One day during my time in New Mexico, I drove north to find the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex. After exiting I-25, I took a wrong turn and missed the entrance to the Waterfowl Complex. But I saw a sign for Salinas Pueblo Missions and kept on driving east about 30 miles.
The Salinas Pueblo Missions were built as part of the Spanish influence of the 16th and 17th centuries. I visited these missions on my first trip to Bosque in 2005. There are three sets of ruins, along with a visitors center in the town of Mountainair. The area is part of the Salinas Valley, named for salt flats (Las Salinas) a few miles to the east of Mountainair. The salt was a valuable commodity for trade.
The first site I came to is is Abó.
Click any image to enlarge.
Another ten miles east is the town of Mountainair, where I visited the Visitors Center for the National Monument, and ate lunch at a small hotel nearby. Then I drove north to Quarai, another site of the National Monument.
On this trip, I did not visit the third site, Gran Quivira, which was about 25 miles south of Mountainair. But I did visit that site in 2005. Here are scans of a couple of photos I took on film on that visit.
On the way back from Salinas Pueblo Missions, I did find the correct road that took me to the Ladd S. Gordon Waterflow Complex. See my earlier post for photos from the refuge.
This reminds me that I never wrote about a trip I made to Pecos National Historical Park in 2021, so let me briefly write about it here.
Pecos National Historical Park is east of Santa Fe, New Mexico, along the historic Santa Fe Trail, a vital trade route between Missouri and New Mexico. The park encompasses historic pueblo ruins as well as a US Civil War battlefield. Pecos Pueblo was inhabited from the 14th to 19th centuries.
A few miles west of the pueblo is Glorieta Pass, the site of the westernmost battle of the US Civil War. It was fought mostly between Union infantry and cavalry from New Mexico and Colorado Territories and Confederate troops from Texas.
The battlefield itself is not particularly photogenic, though the mountainous area is beautiful. There’s a 2+ mile loop around the site with signage to help you imagine how the battle unfolded.
Bosque del Apache is a National Wildlife Refuge along the Middle Rio Grande Basin in central New Mexico. This area of the Rio Grande is a wintering ground for many birds, including tens of thousands of Snow and Ross’ Geese, and thousands of Sandhill Cranes.
I first visited the refuge in 2005 with a Nikon F100 film camera and shot six rolls of 36-exposure slide film. I went back each of the next four years with a digital camera, and shot thousands and thousands more photos at the refuge. I kind of got burned out visiting the place, and only went again in 2012, 2019, and this year, 2023. To see photos from some of these earlier trips, visit my posts tagged with Bosque del Apache NWR.
Once upon a time–the mid-1990’s to 2000’s–Bosque del Apache was an amazing hotspot for bird photography. The refuge was managed to have lots of food and marshes for the birds, and photographers had their choice of creative ways to spend sunrise, mid-day, and sunset. Many of the best wildlife photographers ran workshops there. Unfortunately, over the last dozen years or so, the refuge is intentionally being managed to reduce the number of birds that visit and encourage them to winter elsewhere. I suppose there must be reasonable science that justifies that, but it also means that the photographic opportunities are a shadow of what they used to be.
It’s not all doom and gloom. There are still good bird photos to be made. New Mexico sunrises and sunsets are still amazing. Many birds still winter here.
I visited the last week of November. The temperatures ranged from the upper 20’s (Fahrenheit) to mid 50’s. We had a consistently north wind and dry days. Some days were mostly cloudy. Some were mostly clear, with high clouds.
I woke up early on Sunday and drove about ten hours to the refuge. I managed to make it in time to drive around the refuge once. I was disappointed to see that it’s still not set up well for photography. Only a few areas are set up to attract birds, they are often set well back from the roads, and the grasses at the edge of the road are often six to ten feet high–obscuring the sightlines.
Anyway, I watched sunset from the last remaining crane pool that’s by the highway to watch Sandhill Cranes fly in for the night.
Click any of the images in this post to view them larger.
As is usual, I spend the first 24 hours or so figuring out what the birds are doing at different times of day. It all depends on where the water is, where the food is, where the wind is coming from, how cold it is, and other factors. The birds don’t always follow a fixed plan, but they are fairly consistent from day to day.
On Monday morning about an hour before dawn, I drove around the north half of the refuge again and–unsure of the best place to start–ended up near the Flight Deck area inside the refuge. There weren’t a ton of birds there, but there were dozens of photographers getting set up. I set up, too, and waited to see what would happen. Soon there was a flock of snow geese blasting off from the back (east side) of the refuge and they worked their way over to us and landed in the water near the Flight Deck. I made a mental note to try to find their overnight location so I could see them before they flew off. Each of the next two mornings, I set up on the east side–with almost no one else around. Well, it was me and several thousand birds.
