Thursday, December 29, 2011

December Trip West - Day 18 - Bosque Del Apache - VLA

This morning started early with the alarm going off at 5:30am, there was a blast-off to shoot.  Normally photographers will get up 2 hrs before the sun rises to catch the early morning rays of sunshine.  But at Bosque you rise early to see a few thousand Snow Geese take flight virtually all at once.

Individual or small groups of Snow Geese will take off and fly away until something triggers all of them and they all take off and head for the fields.  The blast-off is a noisy affair with birds covering the sky.   What was once a noisy carpet of white Snow Geese there is left an empty, well not really the Sandhill Cranes remain, silent, except for the Sandhill Cranes squawk, area of pond water.  In a matter of seconds the sight most everyone came to see is over and most everyone head for their cars.

After the exciting blast-off I like hanging around watching the Sandhill Cranes slowly wake up and go for their morning walks.  They will line up in groups from 2 to 10 and slowly walk across the pond.  Then something triggers them and they fly away.  Unlike the Snow Geese, that leave all at once, the Sandhill Cranes leave in small groups.  Eventually they are gone as well and the morning show is complete.


When I was at Canyonlands photographing Mesa Arch I met Markus, from Germany.  He said they were heading to Socorro to visit the Very Large Array (VLA).  I'd known the VLA was in the area but had never looked it up.  I mentioned Bosque Del Apache to him.  He hadn't heard of that and said he'd check it out.  Well after Markus mentioned the VLA I decided to check it out.

It's about 50 miles from Socorro on the Plains of San Agustin.  The VLA is a configuration of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration making it one of the world's premier astronomical radio observatories.  These dishes weigh 210 tons and are huge, 82 ft in diameter.  You could fit a baseball diamond within one.  The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna from a little over .5 miles to over 22 miles.  The antenna on each of the 3 legs can be spread out across 13 miles, I guess it's very large.  The configuration I saw, the D configuration is the most compact of the options.

Visitors can take a self guided walk that included standing at the base of one of these giants.  This radio telescope operates 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week, unaffected by the sun or cloud cover.  While under the dish you can hear and see it move.  When one moves they all move.  It's interesting seeing this 210 ton instrument making very small and precise movements. Notice how the position changed in the previous images over the course of 1 1/4 hrs.

After visiting the VLA it was back to Bosque.  They had closed the southern loop road due to the terribly muddy conditions.  When I drove it yesterday I was thinking cars could get stuck in this mess.  But I was interested in the farm loop since the birds hang out in the farm area during the day.  Traffic was rather heavy but finally I made it.

Sure enough there was a large group of Snow Geese, and of course Sandhill Cranes, looking for food and flying in and out.  Lots of good flying photo ops and I took advantage of the opportunity.

Soon time came to head over to one of the main ponds and watch the birds come in for the night.  First the Sandhills start arriving they same way they left, a few at a time.  Then the Snow Geese start arriving in much larger groups.  They don't arrive all together like they leave but the groups they arrive in can be rather large.

Tomorrow morning it will be an early rise again for the blast off.


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