San Rafael Valley, AZ ~~ Photo by Bill Haas

Sunday, December 20, 2009



I was homeward bound following a nine-month odyssey in the Southeast United States and had just one day to photograph the spectacular evening fly-in of the Sandhill Cranes that winter over in the marshes adjacent to the Rio Grande River near San Antonio, New Mexico. It was November, and I happened to arrive in the midst of the annual Festival of the Cranes; the area was jammin'!

This was my second visit to Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, this time armed with a digital camera with an auto-focusing "telephoto" lens. Well, to be sure, there are downsides to trying to photograph moving objects in low light with the electronics set on "auto"! As a matter of fact, out of dozens, I kept only a few of the shots I took of the birds as they floated into the marsh by the hundreds to roost for the night. Although unable to capture it on "film," the jaw-dropping sight from the refuge's "Flight Deck" remains one of my most vivid of this adventure.
The reeds and willows turn a lovely saffron color this time of year.
Geese, duck and many other bird species also call Bosque (woods) del Apache home for Winter.
A juvenile Bald Eagle. Yeah, I know -- just looks like a brown blob!
Little FLOATING brown blobs are hungry Pintail Ducks diving for food in shallow water.
Hungry Pintail Ducks in deeper water!
When the sun starts its descent, the Flight Deck begins filling with humans carrying cameras with HUGE telephoto lenses that look like bazookas! These folks are serious birders and photographers! Until the sun drifts below the horizon, the waiting animated group exchanges bird lore and identification, photo tips, camera details, where to have dinner and jokes about lens envy.
Birders with bazookas...
Something spooked these Red Winged Blackbirds...
Settling back down again -- click to enlarge and note the flashes of brilliant red.
Heads comes one! Still light enough for me to sort of stop the action!
A Mallard pair.
Cranes and Little Brown Blobs bobbing for food!
Peaceful, harmonious surroundings. AAAhhhhhh, sweet!
Considering their size, I think Sandhill Cranes are graceful, elegant and delicate.
A few more -- still barely enough light.
The marsh is beginning to fill up; it's still several minutes before the sun completely disappears and the mass fly-in begins
Geese, not Cranes -- impressive nonetheless.
What a lovely preserve this is. And one of the few places where crowds of jostling people didn't annoy me!!!