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Ask An Expert: Bosque del Apache

January 14, 2010

One of my favorite clients emailed me yesterday to ask for my advice on photographing at Bosque del Apache.  He doesn’t have a ginormous telephoto lens and was curious about whether his current gear would still allow for a fruitful trip.  I’ve never been to Bosque del Apache and the only bird I shoot is the one you’ll get for cutting me off in traffic.  So, I consulted the experts and emailed him their responses as well as an esoteric one from me.  Here’s what we came up with:

The Question

Hi Bret,

Looks like I have a weather window to spend this weekend shooting at Bosque del Apache. Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. Research tells me I do not have lens to do this perfectly, but wonder what potential I have shooting with 28-300 on my Nikon D300?

Since this is a 700-800 mile round trip I’d like to have some idea of what to expect before I invest the time and effort.  I’m not so much into extreme close-up work on the birds, but more into the water, horizon, sunrise or sunset background image. Trip is as much to discover if I want to work this subject more in the future so I’m thinking my equipment may be adequate.

Any advice you might have would be very welcomed.

The Experts Respond

Nat Coalson said: 

I think your equipment will be adequate for a lot of different kinds of shots at Bosque.  If you decide you really want more length, a couple of things you could consider: 

1. Rent a lens. It’s cheap. I can give you a promo code for BorrowLenses.com, which I highly recommend. Renting a lens is also a great way to try out new equipment before buying. 

2. See if there’s a tele-extender that works with your current lens. A 1.5 or 2x extender is a really handy gadget in your bag. 

Hope you have a great trip!

Andy Biggs said:

My hunch is that 500mm would be a good focal length. 

Scott Bacon said: 

Ditto what Andy said.

And finally, my response:

I’m going to get a little more esoteric.  From a practical standpoint I think the gear you have will be fine for just about everything you’ll find there.  If you do find a bird to photograph you may well wish you had a longer lens but as you said, you’re going more for landscapes and less for birds. 

Here’s where I get esoteric – with the right attitude whatever gear you have is the right gear for the moment.  Huh?  What I mean is that regardless of your gear, the weather, the light and the subjects available you can almost always find something to photograph if you keep an open mind and let your creativity take over.

Been to Bosque del Apache and have some advice that might be helpful?  Please leave a comment.  You never know when someone else will stumble across this thread and find great value in your response.  You can never have too much good karma.

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16 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2010 9:15 am

    Hi,

    Here are some images I shot at Bosque Del Apache: http://bit.ly/84YUz4

    My 2 cents? Definitely stay for the sunset! AFAIK that applies to bird photography in general, and definitely to Bosque Del Apache (and New Mexico). This person’s equipment will definitely be enough: I shot with a 28-300mm Sigma lens and a Canon 20D.

    Twitter: markvgti

    • January 14, 2010 9:22 am

      Gorgeous and inspirational photos! Thanks for sharing those and a little advice on photographing this area. Much appreciated.

  2. January 14, 2010 9:37 am

    I’ve been to Bosque dozens of times. In general it is a pretty long focal length place and I personally would feel very limited without something in the 500mm range and often with teleconverters. However you state that you are more into the “birdscape” type shots. A 28-300 certainly covers the range of focal lengths that you will need, if anything, it might not be wide enough coupled to a 1.5x body like the D300 but I think it will still be adequate.

    • January 14, 2010 9:41 am

      I was really hoping you’d chime in, E.J. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your expertise. Very valuable!

  3. January 14, 2010 9:45 am

    Can anyone comment on what I might expect at Bosque in terms of birds numbers in early to mid February? Haven’t been there and it looks like the most popular window is mid November through December.

    • January 14, 2010 9:50 am

      @Ray Rafiti: You are right, early-to-mid February is a little past the prime, but it should still be good.

    • January 14, 2010 2:10 pm

      You can check current bird counts at http://www.friendsofthebosque.org/Friendsindex.html

      I’m headed down there this weekend and some of the folks I’ve spoken with who have been there recently say that some of the birds are leaving due to lack of feed. Mid February might be well past peak.

      • January 14, 2010 6:31 pm

        It looks like bird numbers are down this year compared to the past couple. I’m looking for a warmer wildlife option than Yellowstone…..

  4. January 14, 2010 9:52 am

    Bosque is certainly worth every moment spent there. Your lens will certainly do well and I would advise a tripod for your low light shooting (Sunrise and Sunset). Bosque is set up somewhat similiar to Yellowstone only on a much smaller scale. There will be two loops runing south and north that you can drive. The southern loop on the Eastern side is really good for Roadrunners. Make sure you drive slow and investigate all the water ways. I have also photographed a lot of Great Blue Heron etc along this loop. The North loop is where you’ll find most of the cranes and geese. You will see quite a variety of waterfowl and if lucky there will be a bald eagle or two hanging around. Coyotes, Deer and other game are also in abundance.
    If you get an extender for your lens I would recommend a 1.4x not a 2.0x as its much easier to focus with.
    Renting a lens as suggested is also a great idea. You can try out a lens of your dreams to see if you would want to purchase it in the future. Don’t forget the quail up by the visitor center.
    Have a great trip
    Don George

  5. Bill Brennan permalink
    January 14, 2010 4:18 pm

    Can’t beat the equipment recommendations; other than to second all of them with the 500 mm as a great choice.

    Depending upon when you arrive in Soccoro, try to get some leads on the birds’ behavior to help you choose where to set up for your first morning or first evening of shooting. Try to get to your location about 1/2 hour before sunset or sunrise. Between am and evening shoots, drive the circle to the grain fields. Wish I could be there as you will have a ball.

    Bill Brennan

  6. January 14, 2010 4:23 pm

    Unless you want to photograph bird eyeballs, you equipment is quite adequate. I generally spend a total of 7-10 days each winter season photographing at Bosque. I use a 300mm f/2.8 with a 1.4 teleconverter on a 40D or a 70-200mm on a 40D – my images have won several awards over the past few years, and I sell a ton of them.

    Don George gives good advice. I’ll add that best this year for crane photo close-ups are the north and south ponds on the west side of Rt 1 – shortly after passing the general entrance to the refuge but before you get to the visitors’ center, particularly early morning (fly-out) and dusk (fly-in). Also try the Flight Deck at dawn for goose fly-outs against sunrise sky. A tripod is a must.

    Bosque is a magical place, and I know you’ll get home with lots of great stuff!

    Cheers….Gail.

  7. January 14, 2010 4:58 pm

    Wow! You all have made me proud. I hoped for a couple comments but you’ve gone over and above. This is awesome. Thank you for all the well informed and thorough replies!

  8. January 14, 2010 7:20 pm

    I am absolutely amazed at the response to my questions about Bosque del Apache. The collective advice and tips are motivating me beyond any
    expectation. Can’t wait to get there and try everything you guys have suggested.

  9. January 15, 2010 12:34 am

    The best photo guide for Bosque is written by well-known birder, Arthur Morris (http://www.birdsasart.com). It’s $50, but well worth it if you’re serious about photographing there. You can find it here: https://store.birdsasart.com/shop/item.aspx?itemid=72

    Robert Hitchman also sells a similar, but not nearly as detailed guide to Bosque. It’s the #49 newsletter, which is downloadable from: http://www.photographamerica.com/.

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