Photos of Cranes from Boque del Apache NWR

The Sandhill Cranes of Bosque del Apache NWR

The Sandhill Cranes of Bosque del Apache NWR

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As you might know I just went over to New Mexico for a week to spend time at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge at the Festival of the Cranes. Every November they hold a large Festival to celebrate the return of the Sandhill Cranes. It’s popular enough that photographers come from all over the world to shoot the birds here. To increase its popularity, they started adding photography classes to go along with a great opportunity to put your learning into practice. I probably would not have gone without the classes but they made it irresistible to me.

I have to be honest and say that  was a little concerned that the classes would just be a re-hashing of things I had already learned in books I’d read on the subject. Fortunately that was not true at all. The instructors were top-notch in their fields and were not only very good at what they did, but also very good teachers; that’s a rare combination! Even better, each class was a hands-on learning experience that really expanded my knowledge on that topic. I’m really glad I took the classes and I’m planning on returning next year to take more. This year I waited too long to sign up and many classes were already full so I couldn’t get in; next year I’ll get registered right away!

There are lots of Cranes at Boqsue! But you are required to stay on the road and can't approach them in any way.

There are lots of Cranes at Bosque! But you are required to stay on the road and can’t approach them in any way.

Digital photography is so cheap and easy it’s possible to take literally thousands of pictures in just a few hours’ time—and I did! That means I’ve got thousands of pictures from the Festival!! I promise not to subject you to all of them! No doubt you’re going to see more than you want, but I’ll try to restrain myself and spread it out over time.

Nature Photography has always been my number one hobby since I was a young man. I bought my first quality SLR camera in my 20’s and always had one until my 30’s when I finally “grew up,” got married, had, kids and “settled down!” Being an adult left no time or money for hobbies so it went by the wayside. After the kids were grown and I discovered vandwelling, I decided it was time to dedicate myself to living a full, happy life and for me that included Nature Photography. When I retired and moved out onto public land I scraped and struggled and saved my pennies until I was able to buy a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera, known as a DSLR. Over the last 6 years I’ve taken lots and lots of shots, and you’ve seen many of them here on this blog.

Since you can't approach them on foot, the best you can do is shoot them while they are in the air landing or taking off. I really came to enjoy doing that! It's quite a challenge to capture them in flight.

Since you can’t approach them on foot, the best you can do is shoot them while they are in the air landing or taking off. I really came to enjoy doing that! It’s quite a challenge to capture them in flight.

In the past I’ve focused almost totally on landscape photography because that’s what appeals to my eye. I enjoy wildlife and bird photographs, but it’s never called to me before. That changed when Judy and I went to Alaska! I loved getting the shots of the Bighorn and bears in the Canadian Rockies and across Canada, and then when I went on the fly-in bear viewing trip into Katmai NP, I was hooked, I had to become a wildlife photographer! There is so much excitement and thrill at the moment of being that close to wild animals that I got hooked on it! Later, while we were in Homer, Alaska I also tried shooting some Bald Eagles in flight and got a few decent shots so I also started to fall in love with bird photography. Since there are many more beautiful birds than beautiful scenes or wildlife, it’s easy to do bird photography year-around. That’s what led me to my new-found interest in birds and birding.

Cranes are very gregarious birds and mate for life. When they have young, the male and female share equally in taking care of the young.

Cranes are very gregarious birds and mate for life. When they have young, the male and female share equally in taking care of the young.


The main reason I’ve never done wildlife or bird photography is that it requires big, expensive telephoto lenses to do it well, but I’ve never had the extra money to spend on such a specialized hobby. Then last summer I got a cash settlement on a workman’s compensation case I was involved with and suddenly I had some disposable income. I decided that since photography was my one true hobby I’v loved my whole life, I would spend some of it on better gear. I was not terribly pleased with the camera I had so I replaced it with a semi-Professional Canon 6D DSLR. I won’t get too involved with cameras because most of you aren’t really interested, but I want to give you some details for those that are. I chose the 6D because it’s a full-frame DSLR which gives it far better noise handling than a cropped-frame DSLR. That allows me to use very high ISO with virtually no noise. I never hesitate to shoot at 3200 ISO or even 6400 if need be. It also gives me very high resolution photos so I’m able to crop a picture down and still have it come out looking great.

While they are the epitome of grace in hte air, they are actually somewhat gangly-looking on the ground and at take-off and landing.

While they are the epitome of grace in the air, they are actually somewhat gangly-looking on the ground and at take-off and landing.

