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Posts tagged ‘Sunset’

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

Snow geese at sunrise, Bosque del Apache NWR

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.

Here’s my gear list:

  • Fujifilm X-H1
  • Fujifilm XF 16-55mm f/2.8 lens
  • Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 lens
  • Fujifilm XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens (sometimes with a 1.4x teleconverter)
  • Nikon D810
  • Nikkor 24-120mm f/4.0 lens
  • Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 lens
  • Nikkor 200-400mm f/4.0 lens

(Along with two tripods, a ballhead, a gimbal mount, assorted camera bags, memory cards, a laptop, batteries, chargers, etc.)

It’s the first time I’d used any of my Fujifilm equipment for bird photography, and I’d say it did fairly well.  It sometimes doesn’t feel like it’s great at autofocus, but when I switch to my Nikon DSLR, I’m reminded that it’s not perfect, either.  Bird photography is just challenging work.  Like many modern camera, the Fuji allows you to customize how the autofocus system works. For the X-H1, I used these autofocus settings in continuous mode:

  • Tracking sensitivity: 1 (0.3s before refocusing)
  • Responsiveness:  Phase detect priority
  • AF mode:  all (set to 91 focus points)

These seemed to work reasonably well, but I still tossed about 20% of my photos for not being well enough in focus.  Such is my life in the photography of birds in flight.

(Please click the images to enlarge and see more detail.)

I arrived after dark on Sunday, so I went straight to Socorro to my hotel.  The next morning, I got up early and drove the 20 minutes or so down to the refuge.  We had great pre-dawn light that morning (which did not happen either of the next two mornings).  Temperature was about 25 degrees, but it wasn’t very windy, so it was quite bearable.

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Before Sunrise at Bosque del Apache, November 2019

After sunrise, the light turned harsher and less colorful, but mist rising from the water in the cold air created an interesting mood.

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Snow geese and sandhill cranes in the mist at sunrise

One of the things we’re kind of always hoping and waiting for is a snow goose blastoff, when a flock decides to take flight. All of the birds are skittish of predators (such as coyotes), and it’s amazing when several thousand birds collectively decide that they all want to be someplace else.

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Snow goose blastoff at Bosque del Apache NWR
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Snow goose blastoff at Bosque del Apache

Day two turned windy. It was warmer–only in the 30’s in the morning. But we had 20 mph wind gusts. Still, it was not a bad day for photography. The video below tries to capture some the experience of hanging out with tens of thousands of birds. (Sorry for the wind noise.)

Sights and Sounds of Bosque del Apache NWR

Early Monday afternoon, I decided to try one of the hiking trails in the refuge. The Canyon National Recreation Trail is about 2.5 miles long and hikes up into Solitude Canyon, then rises to the rim for the return.

GPS track for the Canyon National Recreation Trail

There’s a nice view of the main part of the refuge when you get to the high point of the hike. The visitor’s center is on the left, with the “north loop” in the center of the photo.

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Bosque del Apache NWR, as seen from the high point of the Canyon Trail

Here are a few snow goose portraits:

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Snow goose in flight, Bosque del Apache NWR
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Snow geese in flight, Bosque del Apache NWR

And some sandhill crane portraits:

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Sandhill crane at Bosque del Apache NWR
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Sandhill cranes in flight at Bosque del Apache NWR

There are a variety of other birds, too, in lesser abundance.

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White-crowned Sparrows at Bosque del Apache NWR

I made a side trip during the middle of day 2.  I drove west to the VLA (Very Large Array), part of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.  It’s currently in its most compact configuration—a mere 0.6 miles in diameter.  A month and a half ago, it was in its widest (22 mile diameter) configuration.  It was cold and windy—about 25 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of about 10 degF.  There was a light dusting of snow on the ground.

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The VLA radio telescope in Configuration D, November 2019

On my way back through Socorro, I stopped in at New Mexico Tech (The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology), to see if the duck pond was still there.  Sure enough, as soon as I walked up, I was greeted by noisy and apparently hungry wigeons and geese—all wishing that I had brought feed for them.

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This was a great trip to Bosque, but quick. The day I left (Wednesday), the weather started to turn. Sunrise showed some initial promise, but it quickly turned into a gray day. I heard that the refuge received six inches of snow on Thanksgiving day.

Here’s one of my last images from Tuesday at sunset, of three sandhill cranes finding a place to spend the night.

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Sandhill cranes at sunset, Bosque del Apache NWR

Joshua Tree National Park

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.

Mystery Valley, and on to Hunt’s Mesa

On Sunday, April 13, we began in Monument Valley and, with a Navajo guide, visited Mystery Valley before making our way up to Hunt’s Mesa.

I got up for sunrise in hopes that we might get some good color.  I was playing around with HDR (high dynamic range) photography.  I didn’t get any colorful shots that I liked, but I decided to process the HDR as black and white, and I kind of like the way this turned out.  The sun is rising just behind this mitten…

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(Click to enlarge)

Here’s a map showing where my photos were geotagged.  We more or less worked our way in a counterclockwise fashion, starting at The View hotel at the top, Mystery Valley to the southeast, then further south as we and east as we worked our way up Hunt’s Mesa.

Sunday_Map

 

Here’s an infrared photo from Mystery Valley.  They had a bad ice storm this winter, and several trees were damaged.

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Here’s a nice claret cup cactus in bloom…

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We saw plenty of pictographs and petroglyphs…

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As the day wore on, it was clear that we were in for windy conditions.  This affected visibility to some extent, but it wasn’t a complete bust.  Here’s a photo of El Capitan as we worked our way around to the back side of Hunt’s Mesa.

