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.

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.