Last Friday I saw online that the Las Vegas National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico, not Nevada...) was going to have its 'fall flight festival.' Everyone around here knows there's a big Festival of Cranes in the Bosque del Apache near Soccoro, and although the LVNWR is a lot smaller, the same birds have a good chance of stopping over this time of year, and November's supposed to be the start of the busy period. I called around in Santa Fe and found that Santa Fe Camera Center rented lenses, so I rented a Canon 100-400 and spontaneously hit the road to catch sunset at the refuge. (I've never gone to any of the migratory bird events, but I'd read that sunrise and sunset were the best times to catch the birds in flight.)
We got there, and the sun was about to set but there was a little light left. We headed to the big pond, and I had high hopes. When we got there and used the telescopes to scout the water, there was... almost nothing. Lots of empty nests, and eventually my wife or my daughter spotted four or five ducks. Either the birds were waiting for the big festival the next day, or it was just the wrong time of year for it. Kind of disappointing, but it was still a lovely fall dusk, so we just poked around to see what there was to see.
We drove a little farther in to McAllister Lake, where I'd been with my daughter in the spring. It wasn't obvious when we spotted it - we thought we saw birds in it, etc. - but it was totally dry. Even once I'd parked and was unloading my camera gear, it wasn't obvious from the street that it was empty; my wife and kid ran ahead and walked out to the center, I just tried to take in the sunset light and get some pictures. If I didn't see my kid's bright pink coat in the middle, it's still hard to tell that it's dry - weird... There's some white mineral powder everywhere that helps the illusion, I don't know if it's salt or phospherous or fertilizer or what, but it's kind of surreal.
The light was almost gone, so we packed up and took the long way out of the preserve with our minds on finding dinner in Las Vegas, New Mexico. We passed some cows, and I stopped to just look. Suddenly, the light took on pinks and baby blues that New Mexico sunsets are famous for, and I frantically tried to capture the striking sunset that we would have missed if we'd left 10 minutes earlier.
I didn't get what I went there before, but I had a great time with my family, got some nice, albeit unexpected, images, and re-learned my own sunset lesson - just give it five more minutes...
Here's a slideshow with a few of the keepers, and see if it's not hard to remember that that lake is bone dry: