Ryan Marshik, Chris Gibbs and I made our pilgrimage to New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in December. I say pilgrimage because it seems ALL serious wildlife photographers have been there. Now it was our turn.

Early reports were discouraging…Very few Snow Geese had arrived. And they are one of the main attractions. The “blast off” of thousands of Snow Geese as they erupt from their overnight roosts is one of America’s great wildlife spectacles. Art Morris’s trip over Thanksgiving had seen very few. We were a bit nervous.

Bosque (pronounced “boss-KAY”) is a refuge encompassing backwaters of the Rio Grande where thousands of Lesser Sandhill Cranes, Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Northern Pintails, and Northern Shovelers spend the winter. Of course many other birds can be found here including Gambel’s Quail, Roadrunners, Ferruginous Hawks, Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, Say’s Phoebes and American Wigeon. Like many of our national wildlife refuges, it is highly managed, with a series of dikes and water level controls. Corn is also planted and knocked down for the benefit of both cranes, geese (and coyotes).

Seven images combined in Photoshop.

Our first night was spectacular…Little did we know that we wouldn’t have another one like it the rest of the week.

Bald Eagles patrol the refuge searching for weak or sick ducks and geese. This pair was silhouetted from the Flight Deck at dawn.

Snow Geese are one of the main attractions at Bosque.

Ross’s Geese are the smaller cousin to the Snow Goose. Note the stubbier bill with green patch.

Snow Geese also come in different “flavors.” This is a blue morph Snow Goose.

Many raptors winter on the refuge. This is a Northern Harrier taking flight.

Tens of thousands of blackbirds also winter in the area. While most are Red-winged Blackbirds, can you pick out a few Yellow-headed Blackbirds?

Aaah! A perfect portrait of a flying Sandhill Crane. I thought I had dozens of “perfect” flying shots when I was in the field. But when you get back to the hotel and download onto the laptop, often the images you thought were spot on, are sometimes just a bit off.

It’s true. You can get sick and tired of shooting Sandhill Cranes! So, while I love literal interpretations of subjects, I also love to experiment. And digital allows one to do that at no cost. This is my favorite.

Just after sunset, most of the cranes have finally settled down for the night. They sleep in crowded company in shallow waters, heads tucked into their back.

I’ve never seen so many pintails in my life! This is a prairie bird that is not often seen in the North Woods. The Northern Pintail is named for the long middle tail feather.

A Snow Goose puts the landing gear down.

Two abstract, slow shutter speed images of a flock of Snow Geese taking off. Which do you prefer?