Friday was our second morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Maybe it was because the day was also Friday the Thirteenth, but the morning started out a little differently from what we’ve been used to on mornings in Bosque del Apache. It wasn’t really ominous but the weather was much warmer than usual for this time of year. It was almost 30 degrees Farenheit at 6AM. That might sound cold to some but here, warmer weather causes the wildlife to act differently. We started out the morning to find for the best possible location to photograph the first Snow Goose “blast off” of the day. This is a spectacle where thousands of Snow Geese explode simultaneously into the air with a thunderous roar of wing beats and goose calls. It is exciting to witness and a challenge to photograph, and it is why we’re here. But we could not see nor could we hear geese anywhere on the ponds in those areas of the refuge where we were allowed drive and where we usually find them. But, the refuge is large and much of it is off limits to visitors. Whether it was the temperature, or something else, the geese and even most of the Sandhill Cranes spent the night in remote areas of the refuge where we could not find them. Moose decided that our best bet was to visit the Track Pond on the highway because frequently after a morning blast-off, the geese come in waves to that pond. His bet paid off. Although we didn’t experience the blast-off, when they began to arrive from a distant pond before sunrise, we were ready for them. The morning sky with just a tinge of red was filled with wave after wave of Snow Geese heading toward us. The moon hadn’t set so its bright light created reflections of them like white dots on the still waters of the pond. It was a beautiful sight to see. As it turned out, Friday the Thirteenth was a good day.
Sunsets in New Mexico are stunningly beautiful. The blazing clear reds and oranges in the sunset skies result from the clear, pollution free air found in this desert environment with its wide open spaces. It is no wonder the state is known as the Land of Enchantment. In November and December, Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese congregate in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is a stopover for the migrating flocks as they make their way north to their breeding grounds. This is my fourth visit to Bosque del Apache in as many years to photograph the birds here. As the sun dips below the horizon and paints the sky with its brilliant colors, the Sandhill Cranes fly in to their overnight rest stops. This quartet is preparing to land on the Track Pond just outside the boundaries of the refuge.
Watching the huge breeding colony of Northern Gannets at Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland, Canada this past October was an experience of a lifetime. The sheer numbers of these huge birds living in such a confined space is an amazing sight to see. The gannet rookery on Bird Rock, a sea stack there, numbers more than 20,000 individuals. Each pair lays and incubates a single egg during the nesting season. Northern Gannets are monogamous and they mate for life. They are pelagic so they spend most of their lives at sea but they return each year to the same space on the rookery and to the same mate. How they do it each year, finding their mate and their nest site, is extraordinary. Each time a pair reunited on the rock, they performed bonding rituals that were so charming to watch. Sometimes they intertwined their necks; sometimes they preened each others feathers; sometimes they presented their mates with moss or grass for their space, whether or not they still had a chick. These bonding rituals happen whenever they reunite, whether they’ve been apart an hour, days, or months.
It is amazing how perfectly some animals can blend in to their surroundings. The color and pattern of their coats often makes it almost impossible to spot even large animals when they are essentially right out in the open. This Pronghorn buck was resting comfortably in a meadow covered with dry grass in front of an outcropping of snow covered rocks on the side of the road a mile or two from the North entrance to Yellowstone National Park. I didn’t notice him at first. We stopped nearby and I got out of the vehicle so I could photograph him in this serene setting. He didn’t move or get up. He just lay perfectly still and stared at us.
Northern Gannets of Cape St. Mary’s in Newfoundland are graceful flyers. It’s no wonder their flight is so elegant and effortless. They are pelagic birds meaning they spend most of their lives flying over the open seas, no matter the weather, coming to shore only for a few brief months in the summer to raise their young. Then it’s back to sea for eight months where they soar gracefully over the water. When we watched them at Bird Rock at Cape St. Mary’s, it seemed as if they took every opportunity to take flight. It’s impossible to tell the size of this bird from this photograph. These huge birds have a wingspan of more than six feet and their body is almost three feet long.
The week I spent in Nevada’s Great Basin with Desert Bighorn Sheep this past September made me realize that Bighorn Sheep are my favorite four-legged animals to photograph. Their tan coats blend into the rugged steep habitat in which they exist making it a challenge to find them standing or laying still among the crags and crevices. But once located, their behavior is a sight to behold and fun to photograph. They climb and descend without a stumble. Watching a band of Bighorn Sheep leaping nimbly from foot hold to foot hold as they come down a sheer cliff on their way to forage for food and water inspires awe. The arching curl of the ram’s horns makes an elegant display of strength and power. During the rut, the rams clash for dominance and the pick of the ewes for their harems. The sound of those huge horns crashing together echoes and reverberates through the mountains. Watching the young sheep cavorting gleefully for the sheer joy of it brings a smile. The young rams learn skills they’ll need as they mature.
This ram looks down cautiously. We spotted him from the highway. He was heading down the mountain toward a large water source across the road.
Nikon D5, 500mm PF.
It was Halloween morning and we stopped at Horseshoe Bend on the Yellowstone River to enjoy the sunrise. We were on our way to the North Entrance of Yellowstone National Park from Livingston, MT where we spent the week at the undeniably haunted Murray Hotel there. My haunting experience was relatively minor compared to some of my friends who experienced ghosties and ghoulies and long leggety beasties and things that went bump in the night. I had only an inexplicably dim beam of light that appeared intermittently in a bathroom which had no light sources near where the beam originated. The beauty of the morning sunrise made up for any sleeplessness caused by the odd goings-on at the Murray.
A small group of Bison foraged in the sagebrush off one of the roads in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park in late October. A few inches of snow covered the ground making the grasses they eat a bit more difficult to access. This young calf made the most of it as evidenced by the snow and icicles dripping from its chin. It seemed very curious about us and looked directly into my lens. Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm PF.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I’m grateful for my wonderful family, my dear friends, and especially the gorgeous world around me that offers me endless opportunities to share its incredible beauty.
El Capitan—Yosemite National Park—November 28, 2018, one year ago, today.
Smith Rock in central Oregon’s high desert juts high above the Crooked River and has been a lure for rock climbers of all abilities for the past thirty years. We watched two climbers ascend to a narrow ledge on the sheer face of the rock.