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  • Writer's pictureAlyce Bender

Monthly Review: January 2019

By the time this is published, I will be back in Japan for a visit and to do some additional scouting/shooting for the 2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Photo Adventure. Can't wait for the snow, ramen, and dancing cranes!

January seemed to fly by while I was on the road. It's interesting that with all the travel I have been doing, I always seem to know what date it is but never the actual day. New Year's day saw me just north of Tucson at the base of the Catalina Mountains. Less than 500 feet of elevation separated my campsite from the lower levels of the snow storm that rolled in overnight meaning that I kicked off the month photographing moody, snowy mountains.

A few days passed, and I slowly made my way over into southern New Mexico. Elephant Butte Lake is the largest lake in New Mexico and I spent several days there, wondering the shoreline and watching grebes. Elephant Butte Lake plays an important roll providing an overwintering oasis for a variety of birds.

The American White Pelicans had me the most excited, yet they were continuously elusive as they tended to hang out at the far side of the lake, out of reach of even my 600mm lens. However, on my last evening there, I got very excited when one finally decided to grace me with its presence within range! The beautiful golden light combined with the various amber colors in the environment really contrast the naturally white bird against its setting. To me, it was worth waiting all those days for this shot.

From Elephant Butte Lake, I then proceeded a couple hours north to the main reason I had decided to visit New Mexico - Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. A mecca for birders each winter, Bosque del Apache is the winter home to thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, and a variety of other migratory birds. On top of that there are more permanent residence such as raptors, deer, and even bobcats. For the most part though I, and many other visitors at this time of year, are there for the sandhill cranes and snow geese.

Lets just say after a week shooting the wildlife opportunities in this National Wildlife Refuge, I am wading through thousands of images and have so many I love already. In the coming weeks on social media I will be sharing images from Bosque del Apache, so be sure to follow my feed on Instagram to see all the latest images.

Sometime in the coming months, I will also be doing a location guide based on my time in Bosque del Apache as well, and you all will be the first to be notified when that comes out.

While the week at Bosque passed quickly, I actually spent much more time there than originally intended as I was supposed to have visited White Sands National Monument. However, due to the government shutdown, White Sands was closed to all entry. Guess this means I just have to go back right? Anyway, the additional time allowed me to not only capture the birds in journalistic, true to life images, but I was also able to take time to play with light and movement to create a series of impressionistic images. This is a sneak peek as I will be releasing a small gallery of this style of image later in February here on the website. This is a continuation of my study creating Impressionistic art using the camera as my tool versus paint as the old masters did.

During my time there, I did take a trip out to the Very Large Array (VLA). It's one of the premier astronomical radio observatories in the world. Many of you might recognize the arrangement of the large, single-dish radio antennas from movies such as "Contact." During my visit, unfortunately, the dishes were all turned away from the public access area making it difficult to find pleasing shots of the array at large. However, I still managed to get some shots of single dishes and had some time to geek out on a scientific level. Also, ate astronaut ice cream which took me back to a childhood memory of visiting Cape Canaveral Space Center, so it was a good break from the birds.

After leaving Bosque del Apache, I headed south again as more winter storms were baring down on Albuquerque. Leaving New Mexico, I traveled along the far southern reaches of Arizona. My first stop back in the Grand Canyon State was at a small place called Whitewater Draw. Its a small wildlife refuge taken care of by the state Game and Fish Department. Here another large group of over 10,000 sandhill cranes can be witnessed wintering. During my time there, these flocks stayed further from the trail than those found in Bosque, but it was still a sight to behold, especially at sunset when groups can be seen flying in from all directions from a day of feeding in the surrounding fields.

The other main subject at Whitewater, at least for me on this visit, was the ducks, specifically the pintails and northern shovelers. As I could get quite close to them, I loved the challenge of catching them taking off in flight.

Continuing on westward, I headed to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. While White Sands may have been closed, Organ Pipe Cactus was at least partially open. They had kept one campground and a few trails open to visitors even as the park staff was absent. This is an overlooked gem in the park system in my opinion. Good campground with trails directly off the campground loop. Beautiful views of the Ajo Mountains (see cover/top image). And desert birds everywhere. I was surprised to see cactus blooming in mid-January, but then again, the days were very mild with temperatures in the high 60sF to low 70sF.

With the blooming flowers, there were hummingbirds darting about all day. All I had to do was sit outside the RV at the picnic table to capture images like the one below!

Spending a few days there, I decided to move north to Why, Arizona. In Why lies my favorite RV park I have stayed at so far called Hickiwan Trails. It is here I can hike and photography wild burros at my leisure as well as have a very friendly neighborhood of snowbirds to socialize with in the evenings.

Check out my article on photographing wild equines in Arizona to see more images of the wild horses and burros from this area.

After that it was just return to Las Vegas to do laundry and repack to jet off to Japan, where I will be for the next few weeks with my husband. Here is a sample from my trip last year to give you an idea of what I will be shooting while in Hokkaido.

So that wraps up my first month of 2019! I hope you enjoy this recap and until next time, cheers!

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