.
“If your eye is generous, then your whole being is full of light!” Jesus
We first saw these two fawns and their mother on the shaded, thickety side of the tour loop at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro New Mexico early one morning last week. They are Mule Deer, heaver, with bigger ears than the Eastern White-tailed Deer of our Maine forests, more at home in the sage scrub, pinion-juniper and ponderosa forest of the west. We stopped just down the road for a field of geese and cranes, and were surprised when the deer crossed the road behind us and came up the sunny side into the field where we were standing. They were headed for the green fodder the geese were enjoying. On their way they passed through a field of corn which the refuge personnel had knocked down for the cranes and geese. The field was pretty well picked over, which explains why the cranes and geese were not using it, and it barely slowed the deer, but the early morning light turned the corn to gold, and brought up the warm hues in the young deer’s hides. Irresistible.
We have an instinctive attraction for the young of all species (well, mammals at lest…most do not find the young of insects and snakes particularity likable). Dogs, cats, deer, raccoons, even hamsters and mice once they get their hair…the young all tug at something inside us. I would like to think it is the remnant of, or evidence of, our original assignment on this earth…that it brings out not only the parental instinct, but the caregiver purpose that is part of our inheritance as human beings. The young are innocent and vulnerable. For the most part it brings out the best in us…we respond with love, which overflows, given half a chance, to care. We respond with a generosity that touches all that is deep within us. This is good. If the eye is even that generous, then there is still some light in us.
A place like Bosque del Apache opens people’s eyes. I have seen it happen over and over. Whether it is the spectacle of the geese and cranes, or the warm light on deer fawns, Bosque wakens the generosity in most of us. This is a good thing. May you find something today to increase the generosity of your eye…so that you may be filled with light. Happy Sunday!
One of the delights of Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and the Festival of the Cranes is to be by one of the ponds where the Sandhill Cranes spend the night, and to see them fly out just before and just after dawn. The light in the Rio Grande Valley of central New Mexico is unique in November, and the way it highlights the Cranes against the mountains makes for memorable sights and memorable shots.
As a photographer, it is a challenge to balance the existing light with shutter speeds that will stop (or at least “slow”) the Cranes in flight. This shot was taken in Shutter Preferred, with the shutter set to 1/400th, in the earliest sun. That pushed the ISO to and acceptable 400. Before dawn I was shooting at 1/250th and ISO 800-1000. Also acceptable for the light conditions, though 1/250th leaves the wing tips blurred. It full daylight I push the speed up to 1/640th with gives me ISO 100, and excellent detail. Still, the atmosphere of this shot, with the glowing light of dawn on both the cranes and the mountains behind, has an attraction that many full daylight shots miss.
Nikon P900 at about 1600mm equivalent field of view. f6.3. Processed in Lightroom.
This frumpy looking Roadrunner sat beside the road at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro New Mexico one early overcast morning…looking cold and just slightly miserable. I rolled down the window and switched off the car for some shots. The roadrunner did not seem to mind, until a pick-up coming up behind me drove between me and the roadrunner. What? I was leaning out the window with the camera. The bird was right there on the side of the road in plain sight. What was the guy thinking? It was another photographer too, with his big lens balanced on the dash in front of him. Of course the bird flushed…stood up tall the way roadrunners do, and scuttled off into the brush at the side of the road to be seen no more. There is a moral to this story. As a photographer I try to be as considerate of other photographers, birders, and just plain people as possible (not to mention the wildlife). It is always a privilege to see something photoworthy, and I know I do not “own” that privilege. It is not mine, and I want to share it with others. So I try not to get in anyone’s way…even if it means loosing the shot. I can only wish that other photographers were as courteous. Photographers sometimes have a bad reputation among the birding community, and among the public at large, for pushing in to get the shot, no matter the cost to others’ enjoyment of the moment. Some seem to feel that the investment in camera and lens gives them the right to be pushy. Some seen to have no sense of boundaries…pushing not only in front of others, but also so close to the wildlife that it flushes. Of course, to moderate my protest, I was parked in the road to get my roadrunner pic…I just wish the photographer behind me had given me another minute and another few shots. So it goes.
