My 2019 Annual Bosque Trip Report
(A note about the photographs accompanying this blog post. I have added some images that better explain what I was doing and some more that are merely my favorites. I am not saying these are my BEST images from the trip, just the ones I like the best. There is a difference.)
What a month. I am a lucky guy. I have no idea what in the world I did to deserve the honor, thrill and privilege that I received this month. I got to do something most serious photographers only dream of. I got paid to spend ALL of my time doing exactly what I love, in a place I respect, with people I enjoy and subjects I revere.
I had more spare time this year as a result of finishing my work at Skylum, so I decided to drive to Socorro, NM from my home in the Seattle area. I drove the “work truck,” that is, my 2019 RAM Rebel which I have converted into my photo mobile.
The drive was leisurely. I didn’t have any firm plans. I simply gave myself lots of time to make the trip and set out to the south. I got to the Socorro, NM area with two full days to spare.
I drove 31 hours, more than 1700 miles. I drove through Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. My destination? The Bosque del Apache, National Wildlife Refuge near San Antonio, NM.
The Refuge was in good condition this year. Weather was as strange as I ever remember it being. One day it was 71 degrees (F) and the next 42 degrees (F) with 35mph winds.
We saw mostly clear to partly sunny days over the course of the nearly month that I spent in the area. We did have a few days of snow and rain. We also had a few days where it was dark and cloudy and tough to make good photos.
The birds’ behavior seemed to change from week to week. Some new ponds near the eastern side of the refuge caused the birds to be more dispersed. And while the refuge management deemed this good for the birds, it made bird photography more challenging because the birds didn’t congregate in one area and blast off like they usually do. Since the purpose of the refuge is to help the birds not the photographers, I am totally okay with this.
Once again this year, I had the honor of speaking and teaching at the annual Festival of the Cranes. This is a big deal and one of the larger bird festivals in the west. Olympus sponsored my talks and I had fun hanging out with Ray and Steve, full-time employees of Olympus who manned the booth in the vendor tent. I also leaned on Steve to help me draw names in the Picture Methods camera giveaway. You can see all the winners here. https://picturemethods.com/2019/11/26/winners-of-1st-picture-methods-camera-contest/
During the festival, I did photo critiques, gave a talk on general tips for bird photographers and led two tour buses to the field to teach bird photography on location. I saw many old friends at the festival and even met some new ones. I was especially happy to see my old friend and teaching partner Robert O’Toole and his lovely wife, Tatyana. Robert has suffered through some extreme health problems this year and seeing him back in action, on the flight line, was reassuring.
The Refuge management staff and volunteers really outdid themselves this year and were super helpful, professional and friendly. My hat’s off to them. They work for little or no pay because they love the birds and everything that Bosque stands for. I understand that.
I was also happy to lead two Picture Methods photo tours to the Refuge this year. Both sold out, and both were full of very happy campers who loved the birds, and the photo opps. All my participants were fun to be with and I am extremely proud that they all chose me to be their guide. All of them got good images, which always makes me happy.
I’ll be guiding another tour to Bosque next year, although my schedule won’t permit me to spend near as much time in Socorro. I am only leading one tour and it is more than half-way sold out. If you’re interested, here is the info on that 2020 Bosque Photo Tour.
As for the photography, in my opinion, it was good. It required lots of scouting and patience. I also benefitted by having access to the wildlife biologist at the Refuge. He was kind enough to show me what to look for and where. It always helps to have an inside guy 🙂
I always approach Bosque from the standpoint that I need to have a theme or a goal. I just don’t want to wildly react to conditions. I set up projects for each day, and week. The big focus for me this year was to photograph more art scenes, pictorials and general artistic sunrises and sunsets. I have so many goose and crane pictures that just doing the standard shots would be boring. I did shoot some basic, normal portraits just to show that I can do it and that the Olympus gear will deliver, but most of my work this month has fallen on the artistic side. Think of it what you will, but I enjoy it.
