If you put yourself at the right location at the right time, you have the best opportunity to get a good photo. We’ve done this many a time and got nothing for our efforts. Today we were rewarded with something amazing.

Last year, almost to the day, we witnessed a few blastoffs at Bosque Del Apache Wildlife Refuge. You can read about it in our post from Dec 12, 2018, aptly called, “Blastoff!?!”. We had so much fun then but were caught a bit off guard photographically. This year we were determined to improve.

As with last year we decided to set up at a pond just outside the pay area. We did this with 100 other photographers, almost all with big lenses to zoom into a single bird, the Sandhill Crane. I’ve seen some of these photos on the internet and they are quite good. Sandhill Cranes do not blastoff as an entire flock but one, two or three at time. This makes for great macro photography of these birds. Kathryn and I had our largest lens with us, 400mm, half the zoom power as our big lens buddies. You could say we were feeling a bit inadequate. Instead of zooming in on a single bird, we would work on environmental shots with a few birds rather than one. 400mm was perfect for this.

After waiting a bit, freezing our buns off, we heard a tremendous noise from behind us. About a quarter mile away was an eruption of Snow Geese, thousands of them doing a blastoff. We groused to each other that we missed the blastoff, which is why we repeated our trip to Bosque. We turned around and stared at the spectacle, a thousand birds going skyward, all at once.

Snow Geese blasting off behind us just before sunrise [photo by Kathryn]

As we watched in dismay, something amazing started to happen. All the Snow Geese were coming our way, flying over us (I wish I had an umbrella), and circling the Sandhill Cranes in the pond. After circling for a bit, probably showing off for us, they all landed in the pond, right in front of us!

After the landing, all the photographers started talking at once. Nobody had seen this before. We started hearing, “I’ve been coming here for years and have never seen this.” And, “what are they going to do now that they have landed?” The photographer murmur became a fervor, sounding like a gaggle of Snow Geese getting ready for a blastoff. While everyone was flustered by what they saw, I went into action. If the geese are all grouped together in the pond water, perhaps they might blastoff, I thought. So, I quickly changed out my telephoto lens for a wide angle lens. The Sandhill Cranes would have to wait. I wanted to capture a blastoff where the entire effect could be captured in a single image.

We all waited, and waited some more. Then it happened. All at once they took off.

The Snow Geese coming in for a landing before sunrise. At the time I had on my 80-400mm zoom lens. Even at 80mm the scene was truncated quite a bit.
Blastoff! A wider angled lens provides a better view of the blastoff. The timing was great as there was an amazing alpenglow happening.

Well, that was fun and very much unexpected. Then the unexpected became another amazing occurrence. After the blastoff, all the Snow Geese flew around a bit and came back to the pond for another landing. What before was a lot of confused photographers now became photographers giddy with joy. Could this be happening again? As it turned out, yes it was happening again. Just a few moments later they took off again, this time during golden hour lighting.

Final blastoff! I positioned myself in a way to have a strong foreground element, a patch of grass in the pond (notice the shadows from photographers near me). Even though the alpenglow was no longer present, the golden hour lighting was exquisite.

It was quite a morning with the Snow Geese the star of the show. After the final blastoff, I did change back to my zoom lens and captured a few photos of the Sandhill Cranes.

Three Sandhill Cranes is flight. It took a lot of coaxing by me to get them to have their wings up in unison.

Thanks for reading, and remember, it’s all about the light.