Two images combined in Coolage after processing in Lightroom. 1800mm equivalent (I moved the car forward between shots). Large shot ISO 500 @ 1/125th and small shot ISO 400 @ 1/160th. Nikon P900.
I am not a big fan of Photoshoped images…images that are created in Photoshop…and could not exist without digital manipulation. I tried for an actual shot of Sandhill Cranes against the almost full moon at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge during the Festival of the cranes, with some success, but also took a few daylight shots of the moon thinking I might later work up a composite image in Photoshop…just for fun! This is one. In some ways it is a testament to the power of the Nikon P900 camera. Both shots, moon and cranes, were taken hand-held with the P900. The moon is at about 2000mm equivalent field of view, and the cranes are at about 1200mm. To create the image, I edited out one piece of crane in the top left corner using iPixio. Then, in Photoshop, I used the magic wand tool to select and delete the blue sky background around the cranes. It required some fine adjustments of the selection, pixel by pixel, to eliminated almost everything that was not crane. Finally I opened the moon shot and pasted the cranes over the moon. It took about an hour.
As art, I think it works. As a photograph, maybe not so much.
And, as a Thanksgiving shot? Well I am, of course, thankful for my cameras, for my software and computer, and most of all, for time to play. But that thankfulness does not begin to touch the real thankfulness for my life, my life in Christ…for my family, for my home, for the blessing of being…for the privilege of sharing…for the love I am surrounded by. When we sit down to celebrate today as a family, it is such an amazing abundance that we celebrate. And no matter what else goes on in this world, we have a right, we have a duty, to be happy! Happy Thanksgiving.
Part of the ritual courting dance of the Sandhill Crane is the vertical leap. The bird faces its potential mate and then springs vertically into the air. I suppose the height of the leap is supposed to impress. Sandhills, unlike most other birds, display courting behavior year round, so it is common to see them practicing their vertical leaps wherever Sandhills gather. This is just before dawn at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in Socorro New Mexico. The birds are excited, as they are about to leave their night gathering and disperse to feed for the day. As this bird is not facing off with a potential mate, I have to believe the bird is just leaping for the joy of it.
Nikon P900 at 600mm equivalent field of view. 1/30th @ ISO 1400 @ f5. Processed in Lightroom.
There are other birds at Bosque del Apache besides the Sandhill Cranes and Snowy Geese. This is a Loggerhead Shrike from the scenic overlook at the south end of the refuge. The overlook provides a panoramic view of the refuge and the Rio Grande Valley south of the refuge. Perhaps that is what attracted the Shrike, but I suspect it is the abundant bug life of the upland. The Shrike is also called the “Butcher Bird” because of its habit of leaving its prey impaled on barb wire and thorns to keep it from other predators.
Nikon P900 at about 3500mm equivalent field of view (Perfect Image digital zoom). 1/500th @ ISO 100 @ f6.5. Processed in Lightroom.
Our last sunset at Bosque del Apache for this November. Headed home today. Though there were not enough clouds for a classic Bosque sunset, this is still pretty good okay.
Nikon P900 at 700mm equivalent field of view. Shutter preferred. 1/250th @ ISO 220 @ f5.6. Processed in Lightroom.
The combination of great light and enough wind to slow the birds down made this an ideal morning to photograph birds in flight…both Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese…at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and the Festival of the Cranes. It just does not get any better than this! (Not the photo necessarily…I am not claiming that…but certainly the photo ops!)
This is a full frame shot (uncropped) with the Nikon P900 at 1200mm equivalent field of view. 1/640th @ ISO 100 @ f7.1. Processed in Lightroom.
One of the great things about Bosque del Apache National Wildlife is that, right along side the major spectacle of the 30,000 Snow Geese and 14,000 Sandhill Cranes, you have all the other wildlife of the Rio Grande Valley high desert…and wildlife that seems somehow more accessible than it is outside the refuge. We watched this Raven devour some anonymous chunk of meat…and then drop down into the water channel and come back up with the next course…which is some kind of mouse or vole. It flew off with it pretty much intact. The Raven, seen this close up, is a beautiful bird, and demonstrated its hunting power for us.
Nikon P900 at 1750mm equivalent field of view. 1/500th @ ISO 110 @ f6.3. Processed in Lightroom.