My Olympus camera gear performed extremely well. I used the following gear on this trip…
OM-D E-M1 X
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO Lens
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/2.8 PRO Lens
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f/4 IS PRO Lens
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO Lens
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm f/1.2 PRO Lens
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter
Olympus MC-20 M.Zuiko Digital 2x Teleconverter
Olympus Tough TG-6 Digital Camera
I used a variety of support gear like the Platypod, ballheads and tripods from Colorado Tripod, an Edelkrone slider and more.
My system of working out of the truck, thanks to my handy sliding drawer system payed off. Everything stayed dry and dust free in the Decked drawer system.
I had no equipment issues on the entire trip.
NON PHOTOGRAPHY STUFF
Here, I’ll describe things about the trip that have nothing to do with photography. I’ll start with the 31 hour drive. I didn’t rush. I took frequent breaks to scout photography opportunities and I spent a day at Bear River Migratory Refuge and a half day at Arches National Park. So I spread the drive over six days. That is the way to do it if you don’t want it to become a slog.
My “Photo Mobile” was extremely comfortable and had no issues on the trip. The freedom of being able to leave my gear in the truck each night so it would be temperature adjusted was great. Everyone who took their gear into the hotel for the night had to battle condensation issues, which, if left unchecked, can ruin your gear.
I enjoyed the freedom of the open road in my “work truck.” It performed like a dream. And there was nobody from TSA telling me what I could and could not bring in the truck!
I also enjoyed all the comments the truck got. Everywhere I went, people asked about the truck. It probably got more attention than I used to in my $200k Porsche 911 GT3 RS! Even photographers who saw me at Bosque wanted to see how I store my gear in the truck. I guess it’s pretty popular 🙂
The four wheel drive came in handy on the Refuge when it snowed. Lots of vehicles got banged up by the deep ruts that can occur when the Refuge road gets wet. There was also plenty of mud 🙂 But then again – that is what RAM designed the Rebel to handle.
I went over three major mountain passes on the way and again on the way back, with no issues.
I stayed at hotels every night and developed a good system for what I needed to bring into the room versus what stayed in the truck.
The Socorro, NM Holiday Inn Express was my main home for this trip. It is the nicest hotel you can get in Socorro and this year, they did themselves proud. It was recently renovated and they made me feel right at home. I did buy a humidifier to keep the room more comfortable and of course bringing my own pillow was a must.
Eating healthy on the road is a real challenge. I just sort of gave up because there are few options on a trip like this. I did enjoy Thanksgiving dinner at the El Camino in Socorro. It was much better than I expected.
I want to thank Olympus for sponsoring my talks at the Festival of the Cranes and for sponsoring the Picture Methods camera giveaway. I want to thank my sponsor, Gary Farber of Hunt’s Photo & Video. He was at the Festival and hooked some of my students up with amazing camera deals. I want to thank the Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The Friends are responsible for putting on the Festival of the Cranes. Thanks to the refuge management, staff and volunteers. Thanks to the Holiday Inn in Socorro for putting up with me for a month. It’s a long time to stay in a hotel and they were very gracious to me, and to the tour groups I ran who also stayed at the hotel. Thanks to the wonderful students and participants in all my classes and talks. I really had good groups this year and it was great to be with all of them. I also want to say thanks to all the people who came up to me at the Refuge and who are listeners of the podcast or followers of the blog. It was nice to meet people who consume the voluminous amount of content I publish on the Web. It makes me feel like someone is being helped and that makes it easier to put in the hard work.
I have had a love/hate relationship with Bosque del Apache over the years. Sometimes, I curse the place because its siren song pulls me back, even in years when the photography will be bad. Lately, as in the last three years, it has been good to great. I think the Refuge is on the way to restoring its old glory and I will plan on being there in 2020. Hope to see some of you there.
Picture Methods has partnered with Hunt’s Photo & Video to bring you the best gear at a competitive price and backed by personal service. Call Alan Samiljan at 781-462-2383 or Noah Buchanan at 781.462.2356. If you cannot reach either one try Gary Farber at 781-462-2332. You will ALWAYS get the best prices if you call the store v. Using the web site. You can also email Noah at: email@example.com or Gary at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Hunt’s has been around a long time and you can trust them. Make sure to mention that Scott Bourne sent you. That will get you the best deal.