A Nature Photographer's First Visit
Text and images copyright Heather Forcier

Winter at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge doesn't attract a large number of photographers every year for nothing. Host to a variety of wildlife including large numbers of Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes, photographic opportunities are plentiful. Red earth western mountains can serve as a backdrop, and many vantage points have great eastern and western views at dawn and dusk. Accommodations in nearby Socorro are just over an hour's drive from the Albuquerque airport.

The refuge is easily accessed by vehicle, with most shooting possible from within, by car side, or a short walk away. With such abundant wildlife, beautiful backgrounds, and easy access, Bosque is an unforgettable experience for the nature photographer.

As always for nature photographers, mornings begin predawn. Allowing for the half hour drive from Socorro and the time needed to secure a desirable position for daybreak, the first hour is spent in the dark of night at Bosque.

Snow Goose Blast Off © Heather ForcierWhile setting up to view the eastern horizon, light slowly creeps in above the distant mountains across the refuge's marsh. No two mornings seem the same: some are saturated with fiery colors, others are overcast in blue. Waiting along the water's edge as increasing light filters into the sky, geese, ducks, and cranes become visible in the water.

The event that gathering photographers, birders, and other spectators are awaiting arrives with the din of distant Snow Geese. They could be approaching from any direction, with likely thousands flying in to congregate in the pools ahead. On approach, the sound of their calls combined with the beating of their wings dominate the senses.

During this time, almost unlimited photos are possible, such as mass Snow Geese blur images, sharp silhouettes against a colorful sky, sunrise over the mountains, and cranes lined up in the water that reflects sky colors. With the flurry of goose activity comes a flurry of activity by photographers. It may take several minutes for the geese to land and settle with their already grounded counterparts, or additional flocks may also arrive, prolonging the event. Finally, the noisy snow geese settle in the water; all the while the light is changing, perhaps even unfolding in different ways over the different horizons.

But the event isn't over yet. At some point the geese will arise unforgettably en masse from the water. Thousands upon thousands of geese take flight simultaneously, perhaps even circling back to reland in the same marshes, to do it all again later.

Eventually the birds depart that section of the refuge and redistribute over other areas. The sun has risen, whether clear or overcast, and it is time to search out the other opportunities that Bosque has to offer.

Snow Goose in Flight © Heather ForcierWhere to continue on depends upon the light and wildlife activity. Scouting out along the refuge's loops, Sandhill Cranes may be moving predictably from one area to another. A Roadrunner may be spotted stalking insects along the dirt roads. Any number of waterfowl might occupy the waterways throughout the refuge. Stopping to take photos, most are possible either from the vehicle or only paces away.

The day continues on much like this, contingent upon the cooperation of wildlife, light and weather, until dusk approaches. This could be an opportune time to capture Snow Geese, Sandhill Cranes, and other willing subjects in the golden light of sunset.

Finding and setting up in a position near a field of geese and cranes, the activity doesn't seem to stop, with additional birds coming in while others depart. This could last through the final hours of the day until the light becomes too low to continue on. This day at Bosque is done.