If it were easy…

Posted on September 2, 2010 by Tim 1 Comment

there would be lots more wildlife photographers. Well, I guess everyone seems to be a wildlife photographer these days. Nice cameras and powerful lenses do enhance the ability to get up close and take good pictures. But really good pictures require much more. For the past couple of weeks I went out to my favorite 2 lagoons hoping to catch some material for the blog. I made an afternoon trip and 3 EARLY morning trips.

A killdeer keeps a careful eye on me while I try to sneak up close enough for a photo. One of few acceptable frames from a few dozen.

Those that know me know that is a big deal. I am more of a vampire by trade and training. I am more apt to return to my crypt at dawn than arise from it. But, all the good wildlife photographers will tell you that you need to get up early to catch that bird and his worm. Thank god for frogs and late nights otherwise I would have given up long ago. But once in a while I get inspired to try for the early things. Such was my last 2 weekends. My first morning outing had me running into another ‘wildlife’ photographer who immediately set about to tell me he’s shot everything along the coast of the state. Then immediately gasped at the quail in the parking lot – “I’ve never gotten quail!”. I rolled my eyes and told him about 50 were behind the bathroom and another 20-30 were running along the fence about 20′ from his idling truck. He decided he was going to hang out with me. I had the big 600 with a 1.4 mounted to the Wimberley. Not a very mobile set up but needed for little birds. The coast was foggy but already the sun was rising and the fog was burning off – the effect was of a golden haze bathing the shoreline marsh. My ‘companion’ told me all the lens he needed was his trusty something-to-500 zoom. He was too good for a tripod. As I quietly walked along the path to the water he trampled along regaling me with stories of his abilities. Soon we came upon some reeds and a little yellow warbler was bouncing around picking off the warming insects from the stalks. The master shooter yelled, “birds! what is it?” at the sight. So much for seeing it ‘all’. I set the legs down and positioned myself in hopes the little bird would get close enough and pose well enough for a keeper shot. But it was not to happen. You can’t chase birds and get good pictures.

The best I could get of a young yellow warbler. Still too far and with distracting twigs – but nice light.

NatGeo ran to and fro’ after the little thing constantly telling me to “come here”. He apparently had lots of great shots because he kept bringing up the screen and zooming the image all the way in to show me that, yes, that was a bird on his frame. The bird quickly tired of this madness and flew away. I tried to leave him and continued down the path. I soon heard an unfamiliar little call and found 2 wrens poking around the brush not 6′ from me. Waayyy too close for the big lens so I gently eased back and hoped they would show themselves in an open perch. The light was perfect.

A California quail greets the rising sun while watching over his covey.

Just a few feet further back a quail sat in a higher bush keeping tabs on his girls. I squeezed off a few frames while waiting for the wrens to come out. But my ‘friend’ found me. He jumped at the quail telling me what good luck I was. The wrens spooked. I had enough. I sulked off towards the water, off the path, leaving the guy behind. But my mood was soured. The birds remained elusive and the fog burned off as the light got harsher. I spent some time hunting for some garter snakes (3 species – subject for later entry) but got skunked there too. Such is wildlife photography. That day I did see 2 river otters well off in the lagoon – no shots. Lots of little brush rabbits – no shots. My first long-tailed weasel – no shots. Some raptors and a coyote – you get the idea. In all it was a great wildlife morning but a crappy photography morning.

Common yellow-throat. At about 30′ away, too far! And a perfect twig growing right out of his head. Into the trash bin.

I returned the next morning. There was no fog and the early light got harsh quickly. Such as it is in August. I returned one more morning to find it once again foggy but this time cold. I saw lots of my little bird friends but they wouldn’t come out of the brush. The cold meant no insects would be moving. Better to be tucked in warm brush than flittering around on a cold grey morning. Not a frame was taken. I guess that’s why these are the dog days of summer. Of course it was easy to think everything was conspiring against me. I couldn’t get a good shot despite getting up early not once but 3 times in 4 days. My ‘friend’ will probably crop the hell out of his snapshots and post these for friends to see his great wildlife shooting. I’m posting these full frame unedited shots of the little birds just to show what careful shooting at 850mm yields with small birds at +25′: garbage. A good photograph would come from being at the minimum close focusing distance, maybe 16 or so feet. Even then the birds would not fill the frame and composition would be key. I would have to insure that the birds engaged my camera, had the right light, and that distracting twigs and branches were well away from my subjects. Nearly insurmountable odds. I’ll keep trying to get the good shot. After all, if it were easy everyone would be a wildlife photographer.

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