Photo of the Week – October 7, 2016

Mule deer in Cherry County, Nebraska.

Mule deer in the Sandhills of Cherry County, Nebraska.  Read below for the story of how I ended up with this photo.

I have very few photos of deer.  Clarification: I have very few GOOD photos of deer.  I suppose that’s because I’ve never actually gone looking for deer photos. Instead, I try to photograph deer opportunistically as I’m out looking for more interesting things like stink bugs or purple poppy mallow flowers.

Because of that, most of my deer photos are of the rear ends of deer running away from me.  I suppose that if I walked around with my telephoto lens on all the time, I might have a few more good deer images.  There have been numerous times when I’ve spooked a deer out of tall grass or other cover and watched it run ten or twenty yards, turn to look at me briefly (NOW!  TAKE THE PICTURE NOW!) and then sprint out of sight.  If I’d been ready, I might have gotten a few decent shots from those opportunities.  But no.  My lens for wandering through the prairie is my macro lens, or less often, my wide angle lens to try to capture prairie scenics.

This is a more typical deer photo for me. I walked over the crest of a hill and came across this one. I ducked back down and switched lenses, but only managed one quick shot of the buck before it ran off.

This is a more typical deer photo for me. I walked over the crest of a hill and came across this one. I ducked back down and switched lenses, but only managed one quick shot of the buck as it turned to run away.

While in the Nebraska Sandhills this summer, I got several opportunities for wildlife photos that I didn’t really earn – other than by being there, which is no small thing.  On separate occasions, I got really close to a prairie dog and a red-tailed hawk and ended up with very nice images of both.  A mule deer doe gave me a third opportunity during a June trip to the Sandhills.

I got up early in the morning, hoping for nice light.  After climbing to the top of a steep hill, I was rewarded by a fantastic sunrise.  Once the sunlight brightened a little, I spent time looking for yucca and other flowers to photograph, but didn’t find much that interested me.  As I was about ready to give up and head back down the hill for breakfast, I looked up and spotted a mule deer watching me from the top of the next hill.  I called good morning to her and she didn’t run away, so I replaced my macro lens with my telephoto and started a very slow approach.

I spent maybe ten minutes zig zagging back and forth across the space between us, pretending not to be at all interested in her, and she just watched me.  Whenever she would twitch nervously, I’d stop and examine a flower or blade of grass – just to make it clear I wasn’t stalking her.  Eventually, I got within about twenty yards and started taking photos.  During the next ten minutes she walked around a little bit, keeping a sharp eye on me, but she didn’t act like she felt threatened.  She finally moved downhill enough that she was out of the direct sunlight, and since I’d already gotten way more photos of her than I deserved, I wished her a good day and walked away.

A very accommodating mule deer.

A very accommodating mule deer.

The same mule deer.

The same mule deer, right before she walked out of the light.

I must have taken more than 100 photos of that doe during that ten minutes we spent close to each other.  It was hard to select just three for this post because nearly all of them were nice.  Good light, a tripod, and a subject that stands still and looks at you makes photography pretty easy.  A little luck doesn’t hurt either.

…It was a pretty disappointing morning for wildflower photos, though.

Beaver Crossings

Karen Hamburger, a longtime volunteer with us, recently passed along another batch of trail camera video clips from our Derr Wetland Restoration.  You might remember seeing some of her video in an earlier post.

This time, much of her footage was centered around beaver dams.  There were quite a few video clips of beavers repairing dams or swimming past, along with otters, muskrats, ducks, and other wetland creatures.  However, Karen also captured some more terrestrial species using the beaver dams.

I often use beaver dams as a convenient bridge to cross a stream, and I know I’m not alone in that.  It makes sense that those same dams are important crossing locations for many wildlife species as well.  Karen’s trail cameras documented some of those crossings, including species such as bobcat, raccoon, coyote, and white-tailed deer.  See below.

In addition to wildlife, Karen’s camera also caught another creature crossing a beaver dam at our wetland.  Not once, but twice, she documented photographer Michael Forsberg working his way across the stream with camera in hand.

Mike has been photographing the wetland for many years, and has his own set of camera traps (trail cameras) at the site.  He has also been helping us capture timelapse imagery from the site through both the Platte Basin Timelapse Project and Moonshell Media.  This time, Mike got caught on the other end of the camera.

Beavers play important engineering roles in landscapes. Their dam construction activities change water flow patterns, flood low-lying areas, and create important habitat for many plant and animal species.  Karen’s videos are a good reminder that beaver activity not only affects wetland species, it also affects movement patterns of terrestrial species by providing stream crossings.  As beaver dam locations change, wildlife have to adjust their travel accordingly, and it’s fun to think about how those movement changes could ripple through ecosystems.  The location of a stream crossing for both predators and herbivores affects where those animals choose to forage, for example.  The fate of a plant or small mammal could well be decided by where a deer or coyote can cross a stream – which may be determined by where a beaver family decides to place a dam.  Fascinating!