Thursday, November 29, 2007

White Geese Galore

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Why do thousands of bird photographers go to Bosque del Apache every November? Well the light is amazing. The vistas are wide open. And there are hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, Ross's geese, and just about every kind of duck you can find in your field guide.

Furthermore, the birds are somewhat acclimated to humans along the refuge's causeways and the birds tend to have routines that they follow. This allows nature photographers, with their lenses as long as a Cooper Mini, to get in position to take some really, really, really nice bird pictures.

For bird photography pikers like me, Bosque is a paradise, too. I can take some shots of a cooperative bird, change my settings wildly, take some more pix, change again, check them out on the camera's screen, take some more. You get the scoop.

We had an afternoon off late in our week at Bosque and just when the light was perfect, we turned a corner on the Marsh Route and found a newly flooded field chock full of resting, foraging snow and Ross's geese. So we joined the skirmish line of bird photographers already in place, snapping away.

Soon the geese took off in a sudden fright. Then they returned. They kept coming and going for the next hour and I thanked the gods that I was not shooting film because I took more than 500 frames.

Here are some of the more acceptable results.
The flooded field with resting geese. Mostly snows with a few blue geese and a good number of Ross's mixed in.

Spooking into flight.

A great chance to compare Ross's goose (L) with snow goose (R).

Coming back around to land in the flooded field again. This looks to me like the shots of the imprinted birds in Winged Migration.

Coming in for a landing. White birds with black primaries! How beautiful.

Splashing down.

Each bird created its own wave as it splashed to a landing.

And then they were up again. A coyote scared them into flight. Cottonwoods providing the backdrop.

As the flock passes overhead, you do NOT want to look up with your mouth open.

Droplets of water still clinging to the belly.

A beautiful blue morph snow goose.

Same species, different color morph.

While leading a trip on the first full day of the Festival of the Cranes, our groups spent some time scanning a flock of snow geese. I wanted to point our some Ross's geese to our vanful of birders.

While scanning with my spotting scope, I noticed a blue morph bird that looked quite small by comparison...

It was a blue morph Ross's goose--a very rare bird. I'd seen this morph before here at Bosque, but not for a while. Everybody was really excited to see this bird. We radioed the other van and got them over to see it.

A closer look at the rare creature. Check out the tiny head. Note, too, the head of the snow goose in the foremost foreground, showing the black grin line on the bill. Most of the other white birds in profile in this shot are normal Ross's geese (sans black grin lines on their much smaller pink bills).

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Night Falls on Bandelier

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Canyon shadow climbs
roost call of canyon towhee
somewhere piñon burns

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Avocado Falcons

Tuesday, November 27, 2007
One of the very special birds that was hanging around Bosque del Apache NWR last week and for several week prior was an aplomado falcon. Aplomado is a Spanish word meaning lead-colored--referring to the bird's gray coloration. What you really notice about the bird is not the gray back, but the orange chest and boldly marked head.

Actually there were at least TWO of these rare, endangered birds on the refuge and I got to see both of them just an hour apart on the same day. Radio contact with birders still watching the other falcon confirmed the presence of two birds.

My son (and namesake) Liam, who was along for one of the field trips, asked why we were so excited. I pointed out the bird and said, "THAT'S a rare bird called an aplomado falcon!" Liam replied: "Oh. . . . What's an avocado falcon?" By the glint in his eye I could tell he was pulling his old man's leg.

These aplomados are from a captive breeding program that is trying to re-establish the population in the desert Southwest. Everyone was all abuzz about seeing these lanky falcons and a few of the harder-core birders were wondering if they were "countable" or not since they or their parents were once held in captivity. The birds had bands on the legs but seemed otherwise wild and well adjusted. We watched them eat dragonflies and the occasional small mammal or bird.

It was great to show the birds to a variety of people in our various birding trips. I'd seen the species twice before--both times at Laguna Atascosa NWR in South Texas where another aplomado hacking program has had great success over the years. But these looks at Bosque were better, with more cooperative birds.

I've got a lot more posts from NM to share. The only problema is that I still have to write them! In the meantime, here are a few of my aplomado images--all of these are digiscoped from a great distance.

The falcon stretching in the late-afternoon sun.

Despite my photography skills you can actually see the falcon's head pattern in this image.

A harrier decided to harass the aplomado.

To see how a pro digiscoper does it, visit Jeff Bouton's Leica Birding Blog and check out his pix of the aplomado falcon. I still have to fetch some of my digital camera images and if I have anything aplomadoish worth sharing, Ill certainly do so.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Eating in NM

Saturday, November 24, 2007
During our New Mexico birding adventure we had a lot of wonderful meals. After a day or so, you get used to it when the servers ask you "green or red?" as you order your entree. They want to know if you want green chiles or red chiles with your meal. I have to say, I ate plenty of both and liked them equally well. If pressed to chose, I lean a little green...

Among our favorite places for NM mastication this year were The Socorro Springs Brewery in Socorro (good food, great beer, and WiFi!) and Sabroso in Arroyo Seco (where we had a nice meal with our friends Caroline and Douglas and fabulous service from the staff).

Here is one NM eating establishment we did not patronize. Perhaps it was the name.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Dear All:

Today I'm reflecting on all I'm thankful for (it's a long list) and hope you are, too. Among the things I am thankful for are all the days in my life that I've been able to spend watching birds, such as these sleeping sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache NWR in New Mexico.

