Isn't it rich?
Aren't we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground,
You in mid-air . . .
Ever since we moved to New Mexico, locals have encouraged us to go see the sandhill cranes that migrate to central New Mexico every fall to spend the winter in fields and wetlands along the Rio Grande. But it's never been a high priority for me: landscapes and great vistas speak more to me than birds.
Finally, however, one of my photo buddies (and former PBS colleague) Bruce Shah prevailed on me to go with him, having been captivated himself by the cranes and their other-worldly call (about which more below).
Nowadays, because the Rio Grande water flow is being managed for agriculture and other uses, the birds' natural habitat no longer exists to any great extent. Fortunately, conservation and wildlife lovers prevailed, and two waterfowl management areas were created along the river: the more well-known is Bosque del Apache, run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service south of Socorro, NM; the other is the Ladd Gordon Waterfowl Complex, run by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, north of Socorro.
Bruce and I made three trips to the Ladd Gordon area, twice in mid-December and once in January.
Our first visit was on a bright, beautiful afternoon, when thousands of cranes returned to the wetlands from a day of feeding elsewhere. You can see them coming from miles away, and they literally fill the sky.
As the cranes arrive they fly right overhead -- wave after wave after wave:
You get the idea.
The cranes settle down to spend the night in wetland ponds and fields:
While we were watching, some knucklehead in an ultra-light aircraft buzzed the ponds, frightening the birds back into the air. You can see him on the right-hand side of the image below:
No birds were injured, as far as we could tell, but we really wanted to shoot the guy down.
As the sun set, the birds walked around gingerly foraging in the water and the reeds . . .
. . . all the while calling to each other. Listen to their other-worldly calls by clicking on the "Play" arrow below.
Our second visit was in the morning, so we could photograph the cranes' fly-out. As luck would have it, there was fog everywhere, which created an interesting environment for photographing the cranes.
As the sun came up, the fog began to dissipate and the color of the light changed:
After a while, many of the birds had left the wetland pond and moved to a nearby field to feed on corn that had been planted, then chopped down for the birds to eat.
In addition to the cranes, the fields and air also hosted snow geese:
Eventually, the cranes joined the geese and flew off to eat elsewhere, and we called it a day.
Our third visit was also a morning shoot, but this time we had a clear sky with a beautiful crescent moon . . .
. . . and a gorgeous sunrise to serve as a background for flying cranes:
By early February, the cranes had all departed, heading north to their summer homes in Canada and Alaska. But we are happy to host them for the winter in New Mexico.
If you would like to see these and other images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.