I have dreams about flying and I love watching birds in flight. I know the phrase "poetry in motion" is a bit of a cliché, but it is  true, flight is poetry in motion. For me there is nothing on a day to day basis with more grace than flight.

I also love to photograph birds in flight, but it is quite hard to do. I can't think of another aspect of photography with a lower success rate. It is hard enough to match up focus on a moving target and the right light and exposure, but you are also almost completely helpless when it comes to composition, you can't choose the composition that you want, you can only go with the flow of the moment and react to how things play out in the view finder. Before I moved to digital cameras I shied away from flight photography because it was so expensive. Now that I use a couple digital bodies I can shoot as many flight shots as I can find and it doesn't cost me a thing. And like anything else, the more you practice it the better you get.

Bosque del Apache is a wonderful place for flight photography. There are places on the refuge and times of the day where you can depend on birds flying by and almost shoot to your hearts content, which is what I did for days at a time. in the north east corner of the refuge there are several fields that the birds return to each day. They are constantly filtering in to feed and lifting off to join other flocks.

The snow geese in particular are on edge. Coyotes will stalk the birds through the nearby corn fields and if a goose thinks it sees a coyote it will take off with a warning call and then the entire flock will lift off into the air. Frequently the birds will swirl around and then settle right back down again where the same mass launch can happen again 20 minutes later. The photography is fast and reactive, you are not shooting a single bird but instead responding to the mass. When it comes together you capture so many incredible little details of flight and patterns in a single image that it almost makes you feel dizzy.

I found that when I first got to Bosque I was overcome by the desire to capture the large flocks, but as time went on I spent more time on the grace of one or a couple birds in flight. 

Bird's sense of space is incredible. Often I would see birds jostling to land in just the right space between other birds on the ground, but after watching thousands of birds over a period of days I never once saw them touch each other in flight even though they seemed incredibly close to each other at times.

Sometimes the beauty of flight was accented by beautiful light, and again there is no better way to describe the moment than to say that poetry was unfolding across the sky.

One night though I saw something very different... in a pool at the foot of one of the mountains the cranes who are usually stretched out in flight were landing in a sitting or standing position and were doing this from way up high. It was so odd looking that I could not help smile ever time I saw it happen. I don't know why, but Mary Poppins came to mind!

I've just come in from outside where it is snowing hard right now. When I look at these images of birds in flight, even though I made them a little over a week ago, the dessert and mountains of Bosque almost seem like a dream to me now.

Charles St. Charles

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