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12.20.2013

Bosque del Apache is a National Wildlife refuge is a very popular nature photography hot spot in New Mexico. Photographers from all over the country and overseas gather there each winter to photograph thousands and thousands of wintering birds at the refuge.

2013 is my tenth year photographing and leading nature photography tours at Bosque. This year, thanks to support from Sigma Corporation of America, I was able to lead 5 nature photography workshops there.

From November through December each year Bosque is full of opportunities for bird photography. These are some of my favorites images made over the last couple of weeks.

Sandhill crane banking

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 380mm, Nikon D800E, 1/2000th s at f/5.6, ISO 400, handheld. ©2013 Robert O'Toole

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 380mm, Nikon D800E, 1/2000th s at f/5.6, ISO 400, handheld. ©2013 Robert O’Toole

This is one of my favorite images from my time in Bosque this year. This image is full frame with almost zero cropping, just a small strip was removed across the bottom edge. The 120-300mm F2.8 lens worked very well alone and in this case with the 1.4X Teleconverter. AF was fast and accurate and kept up with all of the birds without any issues.

Snow geese blast off

Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG HSM @ 12mm , Nikon D800E, 1/1250th s at f/8, ISO 320, manual exposure mode, handheld. ©2013 Robert O'Toole

Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 DG HSM @ 12mm , Nikon D800E, 1/1250th s at f/8, ISO 320, manual exposure mode, handheld. ©2013 Robert O’Toole

Snow geese are a major draw at Bosque. Its an experience to have a huge flock of geese fly overhead. The week this photo was taken there were more than 44,000 snow geese on the refuge.

Crane at first light

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 420mm, Nikon D800E, 1/1250th s at f/5.6, ISO 1400, manual exposure mode, handheld. ©2013 Robert O'Toole

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 420mm, Nikon D800E, 1/1250th s at f/5.6, ISO 1400, manual exposure mode, handheld. ©2013 Robert O’Toole

Sandhill cranes roost overnight at two locations at Bosque and each morning they take off to visit nearby fields in search of food. If you get there early you can photograph them flying in soft warm morning light against the Chupadera mountains. This image was made at the north crane pool, one of my favorite spots at Bosque.

High key crane

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 420mm, Nikon D4, 1/1250th s at f/5.6, ISO 400,  manual exposure mode, +1 EV, handheld. ©2013 Robert O'Toole

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 420mm, Nikon D4, 1/1250th s at f/5.6, ISO 400, manual exposure mode, +1 EV, handheld. ©2013 Robert O’Toole

This year on my trip to Bosque we were treated to two full days of snow. These are some of my favorite conditions on the refuge. The lighting this day was awesome and made locking and tracking the birds easy.

Crane wings up

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 420mm, Nikon D4, 1/1250th s at f/5.6, ISO 500,  manual exposure mode, -.3 EV, handheld. ©2013 Robert O'Toole

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 420mm, Nikon D4, 1/1250th s at f/5.6, ISO 500, manual exposure mode, -.3 EV, handheld. ©2013 Robert O’Toole

Using a 1/1250th of a second shutter speed and OS on made handholding easy and gave me very sharp results. I prefer this wing up v shaped position that shows lots of underwing detail. I try to capture individuals calling with an open bill.

Crane speed blur

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 420mm, Nikon D800E, 1/25th s at f/5.6, ISO 220,  Auto-ISO, manual exposure mode, +1 EV, handheld. ©2013 Robert O'Toole

Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG IF HSM APO and 1.4x DG EX APO Teleconverter @ 420mm, Nikon D800E, 1/25th s at f/5.6, ISO 220, Auto-ISO, manual exposure mode, +1 EV, handheld. ©2013 Robert O’Toole

When the light level is too low to make sharp images I prefer to make speed blur images rather than resort to using a super high ISO level. This morning the light was warm and glowing but really dim so I used a 1/25th of a second shutter speed and OS on mode 2 shooting handheld to give me the wing stroke blur and the sharp eye I was looking for.

I hope this series of images will inspire you to get out there try your hand at bird photography. If you can make it to New Mexico be sure to stop by Bosque. Check out the Festival of Cranes held each year at Bosque for Sigma sponsored image presentations and workshops.

If you have any questions or comments be sure to share ‘em in the comments section below.

Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. As an accomplished instructor, Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com

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  1. Excellent images, Robert! Thanks for sharing as always

  2. Such amazing talent and wonderful images that are truly inspiring- Thank you Robert- you have helped me choose my next lens!