As you can see from the photos above, it was warm enough (mid 20’s) that the snow geese took off before sunrise. If it is ten degrees or so colder, the geese often wait until after the sun is up to take off, giving more color from the sun and sky.
During the day on Monday, not much was happening with birds in Bosque, so I drove about 45 miles north to the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Complex, another one of the refuges along the middle Rio Grande. It’s run by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. I am glad I visited–a thousand or more Sandhill Cranes were there. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of a small version of how Bosque used to be–corn close to the roads and clear views to where the birds are.
I’d end each afternoon back at the one crane pool along the highway to watch for geese and cranes to fly in. On Monday, the high clouds in the sky had me hoping for a beautiful sunset. But, it looked like it would consist of only a small patch of amber sky. I made the best of it–I’d wait for cranes to pass in front of the amber color to land.
But soon enough, the sky lit up red, the way New Mexico sunsets sometimes do. I grabbed my other camera with a wide-angle lens so I could capture it. It was a beautiful end to a good day.
Despite my disappointment that the refuge isn’t as good for photography as it once was, I’m still glad I visited for a few days. Below are a few more photos. (Click to enlarge.)
I got up early this morning and drove southwest of Austin to take photos of the October 14, 2023 Annular Eclipse. I first drove to Kerrville, because NASA was livestreaming from the Kerrville River Fest. There were some high clouds I was worried about, but it was clear to the north and there was a northerly wind. I waited, but they didn’t seem to be going anywhere. About 45 minutes before the eclipse was to begin, I decided to head west where it looked very clear. I probably would have been fine to stay in Kerrville, but I didn’t want to chance it.
I ended up at a convenience store at a highway intersection south of Junction and west of Kerrville. The red dot on this map shows my location, along with the path of the eclipse. A couple of dozen other eclipse watchers were in the same area.
Click to enlarge.
I set up two cameras… a Fuji X-H1 with a 100-400mm f/4.0-5.6 with a 1.4x teleconverter, and a Nikon D810 with a 70-200mm f/2.8 with a 1.7x teleconverter. Both had Nisi 100x100mm 16.6-stop solar filters. The longer focal length of the Fuji (840mm at 35mm equivalent) was the clear winner, even with half the megapixels of the D810. That’s what I expected, but I was treating this as a dry run for the full solar eclipse that’s coming to central Texas in April 2024, so I wanted to experiment. I’ll try to use a longer lens on the Nikon next year.
It was a long drive, but a fun excursion. Below are some of the photos from the Fuji.
Click to enlarge.
Addendum: More Thoughts on Gear
I used two solid tripods–a Manfrotto 3221W and an Induro CLT304L. For both tripods, I normally use a small center post because the legs of the tripod give plenty of height for terrestrial viewing without needing to raise the center post. But for the eclipse, I installed center posts that I could raise 6-8 inches so that I could view the back of the camera without having to stoop down. It’s a small thing, but if you’re standing around for a couple of hours taking photos, it’s a nice ergonomic comfort.
I learned this because I practiced with all my gear a few days before the eclipse. I wanted to make sure I knew how well the filters worked, how to focus, etc. If you’re planning to photograph a new situation, I encourage you to practice.
Because I practiced, I also decided that my main camera (in case, the Fuji) should be on a fluid video head instead of a regular ball head. I used a Manfrotto 701HDV head, which allows for smoother movements as I readjust where the sun is in my frame every few minutes. On my other tripod, I used my Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead–which was fine, but not as smooth for making small adjustments with the weight of a DSLR and mid-sized telephoto lens. I would have loved to have a motorized star tracker mount, but I don’t do enough astrophotography to warrant that.
I also set up both cameras for GPS. In the case of the Fuji, it’s as simple as pairing it with my phone over Bluetooth and using the Fujifilm Camera Remote app. For the Nikon, I use a Dawn Technology di-GPS Pro. This not only adds geolocation information to my image files, it also synchronizes the camera’s clocks to GPS time. Among other things, this makes it easier to sort photos from multiple cameras by time after I’ve downloaded them to my computer.
A couple of weeks ago, I spent a week in New Mexico. I flew by way of Dallas. Thanks to the pandemic, it was my first time on a plane in over a year. The flights were terrible—two were delayed, the flight from DFW to ABQ was diverted to El Paso for the night, and the final return leg to Austin was cancelled entirely. I don’t think that everything in the airline industry is ready for our return.
