Photo of the Week – August 31 2017

I’m not a wildlife photographer.  Wildlife photographers put in countless hours tracking, observing, and either stalking subjects or sitting in a blind.  I admire wildlife photographers but I don’t have the patience to be one.  Instead, I get my wildlife photos the easy way – by always (ALWAYS) carrying my camera when I’m in the field so that when I have a random close encounter with an animal, I’ve got a chance to take its picture.  This month, I’ve had three successful (and accidental) photographic encounters with mammalian wildlife species, and am sharing the results here.

Mule deer (in the rain) at The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Back in mid-August, I was up at the Niobrara Valley Preserve collecting data on flowering plants across various management treatments.  I’d gotten up early that morning and driven the 4+ hours up to Niobrara because the forecast said the rain would be ending in the early morning and it looked like a good day to be in the field.  Instead, it rained all day.  While I was driving my truck between sampling locations (in the rain) two mule deer flushed out of some brushy vegetation in front of me and turned to look at my truck.  The buck turned away again and took off over the hill, but the doe stayed behind to see what I was up to.  I rolled down the passenger side window of the truck, grabbed my camera from behind the seat, and took this photo.  I didn’t even get wet – did I mention it was raining?

A young porcupine at dusk – The Nature Conservancy’s Niobrara Valley Preserve.

Later the same day, it finally stopped raining, the sun came out, and both the landscape and I dried out a little before evening.  I wandered around with my camera until the photography light disappeared, and then hopped in my truck and headed back to headquarters.  As I was coming down the lane between the mailbox and the crew quarters, where I was staying, a young porcupine crossed the road in front of me and climbed up the embankment.  Other people had been seeing the same porcupine this summer, but though I’d seen its mom, this was the first time I’d seen the young one.  It was moving quickly enough that I didn’t have time to grab my camera out the back seat of my truck, and instead just grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket as I climbed up the embankment to get a closer look.  The porcupine didn’t even pause or turn its head to look at me as it made its way to the top and then waddled off across the prairie toward a small patch of trees.  I squeezed off three shots with my phone camera and got one that was decent.

Black-tailed jackrabbit in the Platte River Prairies.

The final photo (and my favorite) comes from yesterday, when I was riding my ATV through our Platte River Prairies.  I was cruising along pretty slowly and flushed a jack rabbit.  That’s not unusual, but in this case, instead of popping up out of the grass and bounding off with its ears held high, the rabbit took two quick hops and then hunkered back down in the vegetation.  I stopped the ATV in surprise, and when I realized the rabbit had invested in its hiding strategy, I grabbed my camera from my bag and took a couple pictures of it through the grass.  Then I slid slowly off the seat of the 4-wheeler and took a few steps to get a better angle for the photo (above) I ended up liking the best.  After that, we just sat there, keeping an eye on each other, until I decided I had work to do and wished the rabbit a pleasant day.  As I started up the ATV motor, the rabbit finally decided to scamper off.

Maybe someday I’ll gain the patience and perseverance it takes to be a real wildlife photographer.  In the meantime, I’ll just keep my camera handy for those times when the wildlife decides to pose for me.

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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15 Responses to Photo of the Week – August 31 2017

  1. Mary Grey says:

    I so look forward to seeing your posts every week. They are a real boost for my morale in the midst of appeals for money or exhortations to sign petitions that litter my inbox landscape. Thank you!

  2. Pat says:

    Wildlife photographers simply allow themselves more opportunities for those happy accidents. Love your wildlife photos!

  3. Jennifer Pospichal says:

    Chris, these are fabulous photos as usual. They made my day!

    Jennifer Pospichal outdoor recreation products 402-289-0400 800-747-5437 1055 North 205 Street Elkhorn, NE 68022 jenniferp@outdoorrec.net check out our website! http://www.outdoorrecreationproducts.com [cid:image001.jpg@01D3224A.CC902780]

  4. Kathryn Kerr says:

    There are so many depressing photos available. Yours make my day.

  5. Kathy Olson says:

    I love these shots. That is so cool that you saw a porcupine!

  6. Gay Gilbert says:

    Great photos! Thanks for your consistent creative blog! I especially enjoyed the Jackrabbit photo….

  7. Laurel Erickson says:

    The little porcupine guy is my favorite. All are excellent!! Good work. Thanks for all you do.

  8. Chris, Why are there porcupines on the prairies?? I only think of them as woodland critters. Are they recent introductions? I’ve seen them here in ND, too, and while we have some shelter belts, in general, it’s got to be a tough go for these guys to keep their teeth worn down, no?

    • Chris Helzer says:

      Great question, Kathy. We do have quite a few trees at the Niobrara Valley Preserve, especially along the river, but I’ve also seen porcupines pretty far out into the grassland. This one had quite a few trees around, so no worries for it. I really don’t know enough about porcupines to understand how many trees they need, or whether they can also survive well in grasslands with shrubby habitat. I assume the ones I see out in the prairie are moving to and/or from wooded areas but I really don’t know!

  9. Wonderful how you got the rabbit’s eye so clearly when its in among the grass blades. Love this photo.

  10. Scott McCnadless says:

    I’d love to hear your take on writer K. Wiederholt’s question about porcupines in the prairies. I’ve only ever seen them a few times, and they’ve always been in woodlands,

  11. Kathryn Earle says:

    Thank you for sharing these photos! I also try to have my camera handy when I am working, if I get in a hurry and leave it behind, I always regret it!

  12. Chris Muldoon says:

    I copied this quote years ago, credited to a photographer named Minor White: “No matter how slow the film Spirit always stands still long enough for the photographer it has chosen.” The Spirit must like you!

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