A typical scene at Squaw Creek NWR as snow geese become agitated by a bald eagle.
I departed for Squaw Creek on Monday morning, inspired by the first Arctic front of the year. I knew the area was holding over one hundred thousand snow geese and I figured more were on their way ahead of the front. Squaw Creek is known to host over one million snow geese during their migration, but I knew a couple hundred thousand would be impressive enough for some nice images of the chaos.
After a five-hour drive, I arrived at the refuge and headed over to the west side of the goose pool to put the sun behind me. As I rounded the southwestern corner of the 10-mile loop road, I saw a group of several thousand geese loafing in the pool. I was in no hurry to get started so I introduced myself to another photographer, who was standing beside his car braving the persistent north wind with a tripod-mounted camera and 600 mm lens. Nadeen, a physician and avid photographer, filled me in on everything he had seen since his arrival the day before, and was kind enough to help me sort out a plan for my short stay. Nadeen planned to head over to the east side of the area to shoot into the sunset, and after a fair amount of consideration, I decided to keep the sun to my back at our current location.
By late-afternoon, the light was looking great, and I began shooting into small groups of geese as they lifted off, sometimes for no apparent reason and other times in response to an eagle flyover. Although I was able to get the standard Squaw Creek image of thousands of geese in a frame, I chose the featured image which represented a more intimate composition with a closer look at individuals.
A mid-range view of the agitated snow geese. I captured all flight images with a 500 mm f/4 lens with 2x converter.
A long view of the chaos with the same lens and teleconverter.
The sound of the snow geese as they take to the air is almost impossible to describe but I’ll try. It reminds me of the din of cicadas but much louder and more resonant. It is so intense, it will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end, but in a good way!
A group of northern pintails makes a pass while I was waiting for the goose action. There is always something interesting going on at Squaw Creek — never a dull moment!
A lone, hen shoveler gets close enough for a decent flight shot over the beautiful vegetation and water.
Northern harriers are plentiful at Squaw Creek but they don’t terrify the snows as much as the eagles do.
Tumpeter swans announce their arrival before dropping in on a pod of snow geese. I saw many trumpeters during my visit and photographic opportunities were abundant.
After the sun dropped behind the trees, I packed up and headed on around the refuge to find Nadeen and see how his sunset images were coming along. On the way, I spotted a bald eagle resting on a muskrat den. I couldn’t resist stopping and trying to get a shot in the glowing red light of sunset.
A bald eagle perched on one of the hundreds of muskrat dens at Squaw Creek NWR. The bald eagle keeps the action alive for snow geese photographers and bird watchers alike.
When I finally arrived on the east side of the area, I found Nadeen finishing up some great images of snow geese, amazingly close to his position, as the sun continued to make the western sky glow. I grabbed by landscape lens and made a final image for the day.
Last call at Squaw Creek.
About 30 minutes after sunset, I packed my gear and headed to the Super Eight in Mound City. After checking in, I had dinner at the local restaurant, Quacker’s Steak House, where I had a nice top sirloin and a tall glass of iced tea. It didn’t take me long to get to sleep that night after driving half the day and standing in the cold wind during the other half. I set my alarm for 5:30 AM and hit the hay.
The next morning, I took a chance and made the 3/4 mile hike out to the “Eagle Viewing Platform,” a popular spot that usually puts you close to the action regarding both eagles and snow geese. I arrived at the platform much too early, so I actually found a place to sit along the bank below the platform, and waited for sunrise. It was a windy morning and the wind was much colder than the day before but is was fun waiting for whatever surprises the morning held. Unfortunately, the geese were not cooperating, and as they pushed farther and farther away from my position, I decided to hike back to the 4Runner and head over to see how Nadeen was doing.
The loop road at Squaw Creek is one-way and 10 miles long so I had to make the entire loop, yet again, to make it over to Nadeen’s position, even though he wasn’t that far from me as the crow….eh, snow goose flies. Nadeen reported a fantastic morning in the same position where he had made the sunset images the night before. By the time I arrived, the geese were leaving to go feed in the local ag fields so the action was pretty much over.
I stayed for an hour or two and talked with Nadeen and gave him some ideas for photographing other species he was interested in, including different owls. I enjoyed hearing his story about coming here from Pakistan and studying in Chicago before becoming a physician in Missouri. When I finally called it quits, we exchanged information and I felt great to have had such a successful trip to Squaw Creek, but more importantly to have found yet another international friend to make my life more interesting and fulfilling.
Thanks for looking,
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