Cackling Away

Cackling Goose in a clear water lake.

Having had the chance to test all my lenses on the new camera, I spent the day on Saturday doing lens micro-adjustments on the new Nikon D850.

The D850, like the D500, has the ability to automatically calculate the lens front/back focusing error and I was able to go through all the lenses with no difficulty.

I think the process went smoother on the D850 than on my D500. The D500 had some trouble with my Sigma Macro lenses, the D850 nailed them on the first try. Happy day.

I also managed a few usable stock photos from my first field test on the D850. Today’s photo of a Cackling Goose is one of them. The Cackling Goose is very similar to the Canada Goose at first glance, but, their necks are shorter and overall body size is a little smaller. Good addition to the stock portfolio.

Next up is to get back up to the mountains with the new camera and calibrated lenses to look for more bighorn sheep. The bighorn rut is full tilt at the moment and will last until late December.

I did notice that Nikon has discontinued their Camera Manual app. For those unaware, and it’s too late now, Nikon had an iPhone/Android app that allowed you to download and view any manual for any of their cameras. I have the app still on my phone and have the manual for my other Nikon bodies, but at the end of August, 2020, they pulled the plug and I wasn’t able to get the iPhone version of the D850 manual. It was a handy tool. I don’t know why they discontinued it. Probably has something to do with saving money.

Back to the Bighorn

Bighorn Ram doing his rut stuff.

I’ve started my bighorn sheep photography season. I took last year off from photographing the bighorn. Mostly due to congestion and construction in the area where I normally look for the sheep.

Out this past Wednesday with friend Jim Esten and we easily found a cooperative group to photograph in short order. A good morning overall. No ram combat witnessed on the trip but there was plenty of mating activity and we did manage a few good photographs out of the trip.

Most of what I do with bighorn goes to the stock agencies these days. I try to get at least a handful of photos for stock on these outings, and ended up with an even dozen this time out.

Here are a few samples from the Wednesday outing.

Early morning light in cloudless skies makes for harsh contrasts, but you take what you get.

 

Immature bighorn ram posing in the morning sun.

I’ve found the best time to look for the bighorn is the day after a snow storm, as the sheep come down from the higher elevations to get to good grazing grass. I’ll be keeping my eye on the weather reports and will plan more trips around the snow predictions. Luckily, I can get to them in 45 minutes of driving.

Mature ram mating with a mature ewe.

On a side note, my main camera, the Nikon D810 is getting a little old and the rubber grip on the memory chip access door peeled off.  I’ve got it cleaned up and will glue it back on the camera in the near future.. First time that’s happened to me on a Nikon body. I don’t feel like sending it to Nikon to be fixed, as the camera works fine. I think I can get it glued back on without creating a mess. I’ll report back with the results of that effort.

It always makes for a fun morning.

Nature’s Variations

I had an interesting close encounter with a herd of mule deer at Rocky Mountain Arsenal this past Saturday afternoon.

One thing I look for when out photographing deer are genetic mutations. The two most common deer species here in Colorado are Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer. Both species can be found in abundance at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, often in the same proximity.

First, I’m not a wildlife biologist. I have no special training on ungulates beyond information readily available on the internet. I have done a bit of reading and research on the different types of deer though. I know enough to easily identify the different species I’ve encountered. Sometimes.

Learning to identify which type of deer one is observing isn’t normally very difficult. Mule Deer have a distinct antler growth pattern that is different from a White-tailed Deer. Another indicator of species is the coloring of the fur on the tail of the deer. Mule Deer generally have a black tip at the end of their tail, and White-tailed deer normally have a dark outer fur with a white under coat on their tails. The first thing I look for when identifying the species is the tail. Sometimes I run across a deer that doesn’t follow those norms though.

Case in point.

The herd of Mule Deer I photographed on Saturday afternoon had a nice mix of young adult male and female deer, along with some youngsters and yearlings. One particular buck in the herd, at first glance, appeared to be a typical young Mule Deer buck. It had the black tip tail. The fur coloring was identical to the other deer in the herd; however, there was something a little different. His antlers were not typical of a Mule Deer and looked more like the antlers of a White-tailed deer. The other bucks in the herd all had the typical Mule-deer antlers. I quickly dialed in to the variant and followed him with the camera until I could get a nice photo of his antlers.

Mule Deer buck with different antlers. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

Notice the antlers on the deer in the above shot. They extend up and quickly turn to the front of the deer. There’s also no front tine on the antlers, as is typical of a mule deer. These antlers look like White-tailed deer antlers.

The next photo is a typical young Mule Deer buck. Notice how the antlers, while containing some curvature, are growing more in a upward direction and then splitting off to different points. There’s also small tine growth near the base. Typical Mule Deer.

Young Mule Deer Buck with normal antlers. Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

Now, take a look at a pair of White-tailed bucks in the last photo. Again, found at Rocky Mountain Arsenal. These young bucks are classic White-tails, with the forward curved antlers and growth pattern. Also notice the lack of a black tip on the tail.

Young White-tailed bucks, Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR.

I’ve seen these and other variations at RMA from time to time. I’ve also found these variations in other locations along the front range of Colorado.

It’s known that deer species will interbreed and that interbreeding often results in deer with characteristics of the two different species. In my experience, the cross bred Mule Deer and White-tailed Deer often look more like Mule Deer with hints of the White-tail Deer in its body. The deer I saw on Saturday all accepted this cross bred fellow as one of their herd. He was living with the Mule Deer and probably didn’t know he was a little different, but somewhere up the gene pool, one or more of his relatives was a White-tailed deer there at the Arsenal.

I was fortunate to encounter this group and find this mutant amongst them.

Adding to the experience, while I was photographing this group of deer, an older fellow with Florida license plates on his car drove up to where I was working. As he crept along behind me, he lowered the passenger window of his car and was watching me work. The deer were standing near a fence at the end of Rattle Snake Hill road and he blurted out through the window of the car.

“You aren’t going to get any good photos with that fence in the background.” I paused long enough to turn towards his car and I gave him a raised eyebrow look that beamed my annoyance at him for disrupting the deer I was trying to photograph.

I walked up to the window of his car as he began explaining how bad that fence was going to look in my photo and whispered in the window, “I’m not photographing the fence, I’m photographing that young buck you just spooked.”

He closed his car window and zipped on away from the scene. Fortunately, the deer settled down quickly and I was able to continue working.

It happens all the time. I’ll find a group of animals and sit and watch them, taking my time and being quiet, I’ll get the shots I am looking for, but someone will drive upon the scene, make a lot of noise and offer advice or want to inject themselves into what I am doing and totally foul up the situation with their presence. It’s hard to be polite to people like this. The traveling experts, always there when you don’t need them. He had no clue and would have never noticed the cross-bred animal.

All he saw was a fence.

Covid-19 Hunker-down Log – Stardate 44107.43

The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

 

Combating Boredom

We’ve been preoccupied with the Cameron Peak fire this week, as it moved within 2 miles of the cabin in Red Feather Lakes. Keeping our fingers crossed that it may skirt on by us without destroying the village. So far, so good, but the smoke is bad up there and we have the addition of the Mullen fire that started in Wyoming to the Northwest and is moving in our direction. Nasty business. Looking forward to some snow to put an end to this disaster. None in the forecast.

During a different year, I’d be on my annual Autumn photography trip but the pandemic and wildfire smoke have put a squash on that idea. I did manage to get out for a little wildlife photography this morning at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR. Arrived at sunrise and the deer were plentiful, though not in great photographic locations, and there weren’t a lot of bucks running around. I managed a few clicks though.

Happy Thought Inventory

Loving the cooler weather but we could use some moisture to go along with it. The drought is still upon us, but at least it isn’t 90+ degrees every day.

I’m also looking forward to getting out for some Bighorn Sheep photography. They normally start their rut in mid-October, so maybe a run into the mountains this week will be happening. What ever the case, it’s nice to pack the camera bag and take a few photos.

Slacker Status

Slacker is as slacker does. I hear the President has contracted COVID-19. Two words come to mind. Empathy and sympathy. I have empathy for the man and the people around them. I have little sympathy though. The way he has flaunted and ignored the existence of the pandemic, it doesn’t really concern me that he now has a deadly virus. Stupid is as stupid does.

No first responder activity to report.

Still alive and well here in Denver.