If I was going to be serious about wildlife and bird photography then I had to send some money on a longer telephoto lens. The best telephoto lens start at about $5000 and that was way out of my budget; I couldn’t even consider one of those. Fortunately Canon makes a very good and very sharp introductory birding lens and I decided I would bite the bullet and reach into my little nest egg and get one. It’s a Canon 400mm F 5.6 L lens and it has a reputation as having a very fast focus, being super sharp and also very small and light. If you’re going to shoot birds in flight those are the key factors you must have and this lens had them all in spades!

"I think I can...I think I can!!!

“I think I can…I think I can!!!


I did it, touchdown!

It has exceeded all of my expectations! Although this is my first real effort at birds in flight I am very pleased with how well they turned out! However, I have to admit, it’s not because of my ability, no, it’s because of how amazingly good today’s DSLR cameras are. And you don’t have to buy a semi-Pro camera to get fantastic results either; $600 will buy you a very, very good introductory camera from Canon or Nikon. Add a 75-300 IS or VR lens with fast focusing and you can take any of these shots very nearly as well.

In future posts I’ll come back and show you photos of other birds from Bosque del Apache NWR, today we’re only looking at the cranes. Even if you aren’t really into birds, I hope you can enjoy them.

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Cranky Crane! While they are gregarious birds, they are also fairly territorial, and there are constant little squabbles about boundary's.   Looks like this one lost a few feathers!

Cranky Crane! While they are gregarious birds, they are also fairly territorial, and there are constant little squabbles about boundary’s. Looks like this one lost a few feathers! “Not the butt, anything but the butt!”




I've been a full-time VanDweller for 12 years and I love it. I hope to never live in a house again!

49 comments on “Photos of Cranes from Boque del Apache NWR
  1. Susan Wade says:

    Your photos are spectacular and sooo clear. There are cranes around my house spring, summer and fall but I have never gotten a photo even close to yours – beautiful!

  2. Canine says:

    Now that I’m older, I’ve come to appreciate the vast diversity of birds. When I was younger, when I saw a woodpecker, I would say, “There’s a woodpecker.” Now that I’m older and realize there’s more than just one kind of woodpecker, I say, “I wonder if that is a Three-toed Woodpecker of maybe another kind?” The same can be said for many other birds. I can’t believe the variety of hawks, owls, kites, etc., there are!

    Also, thanks for including a link for the -Click Here to Enter Amazon and Support This Site- link. That makes it much easier for me to find when I make a purchase on Amazon. Made a purchase yesterday using the link you provided in the last Blog.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks for shopping from the site Canine, every little bit adds up, especially at this time of the year.

      I’m afraid I’m still not really a birder, I just like looking at them and shooting them.

  3. jonthebru says:

    Beautiful pictures, excellent post.
    Birds have hollow bones.
    Fossils of wings of these birds ancestors have been found that are an estimated 9 million years old. (Thats 9,000,000 years. Humans are 200,000 years old.)
    They mate for life and generally lay 2 eggs. This year more than 10,000 Sand Cranes will go through this refuge.
    I am always happy to hear of any place where wildlife finds refuge and may remain wild.

  4. Karen says:

    Great photographs Bob! When we’re in Florida we camp at a county park where the sandhill cranes come to nest. Every day a pair walks through the campsites to check out what’s new. One of the volunteers is very much into bird photography. One evening he hosted a slide show of his work. Incredible shots of the baby birds and their parents! He must have spent hours sitting in a blind to get the photographs.
    Karen recently posted…PresbytereMy Profile

  5. jason says:

    Bob, your photos are continually improving. The composition on the 2nd was good. For anyone else interested in bird photography, you can get a mount to attach older, manual focus lenses from other manufacturers to your modern dlsr. For long distances, you don’t need autofocus and older lenses can be much cheaper. You can also rent a lens if you rarely use them.

  6. tommy helms says:

    I empathise with the cranes…I’m actually somewhat gangly-looking on the ground too

  7. raz says:

    Jasper-Pulaski Fish & Wildlife Area

    Jasper-Pulaski FWA
    5822 N. Fish and Wildlife Lane
    Medaryville, IN 47957
    (219) 843-4841

    some winter here. even at 20 below. we have stopped and asked the fish people. they can tell you where a large number are feeding during the day. or you can just drive around and look for them.

    while on the dnr site search “whooping cranes”

    we have not seen the whoopers. but we watch for sandhills. we drive through there 4 times a year to go to dentist.

    we have large population of bald eagles here during the winter. they migrate south when the rivers freeze to the north.

    mississinewa and salamonie. also the the local rivers. ell, mississinewa and wabash. probably some others we just aren’t familiar with. once we figure out what they looked like out at couple three hundred yards we see a lot more.

    we live in fulton, indiana. that will give you a map location to start.

    ice cream raz

  8. Peggy says:

    Cool shots, Bob! It’s always fun to hear about somebody “catching the bug” for wildlife photography. There’s just something about it…I imagine it’s something like hunting but without the lethal results. I find it very stress-relieving.

