It all started with a book that I’d read a few years ago: The Snow Geese by the UK author William Fiennes. He tells his story of travelling to America on a quest to follow the annual migration of Snow Geese, all the way from Texas to the northern reaches of Canada. Well that was it, the seed had been sown in my mind, I became fascinated with these birds and have wanted to see them ever since.
Fast forward to December 2012, several years later and I’m landing at Dallas FW for what will be the start of a week-long trip with Danny, Mark and Ed at Natures Images to photograph Snow Geese. And after quick ‘hellos’ with fellow guests, it was straight to the motel in Socorro for some much needed kip.
Before dawn the following morning, we set off for Bosque del Apache (“woods of the Apache”), a short 15 minute journey away. What happens next still makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. As the sky gradually lightened, thousands upon thousands of Snow Geese flew into view, at first on the distant horizon, then flying closer in multiple skeins. Their destination was the lake by which we’re standing with our cameras and there follows an hour’s worth of utter chaos; geese landing, communicating, preening, socialising – so many photo opportunities.
Then as the sun rose over the horizon, it was time for them to move on to their feeding grounds, and with an almighty slap of their wings on the water, they took off in their thousands. I put my camera down, and watched the sheer spectacle of the ‘blast off’. Wow, this is what I’d come to see, I was speechless.
It was a short journey for us too, to what we nicknamed the Crane Pool. This is where the Sandhill Cranes met for the day, and to our surprise a few thousand Snow Geese too. With lovely early morning light, there was some great photography to be had. Sandhill Cranes are one of the oldest birds on planet Earth and their prehistoric calls certainly fitted the bill!
The typical day was broken up with a breakfast visit to a very well known American establishment, and the need for loads of calories by this stage certainly overtook any sensibilities. We then rested back at the motel, in time for a late afternoon visit back at the Crane Pool where Snow Geese and Sandhill Crane activity was increasing in their preparation for another move.
Half way through the week, we headed off to White Sands National Monument for some landscape photography, following the Rio Grande down to the Mexican border. Now White Sands is quite remarkable: it’s the largest gypsum desert in the world, and basically looks like a snowfield in the Alps rather than a hot desert. Historically it has also played a key role in America’s space programme; work at White Sands launched the first Chimpanzee called HAM into space, and helped to put the first man on the moon. This is the land of Billy the Kid, Route 66 and the Roswell alien. And with that historical backdrop, it was an enjoyable interlude in our trip.
The following day, it was back to Socorro to focus again on Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes for the remainder of the week. What is so good about this type of trip is that you can focus on one or two species and photograph them in many situations, with different lenses and techniques. If something hasn’t worked, you can try it again. If you want to be a bit creative, you can experiment with slow shutter speeds. You can video them or time lapse the blast off. Or think about how it might work in black & white.
There are so many opportunities, and with 40,000 Snow Geese, it’s easy to get some images that you’re happy with.
At the Crane Pool, I also took some video snippets of the Snow Geese in the late afternoon – video is a new thing for me so the following clip is pretty basic, however I hope it might provide a flavour of the sights & sounds…
Well, all good things do come to an end, and after a brilliant week it was time to go home, back to the UK, and some processing. And how would I sum up this trip? For me it was one of the best trips I’ve been on with the guys, not only because of the many experiences that we had (the sunrises, sunsets, White Sands, the geese and cranes), but also because of the great people and the many laughs we had along the way.
So a heartfelt thank you to Danny, Mark & Ed, and also to fellow guests Guy, John H, Jeff, Roland, Mark, Pete, John, Cathy, Penny and Jim for making this such a remarkable trip!
Would I go back for the Snow Geese? You bet I would. Northern Canada would be good…
Many thanks for reading, Ellie