I’ve been to New Mexico many times in the past. In winter, I’m usually visiting the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, but I love summertime, too, for hiking, for opera, for shopping, for food. I still have several places in New Mexico I’ve wanted to visit and photograph. One of them is the Valles Caldera.
Perhaps you heard that in mid-February, Texas suffered a devastating winter storm, which overwhelmed the power and water infrastructure.
(Click on any image to see a higher resolution version.)
It started with an ice storm on February 11. These are relatively uncommon in Central Texas, so when they happen, they tend to wreak havoc. This storm brought more ice than usual. The weight of the ice on trees and power lines led to several power outages around the city.
We lost power for 31 hours, beginning Thursday afternoon, February 11. Once power came back on Friday night, it pretty much stayed on for us through the rest of the storm. We were among the lucky ones; we had friends who went for several days without power or water or both.
To round out the week, we had a frozen water heater for a couple of days, and then went through five days of a boil water notice in Austin. Oh, and don’t forget about the pandemic.
An old friend of mine, Joe Des Rosier, runs the Blue Lagoon Lodge, down in Rockport, Texas. He invited me down to visit with thoughts of putting together wildlife photography tours, to add to his already popular fly-fishing tours. I had 24 hours to scout out a few possibilities. We ran into some challenges and learned a lot, but overall, it was a great trip.
The Texas coast is well known as a birding destination, and is home to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was set aside in 1937 to protect the marshlands favored by migratory birds and other wildlife. In 1938, there was only one migratory flock of whooping cranes with fifteen birds. Today, there are over 500 whooping cranes that winter in the Aransas Bay area.
While whooping cranes were high on my priority list, I was eager to see other large birds, and any other wildlife that presented itself. After settling in at the lodge, we hopped on the boat and set out. The very first photo I took was of this Great Blue Heron, only a few hundred yards from the lodge.
Click on any image to enlarge.
We saw heron in several other locations, as well.
We also saw a few sandhill cranes, with which I am familiar from my many trips to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. I’m pretty sure the bird below is a juvenile Sandhill Crane. Any bird experts want to confirm or correct? Do so in the comments below.
Bosque del Apache, a wildlife refuge in south central New Mexico, is one of the premiere locations for bird photography in the United States. It’s a wintering spot for thousands of sandhill cranes and snow geese (and dozens of other species of birds). Its 57,000 acres straddle I-25, the Rio Grande, and El Camino Real.
I first came here in 2005—with a 35mm film camera, a few rolls of film, and with an 80-200mm f/2.8 as my longest lens. I came back with a digital camera and better lenses every year for awhile. After a few years, I got burned out and stopped coming. It was getting more crowded, and I felt like the refuge was being managed in a way that made the photography harder.
I’d been wanting to come back; I’d heard reports that the refuge was in better shape for photography. I had a window of time right before Thanksgiving where I could drive to Socorro, spend a couple of days photographing, and then drive back. It’s a long drive, but driving let me bring more gear than I would been comfortable flying with.
Just over a week ago, I was in Northern California and spent a couple of days in the Napa and Russian River valleys. I was staying north of Sonoma, and departed about 24 hours before the area was evacuated due to the Kincade Fire near Geyser Peak. Certain areas had a lot of smoke and ash, but I’m grateful for the time I was able to spend there.
One afternoon, I drove along the Russian River towards the coast, and took some photos near the Sonoma Coast State Park. There were a few fall colors. The Pampas Grass (an invasive species in California) was striking in the light of the setting sun.
(Click on any image to enlarge.)
I went to a handful of wineries. Here are a couple of photos from Palmaz Vineyards, which has an interesting process flow that uses only gravity to move the grapes and juice around.
Here’s one of the iconic Napa Valley signs.
I also visited Truchard Vineyards, which is just west of Napa. Tony Truchard was one of the first grape growers in the Carneros District. They were rushing to crush the last of the grapes before potential power outages due to the high fire danger in Northern California.
I was in southern California recently, and had an afternoon to drive over to Joshua Tree National Park. I first visited there in 2007, when I was in Palm Springs for a NANPA photography summit.
I planned my trip to arrive for sunset light. There weren’t many clouds in the sky, but I still managed to get a little sunset color. I just had a great time quietly hanging out among the Joshua Trees and watching the sun set.
Afterwards, I drove down to the town of Joshua Tree and had dinner before driving back west towards the city. It was an incredibly short visit, but I loved every moment.