November 9, 2016 Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

The Snow Geese Have Arrived
The Snow Geese Have Arrived

Week Two at Bosque del Apache NWR

As you can see from the above image, the snow geese have arrived in numbers this week. Nothing like it should be in a few more weeks, but two large flocks flew in during the week and joined forces once here, gathering along the South Loop Road in the evening and moving over towards the flight deck in the morning.

Snow Geese
Snow Geese
Snow Goose
Snow Goose
Snow Geese
Snow Geese
Mallards in Flight
Mallards in Flight

Meanwhile the number of ducks here is astounding! Probably thousands of Pintails, along with hundreds of Mallards and Widgeons, with smaller numbers of Teal and others.

Pintails in Flight
Pintails in Flight
Pintails in Flight
Pintails in Flight
An Extremely Light Colored Sandhill Crane
An Extremely Light Colored Sandhill Crane

Sandhill Crane numbers grow daily, but at this time they are gathering and feeding in refuge fields that are pretty much inaccessible  for close photography.

Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Cranes
Sandhill Crane Landing
Sandhill Crane Landing

Most of these images were taken from a pretty good distance near the Willow Deck on the North Loop. The distance forces me to add a 1.4 extender to my 600mm lens to get any kind of close image.

Sandhill Cranes on the Runway
Sandhill Cranes on the Runway
Sandhill Cranes About to Liftoff
Sandhill Cranes About to Liftoff
Sandhill Cranes Liftoff
Sandhill Cranes Liftoff

This week the staff made the first couple of row cuts on the North Loop farm fields, but I have yet to see any of the cranes really rushing to get out there to feed. These farm fields are right next to the road and do allow for some close shots of the feeding cranes and geese, but apparently it is going to take some more time before the birds decide they need to venture out there.

Sandhill Crane Takeoff
Sandhill Crane Takeoff
Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane

There are now several hundred cranes roosting at night along the ponds on the side of the highway, providing an opportunity for early morning takeoff shots, when, and if, the clouds don’t block out the rising sun.

Sandhill Crane
Sandhill Crane

So far this year, most mornings there are clouds blocking the light from the sun until after the cranes have flown off to the distant fields to forage for the day. Eventually there will be some nice chances at these ponds to catch some nice takeoff shots.

After twice encountering the lone leucistic Sandhill Crane during my first week here, I have not had any luck finding him lately, although I have heard reports of others seeing him, so he must still be around, hope to get an opportunity to get some nice shots of this rarity before I leave !

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October 31, 2016 Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

Sunrise Sandhill Flight
Sunrise Sandhill Flight

Lone Rock, Utah to Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico

One week ago today, I awoke early at Lone Rock and hit the road just as the sun was coming up. Ended up being a long day on the road as I fought tire problems all day long and logged the 400+ miles to San Felipe, New Mexico. Back down Route 89 through Page, then picked up Route 98 east and before I had travelled more than 50 miles my tire monitoring system alerted me to a low pressure warning for my passenger side outside dually.

Found a place to pull off the highway and removed the valve extender for that tire, dragged out the compressor and reinflated the tire. That took care of that problem, but another 50 miles and the monitoring system alarm sounded again, this time for one of the tow dolly tires. Not wanting to take the Prius off the tow dolly so I could change the tire, I got the compressor out again and reinflated the tire, hoping that it was just a slow leak and I could get to my overnight destination without having to change the tire. I continued east on 98 then Route 160, then Route 64 into New Mexico, all fairly decent 2 lane roads with some rough sections and with very little traffic. Route 64 took me to Route 550 east ( actually goes south ) and that road took me down to I-25 at Bernalilo, where I headed a few miles north to the San Felipe Casino to overnight.

I had to stop and reinflate the tow dolly tire two more times, making a long day on the road seem even longer. Fortunately,  Route 550 is a 4 lane highway, with no hills and I was able to make up for lost time on this long stretch of road.

The San Felipe Casino camping area is a flat gravel lot with pull throughs and 50 amp electric hookups, no water at the campsite though there is water at the on site dump station. There were only two others camped there the two nights I spent there and there is a fair bit of noise from the Travel Center just across the road.

Hal Burns in Santa Fe for a Brake Job

I have needed to have the rear brakes on the motorhome looked at since late this summer in the Rockies and hoped to be able to make them last until I could get to Hal Burns in Santa Fe, where I have had major work done twice in the past. They were able to get me in on Wednesday and figured they would have me done the same day. I knew better than to think that would actually be the case and sure enough, it wasn’t, so I did spend one night at the luxurious Hal Burns RV Resort.

They do let you stay in your rig in their yard overnight and even will give you an electric hookup if one is available. It’s brightly lit, it’s noisy, and the atmosphere is lacking a little, but it’s free! Next day, they had me finished up around 3 PM and I was back on the road with fully functioning brakes again.

