The Great Escape


The Great Escape

I was at Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico in January 2012 to photograph snow geese. The refuge is home to tens of thousands of snow geese each winter. Also, there must be tens of thousands of Red Winged Blackbirds there.

When I was photographing snow geese one afternoon, I noticed a group of blackbirds at distance. They travel in a huge group. The way these blackbirds move is like a rolling dust ball. While the birds at front of the group land, the birds in the back of group take off, fly over the group and then land at front. The process continues on so that the whole group moves like a huge ball rolling around the farmland.

I was photographing a group of snow geese in front of me. When I saw these blackbirds at distance, I knew these blackbirds might scare off the white geese when they roll over them. I waited about half an hour for this event to happen while patiently kept the spot focus on the snow geese on the ground.  When it happened, I fired away some 10 shots over one second.  Among them, this was the only one where the snow goose was unobstructed.  I waited for another 45 minutes or so.  It happened again.  This time I caught a pair of snow geese.  I waited there until sunset, but the blackbirds never returned.

The Great Escape

I often pre-visualize when I photograph landscape, but wildlife photography is largely a spontaneous sport.  This was one of the rare moments I pre-visualized in wildlife photography.  I wanted to place the snow geese among a contrasting background of numerous blackbirds before I took this picture.   So my focus was always on the snow geese while I was waiting for arrival of the army of blackbirds.  I had this idea, and I knew it was going to be a special shot.  Fortunately, I did not have to wait too long for it.  When I saw my picture on the back of my camera, I knew I nailed it.

The difficulty of taking this shot was to capture the right moment and to keep the focus on the snow geese.  The large amount of blackbirds can easily confuse the focus system of a camera.  It happened so quickly that it is almost impossible to take this shot spontaneously.  I kept my spot focus on the snow geese who were standing on the ground, and patiently waited.  When the moment came, my concentration was on this single snow goose, completely ignored the blackbirds and fired away in high speed.

I titled the pictures as “Escape” because I want to convey a feeling that innocent snow geese escaping an overwhelming dark force.

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