Article and all photos by Danny Hancock, A Glance at Nature Photography

At the beginning of every year, I find that I must take a leave of absence. The urban life has caught up with me again and I feel a strong need to escape back to the wild. Bosque del Apache in New Mexico affords me this opportunity. I’ve visited the refuge many times over the past 15 years and it never, ever disappoints. I consider myself a conservation/wildlife photographer. With biodiversity on the decline, I can only hope an image will open somebody’s mind about the need to protect all the fantastic species this planet has to offer.

Bosque del Apache has always provided me with enough material to express the need for continued conservation. But hey, the Bosque is not just about pictures. There’s more to it than that.

Many times, I have put down the camera and just enjoyed the sights and sounds of the Bosque solitude. To really experience the spirit of Bosque del Apache, you must drive slowly around the refuge. Don’t be in a rush or you may miss the chance of seeing something incredible. Notice the diversity of plants and wildlife all around. Soak in the beautiful morning and evening light this gem has to offer. Lay down your phone and other devises (except maybe for a camera – ha!) and hopefully you will be able to feel what I’ve felt over these many years. Anytime of year, the colors of this refuge will amaze you. The vibrant greens of summer, the warm colors of fall will always be there for your eyes to relish.

After many sorties around the loops, you begin to notice where the Kestels perch, where the Harrier sits to warm up in the morning sun, where the wild turkeys scratch around for something to eat, or where the coyote moves through the tall grass searching for anything.

If you’re lucky you may experience a new level of your own maturity. I usually like to explore alone, but sometimes I poke through my bubble to notice the expressions of new visitors to the refuge. Their eyes get big and their mouths open when the Snow Geese blast off or when a Sandhill Crane flies so low over their heads, they can hear the wingbeats. You hear them say, “Wow!” and, “Oh My!”. They will never forget those moments!

I remember once, back in 2013, when a rare visitor to the refuge surprised every birder in the country: a Rufous-necked Wood Rail was spotted near the reeds at the refuge boardwalk! Birders from all over began to arrive to see this once in a lifetime bird. I was no exception. Early the following morning I kissed my understanding wife on the forehead and I was off. She was barely awake and mumbled, “Bring me back something rare”. I said, “You know I will!” and struck out for a 6-hour drive toward the west. I got lucky and saw this beauty and even snapped a few photos. After a couple of weeks, it just disappeared, as unexpectedly as it had arrived. What a rush this experience was!

Bosque del Apache is my cathedral. It’s my opportunity to get closer to what I feel is necessary for me to continue to exist. When you’re totally immersed in nature, life is suddenly simplified. I can only hope that someday you will also feel this same freedom!

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