Saturday, December 29, 2012

More Snow and a Towhee

Eastern Towhee Male
I awoke this morning to find more snow falling; the third snow storm this week!  A snowy day is the perfect time to spend at the bird feeders and with that thought in mind I set up in the pop-up blind that is now sitting on the my deck.  After a morning of photographing Blue Jays, and Cardinals ( and capturing more blue jay snow scenes that I know what to do with), when the snow stopped in early afternoon it was time to relocate to another feeding location where we have spotted a pair of Eastern Towhees recently.
While towhees are not rare in my area they are normally difficult to photograph as they spend nearly all of their time scratching about on the ground in brushy areas.  With the snow covering their natural feed I though perhaps a little bird seed scattered about a small opening would entice them to expose themselves to the camera.

Friday, December 28, 2012


While the each season changes the appearance of the landscape nothing changes its appearance as dramatically as does winter's first coat of snow.  Along with altering the appearance of the landscape it also changes the daily patterns of many of our wild critters.
Our first snow of the season came Monday afternoon and was followed by snow and ice Wednesday resulting in 7-8 inches of total accumulation covered over with a thick crust of ice.  A fawn with hair fluffed to repel the cold stands silently in a winter landscape covered in snow and ice. 

 Before the storms feeding on grasses was as simple for the deer as dropping their heads and nibbling; now each bite requires the crust to be broken and the snow pawed away.

And walking isn't as easy for each step meets resistance; the crust must be broken by the deer's weight before firm footing can be made on the ground below.

With much of their natural food covered with snow the birds are flocking to the feeders.  I thought this was the white-throated sparrow pic of the day.........
Until I captured this one.  While partially obscured by the intervening branchs I was drawn to its inquisitive look as it peered out at the camera.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

A fresh white snowfall brings with it new photographic opportunities.

While I have maintained a bird feeder mounted on my deck for a number of years I had never utilized it for bird photography.  Since I always strive to photograph wildlife against natural backgrounds I set a pop-up blind on the deck in a position which allows me to exploit the evergreen tree only a few feet farther away.  Not only does the evergreen tree create a variety of natural perches but it also provides the birds protection from the occasional hawk attack.

Having erected the blind a few day ahead of the Christmas Eve snow the birds were fully acclimated to it when conditions were right for shooting.  While the Blue Jays are very wary at our naturalized bird feeders; the ones visiting the deck feeder were the most accommodating species.

 This male Northern Cardinal seemed more concerned about my presence than did any of the jays.

While a female Cardinal shows off her food caked bill. 

And later poses on a snow covered bough with a cone directly overhead.
Winter is a good time for photographing birds attracted to the feeders and during or just after a snow storm is the very best time of all!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Our first snow of the season started this afternoon; just in time for a
White Christmas!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wild Turkeys & Motion Blur

Wild Turkeys in Flight
A flock of wild turkeys were feeding along a meadow edge under heavily clouded skies as dusk settled over the landscape.  The light was such that decent photos were out of the question so I was standing idly by paying little attention to my camera settings.  When suddenly the flock took flight I was forced to shoot with the settings previously dialed in as there was no time to make changes.  The camera was set on ISO 400, with the auto exposure cranking the shutter down to 1/30th for this shot.  While if I had had the time to make adjustments I would have selected a higher ISO, I actually like the way the action is depicted in this shot.

As they birds rose higher against the background of trees the shutter speed dropped to 1/10sec. capturing even more motion blur.  The first shot is my favorite.  Which do you like best?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chasing Images from the Rut

Buck following a doe
With this year's whitetail rut now in the past it is time to review, process, and catalogue the images from the season.  Rut photographs fall into a number of categories, portraits, rubbing, scraping, sparring, fighting, running, and chasing.  This set of images are from the chasing category. 

Buck looks on with the receptive doe in the foreground
I usually depend upon Shenandoah National Park for my best rut photos.  However with the collaring and tagging of the ongoing deer study being conducted there the mature bucks were useless as photo subjects.  With no other area holding a significant number of mature bucks within driving distance I was forced to focus on the bucks of my home area.  Hunting pressure seldom allows a buck to grow to full maturity here.

A fawn reacts to the momentary attention of a buck
While these local bucks antlers are nowhere in the league of the big park bucks they are significantly better than what our area offered before the current antler restrictions were imposed.  Prior to antler restrictions the bucks pictured in this post would have been considerably above average for our area as most bucks carried spikes or very small 3-6 point racks and were only 1 1/2 years old. 
Today a significant percentage of our bucks live to become 2 1/2 years of age and typically carry 6-8 points total.  I cannot say for sure what the age of the buck in the first two photos is but I would guess that he is 2 1/2 years of age, while I can say with certainty the the buck pictured above is 2 1/2. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Birds of Winter

With autumn nearly past and winter just around the corner it's time to settle down at your favorite bird-feeder photo studio and shoot the "Birds of Winter".
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco

Female Northern Cardinal

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Post Season Whitetails

A young buck pauses for a moment with a long tendril of frosty grass held in his mouth.  With the firearms hunting season now in the past the local whitetails are showing signs of beginning to relax.

