Weather affects a lot more then just what type of background we have to work with in our photographs. Specifically it’s the temperature that can really make a difference when it comes to the photographs. All walks of life are affected by the temperatures and when it comes to birds their reproductive time table can either be set back or sped up. With the exceptionally cold and long winter we had this year in the rockies, everything seems to be delayed by two weeks. Now this is just coming from my own observations I’ve made over the last 10 years of watching migratory species, nesting birds and spring chicks. This one spot on the Madison is a good example. Having literally gone to the same spot over the last two years on the same weekend I can say the number of birds are less this year.
So what is the whole point of this?
Quite simply, since the time table is never 100% accurate you have to just keep your feet in the mud and look for the activity. Once you find a spot go back to it several times to watch the changes happen. This is also a great way to document life in your area over the course of multiple years.
Right now is a great time to be out if you’re a wildlife photographer, because spring is here and birds have begun to nest. It can be a lot of fun to watch the cycle of life start and all birds have a unique style to their courtship, nest building, habitat, birth, feeding and when they have fledged. While it is a lot of fun to watch, it’s very important that we as observers don’t get in the the parents way. The biggest issue is forcing the parents off of the nest during incubation.
Every species is unique and knowing their biology is critical. The amount of time a parent can leave the nest varies dramatically between species. Some can take over an hour but others only mere minutes. That means life or death if you disturb the nest trying to get the photo. Knowing your biology is so important so that you don’t endanger the subject. That’s why I wasn’t worried when I found this Canada Goose nest. Canada Geese are known to take anywhere from ten minutes to an hour away from the nest. The incubation time is anywhere from 25-30 days and the eggs are known to be rather hardy when it comes to the environment. Now even if the parents aren’t on the nest they are always nearby watching. Canada Geese are very territorial. This was taken with the D5 and 24-70 AF-S. It was a quick shot to show this particular piece of biology along with the habitat they live in, without disturbing the nest. We as wildlife photographers have to respect the species we work with and know when to put the camera down.
Have you ever had that itch to get out a certain a lens or go to a certain spot no matter how good the results may be? Well this past weekend I had the itch to get out my 600f4 and find something to put in front of it. A small weather snap rolled through which produced a good few inches of snow in the valley and at least a foot in the mountains. Towards the end of the storm as the sky was slowly breaking up, I headed out searching and went by the local ponds which are usually frozen but then this is a warm winter. A big flock of Canada Geese and some Mallards were present. Granted they are both rather common species around here but when you got that itch anything will do and it never hurts to update the files.
When working with waterfowl and you’re not in a blind, it’s really important to watch the subjects and do some survey work. I walked around the ponds and watched which areas were most popular. The northeast and southeast corners definitely had the most traffic due to the better vegetation in those corners. Then of course there was the light. IT was diffused but still grey skies reflect in the water so not much can be done with that. However waterfowl love to move around. They never stay in the same place so being patient and waiting for them to paddle over to the areas is key. After setting up on the northeast corner, I waited. It was 20 degrees out with a wind chill. The geese had left at this point and it was just the Mallards, but even with a common species a good shot is a good shot. Eventually, the geese came back and if you have never heard them before they are loud when they come in for landing!
Canada Geese are actually a really pretty bird, despite how numerous they are. With a white chest, brown back and that great black neck and head, the bird really does stand out. The challenge with photographing such a bird is the eye. Because the head and neck are black, minus the white chin strap, the eye which is also black blends in. Without any light bouncing of the side of the bird, making that eye glint, then it’s much harder to connect with the subject. With waterfowl who like to paddle around in circles, waiting for that right moment when they are in good light is important.
Then again there are always those moments when they are backlit. There’s nothing that can be done about it. That’s the joy and curse of wildlife photography, the subject is constantly going into bad light. Well with the D4 and its ability to capture six stops of light, I experimented and shot when the birds were backlit. I have to say the results kind of surprised me. That’s what’s so great about those itches. You often forget about trying to accomplish something and you just go shoot.
One of the mornings when we were photographing the elk on the Madison a small group of Canadian Geese flew by and i thought that it would be a great time to work on my panning technique. With the up coming trip to Phoenix to work with the planes at CAF it seemed perfect timing. I was quite happy that in the sequence of images only one wasn’t sharp, hurray for tripods. Oops i meant hand holding.
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Images captured with Nikon D3, 600f4, TC-17e II, on Lexar UDMA Digital Film