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I’ll save you the story about how our vehicle got stuck in sand for about an hour and how we managed to get it unstuck.  But a little later, we reached a sandstone cliff, and our guide, Tony, admitted, “I’ve never been up this way before.”  This was our signal to get out and walk.  Tony decided it was passable, but with our confidence waning due to getting stuck in the sand, we told Tony we’d meet him at the top.  Here’s a photo of him charging up the hill…

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Eventually, we made it to the top of Hunt’s Mesa.  Here are a few images from late afternoon and sunset.  It was still very windy, especially as we approached the edge of the mesa to take these photos.

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We camped out on top of Hunt’s Mesa that night.  The wind died down about midnight, and it turned even colder.  I was warm in my REI +25 sleeping bag, but eventually (at 5:30 AM), it was time to get up for sunrise.  We guessed the temperature was in the mid to high 30’s on Monday morning.

Mystery Valley, and on to Hunt’s Mesa

On Sunday, April 13, we began in Monument Valley and, with a Navajo guide, visited Mystery Valley before making our way up to Hunt’s Mesa.

I got up for sunrise in hopes that we might get some good color.  I was playing around with HDR (high dynamic range) photography.  I didn’t get any colorful shots that I liked, but I decided to process the HDR as black and white, and I kind of like the way this turned out.  The sun is rising just behind this mitten…

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(Click to enlarge)

Here’s a map showing where my photos were geotagged.  We more or less worked our way in a counterclockwise fashion, starting at The View hotel at the top, Mystery Valley to the southeast, then further south as we and east as we worked our way up Hunt’s Mesa.

Sunday_Map

 

Here’s an infrared photo from Mystery Valley.  They had a bad ice storm this winter, and several trees were damaged.

_DSC0281

 

Here’s a nice claret cup cactus in bloom…

_DSC8181

 

We saw plenty of pictographs and petroglyphs…

_DSC8229

 

As the day wore on, it was clear that we were in for windy conditions.  This affected visibility to some extent, but it wasn’t a complete bust.  Here’s a photo of El Capitan as we worked our way around to the back side of Hunt’s Mesa.

_DSC8249

I’ll save you the story about how our vehicle got stuck in sand for about an hour and how we managed to get it unstuck.  But a little later, we reached a sandstone cliff, and our guide, Tony, admitted, “I’ve never been up this way before.”  This was our signal to get out and walk.  Tony decided it was passable, but with our confidence waning due to getting stuck in the sand, we told Tony we’d meet him at the top.  Here’s a photo of him charging up the hill…

_DSC8252

 

Eventually, we made it to the top of Hunt’s Mesa.  Here are a few images from late afternoon and sunset.  It was still very windy, especially as we approached the edge of the mesa to take these photos.

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_DSC8306

 

_DSC8310

 

We camped out on top of Hunt’s Mesa that night.  The wind died down about midnight, and it turned even colder.  I was warm in my REI +25 sleeping bag, but eventually (at 5:30 AM), it was time to get up for sunrise.  We guessed the temperature was in the mid to high 30’s on Monday morning.

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge

For the first time in four years, I made it back to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.  I arrived this afternoon, and had a couple of hours of sunlight to try to come up with a plan.  Each year at the Bosque is a bit different—the refuge managers change things up every year.  I drove around the entire refuge to see where the crops are growing, which fields are flooded and which are dry, and see where the birds are hanging out.  There are a lot of potentially good spots for sunset, but on any given day, only a couple are likely to pay off.

I knew that sunset was likely to be pretty spectacular; there were several high clouds in the western sky. I chose one of the areas on the east side of the refuge where it looked like I’d have a clear view of sunset, with several hundred sandhill cranes in the foreground.

I was a little nervous as people left just before sunset—did they know something I didn’t?  I stuck with the decision to stay at my location and see what was going to happen.  As the sun went down, there were some nice pale oranges in the sky, but I had a feeling that the colors were going to get better.  I waited.  A couple more people left.  I waited.  And then a hint of color in the clouds, and a bit more, and finally…

It was worth the wait.

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This evening at a restaurant in Socorro, I ran into Arthur Morris, one of the world’s best bird photographers.  It was good to see him, meet his workshop co-leader Denise Ippolito, and see his workshop participants.  You can read more about Artie in this blog post I wrote in 2008.

That’s it for now; I’m hoping for a great sunrise in the morning.

Hawaii, Day Five

Today’s word is “patience”, for two reasons.

First, I didn’t have time to edit any photos today, so I hope you’ll have patience with me and this blog, and wait for more photos tomorrow.

Second, our afternoon ended with a patient wait for a beautiful sunset that didn’t happen.  We were at Ke’e beach, a beautiful spot on the north shore to watch the sunset, but some clouds moved in on the horizon, blocking the sun.  Still, we waited patiently, hoping that the clouds might light up in brilliant colors.  But, the clouds and sky just turned to gray, and we packed up and drove to Hanalei for dinner.

Tomorrow, we are fly over to the Big Island of Hawaii to continue our adventure.  See you then.

Grand Canyon, South Rim

On Friday, I drove up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, driving from east to west. There were a few inches of snow along the rim, but with a little care, I managed to get to some of the overlooks. Here’s an infrared shot from Grandview Point. (To see more detail in each image, click on them to enlarge.)

grandview_point

For sunset, I drove to Pima Point, which is along Hermit Road almost all the way to Hermit’s Rest. Here’s some of the last of the evening light falling on the Tower of Ra [see the comments].

Tower of Ra

Here’s another infrared photo.  I think this does a good job of showing the variety of textures and layers in the rock.grand_canyon_infrared