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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Memories of Bosque del Apache 2012

All Images Copyright by Tom Debley, 2012
All Rights Reserved

A hint of winter sunlight appears over the New Mexico mountaintops to the east as our van pulls quietly into a dirt parking area next to a flooded plain to the northwest of the highway.  We speak in hushed tones. The predawn air is a crisp 29 degrees. We silently set up tripods and mount cameras in anticipation of the morning fly-out.

In the dark, we see outlines – large, gray, feathered humps of perhaps a thousand or more Greater Sandhill Cranes. They are sleeping, heads and long necks tucked under their wings. They stand in the shallow water that helps protect them from marauding coyotes in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico,

I’m bundled in layers, gloved fingers clumsily fiddling with camera settings, prepared for action. The sun gradually begins its ascent, and the dim light slowly glows brighter and brighter as minutes pass.  A lone crane raises its head, standing its full height at about four feet. Its long, pointy beak opens as the rolling, rattling trumpet-like sound of its unique call emerges.  The first is joined by another, and another and another. The calls are now a noisy chorus.

To the southwest, we hear the honking of hundreds of Snow Geese. They glide across the sky, turning toward us and settle onto the pond just beyond the cranes. As daylight continues to spread, the white of the smaller geese is a contrast with the gray of the cranes.

Thousand birds are gathered to winter at Bosque del Apache. The cacophony is almost deafening as the Snow Geese, followed by the Sandhill Cranes begin to take flight, heading out for a day of feeding. First just a few take wing, then dozens, then hundreds and then a thousand. The sights and sounds are incredible.

I repeat this ritual of photographing these and other wildlife for three days in early January – out before each sunrise, and returning to my hotel only when night has fallen. Skies are crystal clear and the moon is nearly full, rising each evening at sunset.

I’m filled with joy, happy to be living my dream.  I knew I wanted to do something very different when I reached retirement age.  I wanted to spend time pursuing my avocation, photography. But I couldn’t define it until one day a couple years before retirement day when I announced, “I know what I want to be in retirement.  I want to be an artist.”

I celebrated my first anniversary in retirement at Bosque del Apache, living that goal with a group of 16 other amateur photographers under the tutelage of wildlife photographer Robert Winslow through the Mountains & Plains Institute of Lifelong Learning and Service out of Fort Collins, Colorado, and Road Scholar, the educational travel program.

Bosque del Apache Sunset Silhouettes (Tom Debley, ©2012)

Portrait of a Sandhill Crane in the Wild (Tom Debley, ©2012)

Fly Me to the Moon (Tom Debley, ©2012)

Sandhill Cranes Take Flight Against the Sunset (Tom Debley, ©2012)

Snow Goose in Evening Light (Tom Debley, ©2012)

Sandhill Crane Preens at Sunrise (Tom Debley, ©2012)

Sandhill Crane in Flight (Tom Debley, ©2012)

Snow Geese During Morning Fly Out (Tom Debley, ©2012)


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