 But a mature doe isn't about to completely leave her guard down.  It's best that she doesn't for a few more weeks of archery and flintlock hunting season is just around the corner.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On the Wing: Canada's and Tundra Swan

With the deer hunters finishing up their last day of hunting Saturday my buddy and I decided to head for the lake for an afternoon of late autumn fishing.  A flock of Canada geese with one lone tundra swan were resting near the shoreline.  Taking a break from fishing I readied the camera with the 100-400mm lens attached and approached until the Canada's took flight.  This shot was made using the 400mm setting, handheld, image stabilization activated.

The lone tundra swan flushed moments after the Canada's had departed.  Again the shot was made at 400mm, handheld.  With the waterfowl very wary and water temp's dropping to near the freezing point it may be nearly time to put the boat away for the winter. 

Friday, December 07, 2012

Pan for Running Shots

 1/20th sec.

While many do it, it is inadvisable for the deer hunter to take running shots. Running shots often result in an injured deer escaping to suffer either a long painful recovery or a slow death and should be reserved for follow-up attempts to stop an injured animal from escaping. 

However for the photographer running deer offer an opportunity to capture a different kind of image with no harm to the subject. To successfully shoot running deer one must pan with the subject.  For shooting long telephoto lenses a good gimbal head is virtually a necessity.  The images in this post were made with the Canon 600mm lens mounted on a Kirk King Cobra head using panning and image stabilization.

1/40th sec.
While it is imperative to pan with the running deer, panning is no guarantee of success for not only does a deer move horizontally while running but it moves vertically as well.  If you try panning with deer you will find that most images will be ruined by the vertical movement however with a little luck an image or two just may make the grade.

1/160th sec.
As light levels increase so can shutter speeds.  In this image you see that the buck is nearly frozen by the combination of panning and the 1/160th shutter speed.
So to recap, if you encounter a running deer and your weapon is a rifle, hold your fire: the ratio of risk to reward it just too great.  However if your weapon is a Canon (or a Nikon for my friends on the dark side) pan and shoot rapid fire.  You may make your best shot of the season!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Going Quackers

Mallards in Flight
With the deer hunting season in full swing and hunter pressure Saturday second only to opening day on Monday, I decided to check out a couple of spots for waterfowl.  My first stop was at a local wetland but it was ice covered.  Moving on to a local lake I spotted a couple of flocks in deeper water well out from shore.
While checking the lake from I encountered a fellow photographer visiting from Germany.  He was concerned that he was to meet a couple here for a photo outing and had not been able to find them.  I realized that I had probably just seen them at another lake access point so I directed him there noting that I was going to return later with the boat.

Returning with the boat a couple of hours later, the little photo group was at the boat dock.  As I prepared to launch we chatted and I was pleased to learn that the locals were familiar with Country Captures and had visited both here and Elk County because of the images they had found here.  After launching the boat I noticed that our German visitor was still at his car so I invited him to a photo cruise on the lake.  With a big smile he responded "I would love to".
For the next couple of hours we cruised the lake; however the waterfowl would have none of it anytime I attempted to close the distance.  With the autumn waterfowl hunting season ongoing, and at least one group of hunters concealed along the shore behind a decoy spread, the ducks were not about to allow any boat to approach within shotgun range. 

Lesser Scaup
In spring I am accustomed to the scaup flushing at about 100 yards, with other species normally allow closer approaches.  Ruddy ducks are usually the most trusting, many times not flushing until I am within 15-20 yards, however now all of the ducks were flushing 200 yards or more out.

Ruddy Ducks
During our cruise I had to settle for passing shots at extreme range however having a good chatting companion more than made up for the duck disappointment.

Mallard male Flushing
After dropping my new found friend off at his car I returned to the lake and did manage to locate a mallard pair feeding in the shallows.  Approaching them I stayed focused waiting for the flush shot.  While the range was still farther than what I would have liked, by using the 600mm lens and cropping some, I did manage an acceptable image as the male took flight.

Mallard female Flushing
A moment later the female followed the male again giving me a decent take-off shot
With the outlook for duck photography bleak because of the wary birds I began to focus on fishing.  Even though the water temp read 34 degrees, after some searching, I managed to find some active bluegills.  As the sun dropped near the horizon I headed back to the launch with a few images in the camera and a nice catch of gills in the livewell.  Not bad for an outing on the first day of December!