    I love watching sandhill cranes. If you’re ever in the Delta, British Columbia area, you have to drop into the George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary. There’s a small flock there (growing bigger every year) and you can get quite close to them. It’s a few hours away for me (including a ferry trip) but a couple of years ago when I visited, I happened to find out that a baby had just been born a couple of days before. The area was roped off so we didn’t disturb the cranes, but I managed to get this shot of mom (I think it’s mom!) feeding the baby an insect ~ When I went back the next year, the baby was about the same size as the parents.

    I’d love to go to the Bosque…that’s a dream trip!
    Peggy recently posted…Colorful ChrysanthemumsMy Profile

  9. Except for photos of a tarantula, some mating grasshoppers, some cows and a sleeping dog, I have no animal shots. The suckers won’t stay still. So catching a bird in flight—on purpose—is an amazing thing to me.
    Al Christensen recently posted…Photos can lieMy Profile

    • Bob Bob says:

      Al, I promise, you and your camera are plenty good enough to do it. If you’d been with me and borrowed my lens, you could have taken all those shots. It’s the unknown that holds you back and that’s the advantage of a class, it breaks the fear of the unknown. The instructor says it’s easy, then he shows you, and then you think to yourself, “Oh, that really is easy!”

      I’s kinda like vandwelling, once you’ve done it you wonder what all the fuss is about, it’s as easy as falling off a log.

  10. Naomi says:

    Love your photos and love the cranes. I’ve only seen sandhill cranes once – at Okefenokee NWR. Such beautiful birds. Thanks for sharing!


  11. Calvin R says:

    I can’t even say with a straight face that I’m a photographer. All the same, I really like these pictures. They get me close to wildlife, they are clear, and several of them illustrate specific activities very well, such as the landings.

  12. Colvin Goree says:

    Great stuff, Bob! Need More! Really. Cranes and GB Herons are my favorite birds.

  13. jim says:

    Great pictures mr Bob I hope you enjoy your trip to Florida just don’t become a stick and brick man on us for all of us out there who are still just dreaming the dreaming you are our only hope and information thinks again for all of your time and energy you put into your website I look so forward every day to reading about you and the tribes adventure

    • Bob Bob says:

      Thanks Jim, that’s very nice of you to say that!

      No chance of me becoming a stick and brick man. It has no call to me whatsoever!

  14. Ming says:

    I love that you are branching out into wildlife photos, the ones that you take are so good!!

    And I like the non-standard photos of behavior, like the awkward looking ones, being included as well. They are very entertaining.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Ming, I probably took 1000 shots but it’s the very few where something unique is going on that you want to see. The only way to get that is be there awhile and keep shooting.


  15. We love the Bosque. Your photos are beautiful. Here is a link to one of my favs. I enjoy standing at the Bosque to see the cranes dance and fly.

  16. Deborah says:

    I LOVED YOUR PHOTO’S ALL OF THEM!!!! So thank you for sharing them. I have to tell you that I found you through YouTube, loved your documentary. I currently live in an 800 sq ft home that I rent (thank the Lord), so that will aide in my getting the hell out of Dodge. I so want this life you have and you have already helped with the fear issue. I will be back maybe everyday to read more and learn more and when I do I will use Amazon on your site to help you out. Thank for all the information. I really think I can do this, though fear does like to raise, its ugly head when I take specific actions to move toward that goal.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Deborah, I understand the powerful grip that dear can have over us, I’ve been fearfull all my life. It sounds like you are confronting it well and moving forward through it! Knowing you aren’t alone and there are others out here should help you to keep moving!

      You might want to join my forum, I find the constant encouragement to be very helpful. At the top of theafe click on Forums and then join.

      Hang in there, you’re going to make it!

  17. Deborah says:

    Question: Does just surfing the Amazon site get you paid or do you have to buy something. I am an Amazon Prime member, so I go on there a lot. Don’t buy everyday but do shop and put things in my wish list that I will need for my trip. Hope that it helps you out.

    • Bob Bob says:

      Hi Deborah, I very much appreciate your thinking of me!! Every little bit helps! The way it works is if you click through from my site, for the next 24 hours all your purchases are credited to me and I get a small percentage. But, it’s only on actual purchases and nothing else.

      Thanks again!

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