It looks chaotic but the Snow Goose blast-offs that explode thousands of geese into the air at once are like schools of fish that can change direction instantaneously and they never collide with each other.
Sunday was a most spectacular day of photographing Snow Geese. The explosions were almost non-stop in the corn field. And, they settled down time and time again, only to explode once more into flight. After each explosion, they would swirl around for a few moments, then they would land again, sometimes getting a bit closer to our lenses making for better shots. These Snow Geese descended in a frenzy wings and had to find some free space to land in a sea of white.
Nikon D5; Nikkor 500mm PF lens.
The Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache are constantly taking off and landing. Sometimes the entire flock suddenly takes to wing, sometimes it is just at few, or even a single bird flying away from the flock. But, they always seem to return. From where we photograph them, it never looks like there is space enough for them to land but they always find a spot to alight. This Snow Goose checks out the corn field below to find the ideal spot to land.
A sunny morning bathes the scene in a golden glow at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. This Sandhill Crane, the frozen pond beneath it, and the dried grasses in the field behind the pond all take on the warm, mellow hues.
Snow Geese put on one of the most amazing and jaw dropping exhibitions in the wild that, once you’ve seen, you’ll never forget. It is a natural phenomenon that always takes you by surprise even though you’re hoping for and even expecting it. It begins every day, just at sunrise. A flock of thousands of Snow Geese, seemingly without cause, suddenly rises and fills the skies leaving the pond where they spent the night completely empty and the sky dark with wings. The cacaphony of goose sounds becomes deafening. The birds swirl around and around before landing again or flocking elsewhere. The phenomenon happens over and over throughout the day, sometimes more spectacularly than others. This past week we were disappointed that we didn’t witness any huge explosions of birds at Bosque del Apache. We missed several blast offs when we were too slow setting up our gear or pulling on gloves to see, let alone photograph, them. When we’d find a flock of Snow Geese, we’d wait, sometimes seeing minor explosions or just watch small groups peeling off from the main flock, gradually dimishing the numbers so that even if the remaining birds blasted off, the effect would be nothing spectacular.
On Sunday, however, our wait was over. The first of several explosions we experienced that morning, was at sunrise from the pond near the Flight Deck as a sliver of light glowed orange between the horizon and the low cloud cover. The sky filled with birds and the thunder of wings and the roar of their calls filled our ears. It was the first of many we were lucky enough to experience on Sunday. Later, at the cornfield around the loop, we spent more than an hour watching the Snow Geese explode into the air time and time again. What a thrill to see it over and over.
Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm 5.6 PF lens.
Nikon D500, Nikkor 18-35mm lens
Nikon D5, Nikkor 500mm 5.6 PF lens
Nikon D500, Nikkor 18-35mm lens
Sometimes at Bosque del Apache,the rush to leave the ponds to head for the foraging fields results in groups of Sandhill Cranes taking off together and flying in a tight cluster. This group of five looks to be so close together you’d think they’d collide but the telephoto lens gives that illusion.
It is the Snow Geese at Bosque del Apache that create the most memorable and impressive spectacle. It is called the blast off and it occurs over and over again each day at places throughout the refuge as migrating Snow Geese congregate and fuel up for their journey north. The blast off is anticipated by all who visit the refuge and wherever a large accumulation of Snow Geese is sighted, observers are there with cameras and binoculars to experience the event. Thousands of Snow Geese suddenly take to wing at once in a cacaphony of honks and a thundering of wing beats. Sometimes they swirl and settle on the pond or field only to do it again. Sometimes they disappear to a far pond or field, leaving the observers smiling and appreciating this spectacle of nature and looking forward to the next one.
This trio of Sandhill Cranes, silhouetted by the sunset, heads to one of the ponds at Bosque del Apache for their night time roost.
Wednesday morning about 40 minutes after the sun came up, it rose high enough to shine directly on the Sandhill Cranes standing in and on one of the partially frozen ponds at Bosque del Apache. As the birds began to peel off in one, twos, and threes heading to the fields to forage, they flew toward the sun which lit them perfectly. My Nikon D5 and new 500mm PF lens with the 1.4x teleconverter attached gave me 700mm of reach and I was hand holding it, something I could never have done with my heavy 600mm lens. This trio of cranes looks intent on their mission to find breakfast.
Flight practice for me, that is … not for the Sandhill Cranes who don’t need flight practice. In the morning of Day two of my Bosque del Apache adventure, tripods didn’t make an appearance. Photography for me was all about hand holding the Nikon D5 and 500mm PF. I was quite pleased with the results and am very happy with my decision to sell my 600mm lens. With the 600mm lens, hand holding was not an option. Weighing almost eight and one half pounds, coupled with the Nikon D5 weighing more than 3 pounds, I could never hand hold that whopping 12 pound combo and come close to getting a sharp image. At barely 6 pounds, the D5 and 500mm lens combo feels effortless to hold and if I used my crop sensor D500 camera, the weight would be under 5 pounds. I am more successful panning to track birds in flight while hand holding than on a tripod so this change will be great for all my bird photography. Flight practice was a success for me!