Photographing Sandhill Cranes in New Mexico
LATITUDE: 33°52′9″N 106°50′34.6″W
Curiosity and adventure are two things I love to blend. I feel most alive exploring, learning, and seeing something new. As the years go by, I have become especially aware of the moments that make me feel like a kid again. I love that giddy excitement when the moment is so overwhelming that my heart feels light and overflows with wonder.
I am not sure what planted the seed of this particular curiosity, but somewhere in my research, I felt pulled to New Mexico to seek out a well-known spot for viewing a great migration of birds—mainly sandhill cranes and snow geese, along with hundreds of other species. Bosque Del Apache is a national wildlife refuge in southern New Mexico made up of floodplains fed by the Rio Grande River. It provides a resting spot for migrating waterfowl among its 30,000 acres of protected wilderness. I decided to go with a small group of fellow passionate bird photographers from the National Association of Nature Photographers since this was new to me, and I love being surrounded by experts!
We chose Socorro, New Mexico, for our home base for easy access to the Bosque. The first morning we met at 4:45 and headed out in the predawn darkness. Another benefit of traveling with those who know the area—no time is wasted scouting locations. I often like to work with experts in the area to photograph a place I am unfamiliar with, then after a day or two, I go out on my own with all the information I have gathered, and that’s when the best adventure begins!
Our birding expert brought us to a well-known roosting location. As we prepared our camera equipment in the darkness, we heard a symphony of bird calls as they were waking and preparing for flight. Many were already taking off, creating frenzied excitement; even though it was still so dark, we were excited to get set and observe. As the light came up, the sight for our eyes matched the incredible sounds we were hearing! Thousands of birds—all kinds—looking like layers of colors and movement as they situated themselves and prepared for takeoff. That alone was enough to fill me with awe.
But then…a moment that etches itself in one's soul, the kind you will never forget, the kind you live for…thousands of birds, taking off in sync. The sounds of their wings and the bird calls…energy like I've never felt or seen. As a photographer, I reacted by photographing, composing, adjusting, and looking for the image that represents this visual symphony. Within seconds, the moment had passed, and they were gone. It took another moment to process the beauty I had just witnessed; then, I hoped I had captured it in a way that might translate the chaotic yet graceful spectacle of nature that it was.