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
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
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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