Only had to cover 150 miles to Bosque del Apache and made it to the Birdwatcher’s RV Park around 6 PM and got myself checked in and set up. This is a very basic campground with flat sites on gravel, essentially a large parking lot, with several pull throughs, with full hookups. The attraction here is the close proximity to the refuge and the price. I plan on staying a month or perhaps even more so I was charged the monthly rate of $350, or around $11 a day for a full hookup site, hard to beat.

First Trip Into Bosque

Pintails and Mallard
Pintails and Mallard

Since it was still light after getting set up, I zipped down the road a couple miles into Bosque del Apache NWR and instantly came across a rare sighting, for me at least. In a narrow stretch of water on the side of the road were about a hundred Pintail and Mallard ducks …

Stalking Bobcat
Stalking Bobcat

… and about 20 yards from them was this bobcat, crawling on it’s belly through the short field grasses cover towards the ducks! Even though I have been doing this wildlife thing for a long time, this was the first time I have ever had a close shot at a bobcat, and it looked like there was going to be some neat action as he continued slowly advancing on the ducks.

Bobcat
Scared Off

Unfortunately, a woman driving a pickup camper saw me parked on the shoulder of the road with a long camera lens showing out the window, so she came flying up in a cloud of dust to see what I was shooting. When she jumped out to get closer, of course, that was it for the bobcat and he bolted across the field to cover.

And Then Another Rarity!

Leucistic Sandhill Crane
Leucistic Sandhill Crane

It was getting dark when I spied something odd out on a burned section of the refuge. I could  make out a couple sandhill cranes working their way through the recently burned area, but, from a distance at least, I could have sworn that one of the cranes looked like a Whooping Crane, and I didn’t think they were ever found here. The shot above is a low quality image ( shot with my 600mm lens from a great distance in very low light ) of what turned out to be a leucistic Sandhill Crane, the first I have ever seen. The rangers here tell me this is his third year showing up here, so I hope I may encounter him again under better conditions during my stay here.

First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese
First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese

A Bit Early for Many Birds Here at Bosque del Apache

First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese
First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese

The last couple days I have been going into the refugee early each day to check on new arrivals. These snow geese are the first I have seen here this year, and while there are sandhills here, there certainly are not anything like the numbers that should show up in a few more weeks.

Sandhills Greeting the First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese
Sandhills Greeting the First Arriving Flock of Snow Geese

I knew I was going to be a little early arriving here before the start of November, but as a full timer, I am able to just sit back and relax and wait until the birds arrive in numbers, usually around the middle of the month. In the meantime, I have the place pretty much all to myself, nice not to battle crowds or traffic and driving the loop road through the refuge at sunrise each day, without traffic, is a wonderfully peaceful experience, whether you see any wildlife or not.

Pre-dawn Takeoff
Pre-dawn Takeoff

And each day, there are a few more birds arriving, and it’s kind of fun to see the numbers grow, and watch the fields being flooded and the refuge staff out cutting roadside vegetation to provide birders with views of the distant fields.

Pre-dawn Takeoff
Pre-dawn Takeoff

The first morning I went down the highway to the refuge there were absolutely no cranes on the ponds along the highway, the second day, I stopped and counted maybe 20, wading on the distant shore waiting for sunrise to takeoff and head out to feed. The two shots above were taken this morning just before sunrise, when some of the more than 100 cranes around the ponds were taking flight.

I can’t wait for tomorrow!

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April 28, 2015, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff

Yet Another Interesting Day at Malheur

Every day, when I leave home in the morning, I never know what I am going to find here at Malheur. Today was no exception.

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive

I had decided to drive the Diamond Loop and check out the Peter French Round Barn and, on the drive there,  found myself face to face with about 100 head of cattle, being driven down the highway, as I was later told, a fairly common practice here.

Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive

No vehicle out in front on them to give oncoming motorists warning, I just came around a fairly sharp corner on a 65 mph road and there they were. A local person soon pulled up behind me and explained that the correct thing to do in this event is not to stop, as I did, but to simply proceed through them …  carefully and at a slow speed. They will make way for you, he assured me. And, of course, they did as he said they would and soon I came to the end of the herd and three real life cowboys that were driving them along ( the third cowboy had just cut off to the right to drive a stray back to the herd ).

Cattle Drive
Cattle Drive

All’s well that ends well !

Bing Mapper
Bing Mapper

Only a half mile down the road behind the cattle drive, I saw this fellow stopped in the road. After zipping by him, my curiosity got the better of me and I turned around and went back to ask a few questions.

Bing Mapper
Bing Mapper

This is Bing’s answer to Google Earth. The driver/operator of this vehicle was kind enough to show me the equipment used, camera, 10 TB hard drive, GPS, etc., and explained the process of collecting all the data. I asked if I went on Bing and highlighted this stretch of road, then hit their ” street view “, would I see images of him stuck in the middle of the cattle drive, and he assured me that, yes, I would. Just need to wait a couple months for all these new images to be upload, he said. Over the next two days, I saw two more of these Bing cars during my travels around Malheur and Burns.