Wildlife Wednesday

Mule Deer Buck Taking A Sniff

Always looking to the next photography season. Deer are about to be added to the photographic buffet, it’s that time of year. I’ve gone as late as late March and still found bucks with antlers but the local deer typically start dropping in February. When I was a kid, I used to look for deer antlers in the woods and around the farm I lived on. Never found anything fresh, so I’m guessing they get gnawed up by the ground-life pretty quickly.

Moose Monday

Bull Moose Enjoying Breakfast – Northern Colorado

Happy Moose Monday.

Today’s photo was taken in late July of 2014 during a Moose Photography workshop.

The area around this lake has been severely burned in the Cameron Peak Wildfire. I hope to be back to this spot in the Summer of 2021 and with any luck, the moose will still be there. It’s always been a hit and miss proposition, photographing moose in this location. Some years, they are barely present. In 2014, I was finding moose in this lake almost every time I’d visit. Probably has to do with the availability of lake grass. I’m guessing they chew the grass until it’s almost gone and then wait a couple of years for it to grow back. I know this much, they love eating lake grass.

Wildlife Photography Pointers For Working From Your Vehicle

By Gary Gray

I’ve been hosting wildlife photography workshops in Colorado for over 13 years. I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned over the years. Pointers on how to have a better wildlife photography experience while shooting from a vehicle.

Ethics

Your personal behavior is going to have a direct effect on your results. Someone else being stupid isn’t a license to be stupid. Always show respect to other photographers and tourists who may be in the same location you are working.

Respect the animals you are going to photograph. Don’t harass or chum or try to personally interact with them. Most animals are going to be aware of your presence. If the animals you are photographing change their behavior to compensate for your actions, you’ve gone to far. Animals have body language that is fairly easy to read. The most immediate clue large animals will give you is they turn their butts towards you. If you see a herd of deer or a small group of elk and all their butts are pointed at you, guess what their next action is? They are going to move away from you. Animal butts are a good sign you need to move on. Never approach a wild animal, even if they are friendly and habituated to human activity.

Working from a vehicle

Be quiet. Don’t have conversations with those around you. Don’t stomp around through the woods or along paths, snapping sticks and twigs or crunching gravel. Take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints. If you are working from a vehicle, turn the stereo/radio off. Turn the ringer off on your mobile phone.

Be still. Once you’ve positioned yourself, don’t move around. Don’t pick up your gear and head out into a field to get closer. No sudden movements. Try to avoid direct or prolonged eye contact with the animals. If you are innocuous, there’s a good possibility that the wildlife will lose interest in you and meander closer.

Never try to chum wildlife with food. Wild animals don’t eat potato chips or ham sandwiches. Moldy bread can be fatal to ducks. Be smart and let them feed themselves. Your food is only going to create a greater risk to their survival. Don’t use artificial sounds to lure wildlife to you.

Every photographer I know has iBird on their smart phone. Don’t play bird sounds in hopes of attracting birds. Leave the elk calls at home.

Remember that you are not in charge of what others do. It’s not your responsibility to make sure everyone you see around wildlife is behaving properly. I’ve seen many obnoxious tourists and photographers ignoring everything and everyone in a quest to get a photo. They have the right to be there. Keep your temper in check and don’t let things escalate into a conflict with others. I normally just move somewhere else so I don’t have to interact with obnoxious people.

Most of my wildlife photography is done from a vehicle. There’s a lot of wilderness and many forest roads to explore in Colorado and the vehicle offers me the best opportunity to get closer to animals because moose, elk, deer, bighorn, and mountain goats don’t consider automobiles to be a threat. At least not until they see a person.

When exploring an area, always make a second pass. I have routes I travel all the time and I always do a couple of laps at least. Animals move frequently and you may not have seen anything on one trip through, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t something there.

Always check your six. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven through an area only to look in the rear view mirror and see something crossing the road 50 yards behind me. It’s like they were waiting for me to pass before crossing.

Have your camera ready and with you before you see the animals. When entering a wildlife search area, having that camera ready to go can make the difference between getting a shot and watching a critter disappear into the woods. Often times you’ll only have a couple of seconds to get a quick shot out the window. Speaking of windows, keep the window down when on patrol. Even if it’s cold. Otherwise you could easily be too late as the animal is gone before the window is down. Don’t smoke in the vehicle. That smoke can waif through the windows directly in front of your lens.

