Tag Archives: USA

Simply Snow Geese

The festive season is over, the weather till seems grey, dull and uninspiring but there’s yet another eye-catching BBC Nature series that I have started to tune into in the form of Earthflight.

Last weeks opening episode was set in North America and among the species that they followed in flight, with some dramatic small cameras attached to the birds backs as they headed north across the continent, were Snow Geese.

For the last couple of winters I too have spent some time in their company at one of their regular wintering stopover locations at Bosque del Apache in New Mexico.

Although they are joined here in large numbers by the languid and elegant Sandhill Cranes, it’s the 30,000+ snow geese that for me sum up the place.  To stand and watch them feed (honking incessantly in the process), to spend time trying to follow individual birds in to land as they join their fellows and to see the whole group simply blast off when a coyote or Harrier comes too close and spooks them is among my favourite ways to pass a cold clear winters day that this part of the States specialises in.

Add in some early morning or evening colour to give you the chance for some silhouettes too and there’s another raft of photographic opportunity.

And it goes even further when you start to play around with slower shutter speeds too as the creative possibilities are almost endless with a subject like this.

Part of the lesson for me from working with these birds is that it can really pay sometimes to spend a concentrated period of time working with one species in one location and looking to push the boundaries in the process of trying to build up a rounded and varied portfolio of them: it can be much more rewarding than chasing for new things all of the time.

As for Earthflight – well after exploring Africa this week it’e here to Europe next time round and it’ll be the turn of Barnacle Geese to take over from their Snow relatives.  As for me: well I’ll be with the Barnacles up on the Solway estuary instead and relying on Sky+ once again!

Beautiful Bison

I finally feel as if I’m on top of things again after a frantic fortnight or so back from spending most of last month working in the USA. First on the agenda was running a trip to Yellowstone with my Natures Images colleague Danny Green, and after lots of organising and some high anticipation levels following multiple viewings of the winter episode of the BBC’s production it lived up to all expectaions and more.

The park itself was the first state owned national park in the world, and although it offers much in terms of variety for a nature photographer it’s highlight in terms of visibility has to be its Bison population.  In the winter months they tend to move away from their summer breeding grounds into the areas of greatest geothermal activity as the warmth from hot springs and geysers such as the famous Old Faithful above gives them more chance to find something to munch on for energy.

Watching these large and powerful beasts slowly working their way through the snow, their immense neck muscles working overtime to push the feet deep snow away to reach the poor quality grass underneath I could only wonder at just how they managed to find enough to sustain their massive frames.

As we spent more time in their proximity it was also clear that although they are more than capable of aggression, particularly in self-defence, and that Bison related injuries are the highest accident recorded in the park each year, there’s also a sense of docility and maybe even resignation to their life when you managed to look closely into their eyes.

 It was only as the trip wore on and the weather turned into the harsh heavy snowfalls for which the park is renowned (we had in excess of 18 inches in just one night!) that their resignation to the sheer challenges of their existence really became apparent though, and watching group and individuals try to stand sit or trudge their way through the blizzards as well as continue their relentless efforts in search of nutrition, my respect for these amazing animals just continued to grow.

These proved to be among the hardest conditions I have had to photograph in – not so much because of the cold as I genuinely don’t mind that but the sheer volume of snow falling was constantly filling up the lens hood, blurring my vision and meant the autofocus, as good as it is on my Mk4, was completely redundant! Manual focussing was the order of the day and it was a reminder of just what it used to be like in the days of split prism screens, and I was pleasantly surprised at just how high a percentage of my images were sharp – mind you it’s probably a good job they were a decent size subject and not moving too quickly!

Some of the herds we encountered were approaching 40 or 50 in number – impressive enough but not a patch on the size that there would have been here before western civilisation reached this part of the world: one can only imagine what these snowfields must have looked like 200 or so years ago.

My abiding memories of these magnificent animals though will be their resiliance; how they just seem to keep on going wherever they may be headed, whether it’s sun, snow or hot steam they are having to contend with they just keep their heads down and get on with life: a few lessons to be learned here for some others perhaps!