Explorer. I think I’ll have to add it to my tagline. I’m happiest when I’m out there looking for new things, new places, new experiences. I’m walking across the desert looking down at the colourful rocks at my feet, looking across to the mountains in the distance, looking up to the birds flying above. Always waiting for the moment I hear something whisper to me “psssst … hey … over here …,” it’s my next photo calling me.
I know it doesn’t exist until I create it, but it seems to call me, not the other way around.
The exploring usually begins with a map where I look for nearby wild places – green areas where protected lands breathe, where the silence creates a peacefulness inside me, and where the sounds of wildlife awaken and call me.
My latest discovery is Cibola National Wildlife Refuge on the border between California and Arizona. It’s a desert oasis where the floodplain of the lower Colorado River provides critical wetlands for thousands of migratory birds making their way on the pacific flyway. Not only did it look like a beautiful place, but with a little research Ray and I discovered there is some BLM land right across the street where we could dry camp for free. What more could you ask? A beautiful landscape, great hiking, wildlife and free camping!
After getting the rig set up, it was time to watch. I always like to spend some time simply observing before I try to photograph a place. We sat outside for happy hour and saw the most amazing thing. Snow geese in groups of 20 or 30 birds would fly from the distance and land in one of the fields in the refuge. Over and over again, small groups landing in the field.
And then … all of a sudden … they all launched from the field into the air in a great cacophony of honking and squawking. They circled and swirled around overhead like a swarm of bees, back and forth, flashing their white feathers with each turn, and then they all landed in a nearby pond.
It grew quiet for awhile until slowly the honking started again, first a few birds quietly began, then more and more joined in the great orchestra until once again they all launched into the air.
Often it’s not about being in the right place at the right time, but being there for a long time. You need time to observe and find out where these magic locations are, and then you need time to be there and wait patiently for the special moment to happen.
Over the next few days, I went to the pond a few times to observe and wait and hope that the launch of a thousand snow geese would happen – and it did!
There is a short auto-tour road in the refuge where you can drive around some of the fields and watch the wildlife. Here you are not allowed to get out of your vehicle, so I sat in the bed of the truck while Ray drove around. That way I could photograph out of both sides and get an uninterrupted view.
There were Canada Geese, Sandhill Cranes, more Snow Geese, and even some Burrowing Owls.
Cibola National Wildlife Refuge is another fantastic addition to my list of places to photograph wildlife. And the best thing? There was hardly anyone else there.
Making the Images
This set of images is a little different than my other wildlife shots. Usually I use my Canon 7D with my 70-300 and 400mm lenses for wildlife. However, on my first outing on the auto tour loop road, I was having a problem getting accurate focus. Looking at the photos on my computer afterwards, I discovered that in fact most of the photos were out of focus. I did some testing of my equipment and found that only about 20% of my images are focussed properly.
While this was really disappointing, I only have myself to blame. I’ve neglected my equipment. I should have tested it before we came down south, but with everything going on in my life at the time, I didn’t. I haven’t had my camera serviced for ages and this kit gets bounced around pretty good on the boat during the summer. So when I get back to BC in May, I’ll have to ship everything off to Canon and get it sorted out. Also, my Canon 7D body is 8 years old now, so maybe it’s time for an upgrade. Yes, you read that right, it’s 8 years old!! I don’t upgrade my camera every time a new one comes out. It’s truly not about the gear.
In the meantime, I had to use my Sony mirrorless kit for my wildlife shots. The Sony does 11 frames per second, which is awesome for wildlife. The only drawback is that my longest lens is 210mm, so I didn’t get the close-ups I wanted. On the other hand, I ended up getting shots that included more of the landscape which gives a better feel for the place.