Palomino
Palomino

Caught this beautiful creature gracefully trotting down a hill to a water hole by the side of the road.

Mallard Drake
Mallard Drake

I know, it’s only a mallard.

Mallard Splashdown
Mallard Splashdown

I liked the refection of this Northern Shoveler as he splashed down, something I had never caught before.

Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff
Gadwall Takeoff

These two images show the takeoff sequence of a male gadwall. Notice how hard his wings drive down in the water to provide his initial lift. The second image of him in flight is about as good a shot of this type as I have been able to get to date, at least. The focusing system of my camera always has a very difficult time isolating the bird from the busy background of reeds and most images like this are always rendered out of focus.

Love Them Lips, Ruddy Duck
Love Them Lips, Ruddy Duck

Gotta love them lips, looks like he is puckering up to give his honey a big old wet one ! During mating season, the Ruddy duck’s bill turns this bright shade of blue to help make him irresistable to the ladies.

Ruddy Duck
Ruddy Duck
Teaching the Kids How to Hide
Teaching the Kids How to Hide

I always get a kick out of Canadian Geese dropping their necks to the water to ” hide ” themselves to me as I pass by.

Teaching the Kids How to Hide
Teaching the Kids How to Hide

These parents were doing a good job of showing their kids how to hide from dangerous photographers, but the little ones don’t seem to have caught on to the neck flattening thing.

Unescorted Ducklings
Unescorted Ducklings

The goslings are the first to hatch and the ducklings follow a week or two later in the spring. These are the first ducklings I have seen this year. These ten ducklings are only about half of this group, that must consist of the offspring of more than one set of parents. They were quickly trying to get themselves concealed from me by heading behind a dense bunch of willows growing on the water’s edge. It seemed odd that I never saw any parent’s anywhere near these cute little guys.

Old Dump Truck
Old Dump Truck
Old Dump Truck Detail
Old Dump Truck Detail

In the afternoon I drove back north towards Burns to check on the fields south of town. I happened upon this old dump truck on the way. Nice watercolr subject, when, and if, I ever get the brushes out again.

Black-necked Stilt
Black-necked Stilt

A Black-necked Stilt searching for morsels among the submerged grasses of a cow pasture.

Meadowlark
Meadowlark

 

Meadowlark
Meadowlark
Meadowlark
Meadowlark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It truly is starting to look like spring as there are now all kinds of songbirds singing their hearts out along the road.

Barn Swallow
Barn Swallow
Barn Swallows
Barn Swallows

Not often I find these guys so easy to capture.

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird
Robin
Robin
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Yellow-headed Blackbirds
Yellow-headed Blackbirds

The Yellow-headed Blackbirds have arrived in clouds the past few days and sometimes you may see as many as a hundred of them perched on the fences here along Hotchkiss and Greenhouse Lanes.

Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird
Yellow-headed Blackbird

This one was really getting into it, belting out his melody.

So, Spring has definitely sprung, and much as I am enjoying my time her at Malheur, I really do have to think about leaving and getting on my way north to Alaska.

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April 18, 2015 Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Oregon

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

Exploring the Refuge and My ” Guide ” Arrives

As always, click on any image for a larger, sharper version.

I drove the refuge main road again this morning and once again found the pair of Short-eared Owls, though they remained just out of range,

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

 

 

 

 

 

Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl

once again found several Northern Harriers, including the elusive Gray Ghost,

Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Male Northern Harrier
Female Northern Harrier
Female Northern Harrier
Female Northern Harrier
Female Northern Harrier

plus a Canada goose family with five goslings, along Buena Vista Pond.

Canada Goose Family
Canada Goose Family
Canada Goose Family
Canada Goose Family
Canada Goose Family
Canada Goose Family

Probably one of the reasons these guys have become so numerous, and become such a pest, is because they are such good, protective parents.

Red-wing Blackbird
Red-wing Blackbird
Red-wing Blackbird
Red-wing Blackbird
Red-wing Blackbird
Red-wing Blackbird

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are all kinds of small birds along the road, such as Magpies, Meadowlarks, and many, many Red-headed Blackbirds, singing up a storm.

Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk

I made a quick run up to Burns to fill up the Prius and grab some groceries, and on my return south on Route 205, I saw this Ferruginous Hawk taking off just off the side of the road, another first time bird for me.

Jim Palmer arrived around 3 PM and we talked for a couple of hours and then decided to go out to check on the Sage Grouse lek off Foster Flat Road around 6 PM. We saw a few at twilight but they were too far off, and there just wasn’t enough light to shoot. I definitely will return to this location for what is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  Jim is a long time gifted wildlife photographer I met in Yellowstone National park a couple years back and he had graciously agreed to meet me here and show me the ropes, as he has been photographing here at Malhuer for many years. There is a lot of ground to cover here at Malhuer and it will be nice to have someone to show me where everything is ( or might be, I should say ).

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