When you are on patrol and spot animals, don’t slam on your brakes and jump out of the car. That’s a sure fire way to scare an animal off. If you can’t shoot from the window and must exit the vehicle. Creep to a halt before the animal is reacting to you. When you exit, get out of the vehicle on the blind side using the car as a visual obstacle. Don’t walk out from behind the car into the open. Peek around the car and try to get shots from a covered position. If you are on the side of the vehicle that faces the animals, stay in the vehicle and shoot from the window.

Don’t shoot from a moving vehicle, your shots will be blurry. Don’t shoot through the window glass, your shots will be blurry. When stopped, turn the engine off in your vehicle. Exhaust can waif in front of your lens and create convection distortion and you’ll also eliminate the vibration caused by the engine running. Never rest your lens on the top of the window with the engine running. Be still. don’t wiggle around in the vehicle. Ask others in the vehicle to be still as well.

You’ll often be alerted to the presence of animals by a group of cars pulled off the road ahead of you. Don’t drive directly into the group, and jump out. Try to get shots through the window only after you’ve made a silent and unobtrusive approach to the scene. You don’t need to aggravate those who got there first by scaring off their subjects. Never slam the door. Slowly close it without making noise. Also, don’t leave your car door hanging wide open when you walk away from the vehicle. Push it closed gently. If the driver needs to move the vehicle that closed door is going to help them move quickly and silently. Take the keys out of the ignition before you exit the vehicle. There’s nothing more annoying than your car beeping away like a garbage truck in reverse while you’re trying to get a photograph without being noticed.

If you are traveling with three people in a vehicle, pick the back seat. You can shoot from both windows. The driver and other front seat passenger are going to be stuck with only one direction to shoot.

Never put your camera on the dashboard. If you forget it’s there and move the vehicle, it will roll off onto the floorboard and, well, that could be disastrous for a lens or the camera.

Safety

Your safety and the safety of the wildlife should always be a prime consideration. Don’t put your passengers or yourself at risk by trying to shoot from the side of a busy highway. Don’t put your vehicle in a situation that it can’t handle. Muddy roads with deep puddles can often be much more hazardous than they appear to be. When I know I’m going to be on some rough terrain, I always take my 4×4 pickup truck with off road tires. The last thing you want is to break down in the middle of nowhere with ten thousand dollars worth of camera gear left in your car while you hike 10 miles to get help.

Drive slowly when on the back roads. You’ll see more action that way and it keeps the dust down. If traffic begins stacking up behind you, be polite, pull over and let them pass. If you’re behind someone driving slow, keep some distance until you can pass without being obnoxious about it. It’s not rush hour in the city. Don’t be a road hazard and always assume somebody behind you is going to be impatient with your slow driving. Driving slowly also reduces the risk to wildlife which can run in front of you without notice. You don’t want to run into a moose going 40 miles per hour. It will kill the moose, it could kill you or your passengers and it would definitely do damage to your vehicle.

Never follow behind animals moving along the road. If you get behind them and move with them, they’ll panic and could hurt themselves trying to flee. Just pull over and wait a couple of minutes. They’ll probably be off the road by the time you see them again and if not, pull over and wait some more.

That’s my advice and I’m sticking to it.

Feathers Friday

The Common Myna Bird
Common Myna – Big Island, Hawaii

Happy Feathers Friday everyone.

Today’s bird photo of a Common Myna was taken on the Big Island of Hawaii during a trip we made in 2012. The beach front hotel where we were staying had a very large, manicured lawn with water inlets and lots of habitat for the local birds. I could walk to the lava rock shore each morning and photograph a wide variety of wildlife. The Mynas were living there in numbers and I managed to get pretty close to them by laying on the ground with my camera at the ready as they fed in the manicured grass just feet away from me.

I’ve always enjoyed my travels to the Hawaiian Islands, due in large part to the diverse wildlife species that one will never see in the mainland US. Nice weather and beautiful scenery is the icing on the cake there. We’ve traveled to most of the islands in the chain, multiple times. When things mellow out with the pandemic, I’m certain we’ll be returning to the most remote place on earth. Hawaii.