And I'm thankful for all of you, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

Bill of the Birds

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

New Mexico in Low Light

Tuesday, November 20, 2007
New Mexico is called The Land of Enchantment but it could just as easily be called The Land of Amazing Light. I can see now why photographers and artists come here to pursue their creative muses--the light goes from pale lemony to deep tangerine to milky blue and then back again in the course of a day. The air is clear and the vistas are vast. And then there are the places where the desert meets the mountains. It's one giant inspiration of light.

Here are just a tiny few of the digital images I've shot this week in New Mexico's low light--early and late in the day.

Pintails at dawn over Bosque del Apache NWR.

At dawn the birders and photographers gather on the Flight Deck for the morning fly out of the cranes and waterfowl.

A pre-dawn blizzard of snow geese.

Cranes and waterfowl darken the dawn sky at Bosque.

Phragmites is an invasive scourge, but its heads look feathery in the afternoon sunlight.

Sunset uses the same pink paintbrush on the desert and the mountains.

A drake pintail in the predawn glow.

Cranes are still flying well after sunset.

A Chihuahuan raven croaks at its flockmates.

Coots a half hour before first light.

The morning sun peeks through a notch in the rim of Water Canyon.

Pintails over pink clouds at Bosque.

Gleaming wires near El Salto del Rey.

A tangerine sunset from Arroyo Seco.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Running into a Roadrunner

Monday, November 19, 2007
On the way down I-25 southbound to Socorro from Albuquerque, there are some large impoundments off to the east that give a visiting birder his/her first taste of what's to come farther south, at Bosque del Apache NWR. At these impoundments, there are usually several dozen sandhill cranes there as well as a nice mix of waterfowl--northern shovelers, northern pintails, gadwall, mallards, and a few coots. Harriers course low over the cornfields. Chihuahuan raven and American crows are black spots on the always blue sky.

We usually pull over and glass the ponds from the highway which is neither safe nor satisfying. But this year, with a little extra time on our hands, we decided to head off the highway to try to get closer to the action. Once of I-25, we immediately missed the hard left turn onto the frontage road, so we continued east to see what we could see. While turning around in a dusty patch of gravel we saw a roadrunner, largest of our North American cuckoos, moving through the brush.

I LOVE roadrunners. They seem to be part bird, part dinosaur, and part snake. Like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland roadrunners always seem to have somewhere else they've gotta be, right now. They rarely linger for a bird watchers to get a binocular full of them.

Roadrunners can also be fairly shy. But unlike most other roadrunners I've ever encountered, this one came toward us.

We grabbed our cameras and here's what happened.

Running out of the brush. Not sure it sees us yet.

The roadrunner stops to survey the scene. It clearly sees the humans in the funny hats with large, shiny tubes making clicking noises. And oohing and ahhing.

It decides it's OK and starts to walk methodically past the front of our car.

Stopping again to ensure we blow maximum megapixels on its back-lit beauty.

Time to scoot. And no, it did not go BEEPBEEP!

And then it was gone. Off to snag, smash, and gobble some poor, too-slow lizard.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Owl Cave Owl

Sunday, November 18, 2007
On the field trip we led to Water Canyon, near the entrance to the canyon, we espied this roosting great horned owl. It was a few minutes before I realized that the shape of the cave's outline was owl-like itself.

An owl perching in an owl-shaped cave. One of those little moments of Zen encountered while looking at birds.

Water Canyon is one of the world's most wonderful places. More on this in the nearest future.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Images from Bosque

Friday, November 16, 2007
Yes. I am in New Mexico. At the Festival of the Cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Which, given the birds present, could also be called the Festival of the Crows, Mallards, White-crowned Sparrows, Snow Geese, or Red-tailed Hawks.

Loads to share but lo siento, pero no tengo el tiempo ahora.

Have been leading a couple of field trips each of the past two days and have more in the next two days. It's eye-popping there are so many birds. And the regulars and locals here at the FOTC are saying the geese and crane numbers are low because of the warmish winter thus far.

Here are two images I captured this morning. One at about 5:50 am and one at about 5:50 pm. I hope you like them. Apologies for the cobwebs growing on BOTB. I promise to be a more reliable blogger in the days, weeks, years to come. Hasta mañana.

A blizzard of snow geese at dawn, viewed from the Flight Deck where everyone gathers t watch the "fly out" as the birds wake up.

Northern harrier wheeling against cottonwoods along the Marsh Route.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Birds Seen Early and Late

Wednesday, November 14, 2007
This morning, before I had to make it to an 8:30 meeting, I got out to see a few birds. And after the meetings were over, there was a bit more birding until the cloak of darkness fell at 6 pm.

This post is necessarily short since tomorrow starts with an early morning bird trip I'm supposed to help lead.

Since we had such fun with this week's Mystery Bird Quiz (congrats to Patrick Belardo for being the firstest with the bestest guess), see if you can guess where I went birding today, both early and late.

I promise to have more meat on the blog sandwich later in the week.

Eurasian collared dove.

Two plumages of white-crowned sparrow.

Enormous blackbird flocks.

Stately sandhill cranes.

Cranes looking good in front of yellow cottonwoods.

Wheeling flocks of hundreds of ducks and geese at dusk.