Spring is the time of the year for new life. Whether it’s birds, mammals, or little people, there are creatures being born into this amazing world. As we start to see the changing in the seasons with the wildflowers beginning to bloom and the trees beginning to leaf out, the new life is also starting to emerge. Each species works on its own time table which is variable upon the region. Right now we are starting to see little rabbits and ground squirrels all over the place. If you haven’t spent much time working with the little guys you’re not alone. The best way to practice is to find a local park that is next to some open area. Typically there will be something living there and being that it is a park, the critters will be a little more habituated. Now depending on which state you live in and that states current Covid-19 response you might be a more limited but you can be doing research or even practicing with a stuffed animal if all else fails. You’d be amazed at how many basics can be learned with a stuffed on the ground.
It can take a lot of work to find the right perch sometimes. It can be a branch, a stump, some barbed wire, or in this case a rock. Once you find the right perch then you have to start working on the background and seeing if it works with your perch. Then there’s the light, is it better lit up in the morning or afternoon? So many decisions and things to figure out. Least of all is getting the subject to land on your perfect spot, or at least the spot you think is perfect. Is it worth it? Well, the photograph, in the end, will tell you that. I spent a long time sitting on the bank of the Missouri River watching the Sparrows fly around me before this one individual finally went to the spot I had picked out. I thought it was a good afternoon, photo could still be better though.
The world doesn’t come to an end during winter in the Rocky Mountains. One would think that with the amount of snowfall we get and the harsh temperatures that life just stops, but no it goes on. The trick to surviving in winter is maintaining energy. Maximum caloric intake with the least amount of output. That’s the balance. On warm sunny days, you often can find various ungulate species lounging in the sunshine while employing this technique. This young Bull Elk spent the morning grazing and by the time the afternoon hit he was out for the count, except for the occasional glance at his harem. Priorities after all.
A long lens is essential for wildlife photography but there’s more too using the long lens than just pointing it in the right direction. Long lenses have the ability to isolate the background by having a narrow depth of field. This is great to keep the focus on your subject. However, in low light situations, there is always going to be more noise and in that narrow depth of field, noise is going to become more obvious. This Mule Deer Buck came out at sundown and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity. Even though I knew there was going to be more noise I increased the ISO, opened up to let in as much light as possible and made a couple of clicks.
Images Captured on Nikon D5, 600f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
Every year in the Fall many ungulates going into what is known as the Rut. Males will compete with other males in order to attract females so they can breed. The males will bugle, be aggressive, and lock their antlers with other males to prove their dominance. While typically the rut goes between mid-September and mid-October, each year varies a little bit. This youngster still has a ways to go to be strong enough to win any major victories but he’s on his way.
Images captured with Nikon D5, 600f4, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
It’s really fun when you go do something that you’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Working with American White Pelicans in Montana is one of those things for me. Every year they come back and haunt the Madison River in big flocks. As you can see most of them are juveniles but with the regularity of people floating by on drift boats and rafts, they have become rather habituated to people. This made approaching them easier which I did with waders.
Two big things when working a group of birds like this. First, you got to watch the light. These birds are big and bright and they really stick out against the dark blue background causing a lot of contrast. Due to the nature of the local, the light was kinda hard when I started so that caused more contrast. The solution was wearing a pair of waders and walking around the birds until I found the angle that worked. I went slowly, and watched them, thus making sure they were comfortable with me.
The second piece of advice is having to work with the group itself. With so many heads, bodies and butts it’s easy to chop something off or have something extra you don’t want in your photo. So, be patient and watch the birds. Find a good subject and wait for the right moment.
Whenever I go out looking for critters I always have my TC-17eII in my pocket or on the camera itself. This is especially true with birds. Often times when working with such small subjects that tend to be far away, so you tend to need that extra reach. The downside with a teleconverter is that you add a joint in between the camera and the lens. This makes it less stable and more prone to vibration from your hand leading up to potentially fuzzy images. Plus if the subject moves then it becomes really hard to get a tack sharp images. The TC-20eII is a 2x magnifier and is a really great tool for working with birds but for that stability reason I rarely use mine. Well this is the one case where I wish I had it.
This Pied Billed Grebe was a bloody rock. There was one spot where he liked to sit and outside from a little feeding he was always there. If there was a time where having a little bit more glass would’ve been nice it would’ve been here. While I don’t always like the portrait shot all the time, I go for them when the opportunity arises.
Image Captured with Nikon D5, 600f/4, TC-17eII on Lexar UDMA Digital Film
It may be a common duck on the west side of the Rocky Mountains, but for me it’s one that I’ve never been able to photograph. That changed this past weekend when I spent the afternoon down at one of the local ponds. I love working the ponds because there will always be those predictable birds to work with, in my case the Yellow Headed Blackbirds, and then there is the chance that you will be able to see something special.
Now I was shooting with the D5, 600f/4 with a TC-17E II and at times in High Speed Crop. This was as close as the male Teal came to me. He just wanted to feed, wasn’t interested in playing around. The female was more cooperative and came over for a little bit.
When it comes to working in a body of water, you really have to watch those foregrounds and backgrounds for pesky surface debris that when magnified are just really blurry dots. He liked this foliage for feeding purposes and I can’t say I minded all that much either.
Columbian Ground Squirrels aren’t the only early visitors that show up to mark the start of Spring. While the American Robin normally doesn’t go away in the winter, they just become harder to see roosting in the trees, come the beginning of Spring they tend to be everywhere. The Robin has become the quintessential harbinger of Spring in most places. They can brood up to three clutches throughout the year and considered a favorite among local birds of prey.
If there are one species in the Rockies that let you know when Spring has come it’s the Columbian Ground Squirrel. While a native species to Canada and the northwest United States, they are considered vermin in most agriculture and ranching areas due to their ability to multiply quickly and the number of burrows they create. Still, for those that don’t worry about those things they are like most members of the ground squirrel family fun to observe.