I had a very unsuccessful day, this past Monday, for I didn’t get any photographs of the Channel Island foxes. I spent 3 ½ hours walking up and down Santa Cruz Island carrying my camera equipment, over 18,000 steps on my Fitbit Blaze watch, that’s over 7 ½ miles. No photos, and only one sighting 10 minutes before the boat left! Therefore, I drove the long 4 hours back to my ranch, feeling very tired and mentally depress with extremely sore leg muscles.
The next day, stiff and sore, I spend time cleaning out my ponds from last winter’s debris. The cabin pond was clean now and filled up with fresh water. At the end of the afternoon, I decided what the heck, I’ll photograph. Postponing the many chores, I need to complete before I left the ranch and headed home.
At the end of the day, as the sun had set behind the mountains, sitting in my blind, the male and female Western Bluebirds came into the pond and bathed. It was as if they were thanking me with providing them with clean fresh water, and offering their bathing activities as a great opportunity to photograph them. They seem to know that I was feeling a little blue and down, having missed capturing images of the Channel Island foxes.
They brighten and uplifted my spirit, and left me very humbled. This image is one I captured of the male bluebird, expressing his joy by cleaning his bright blue feathers, spraying water everywhere. The Ramrod Ranch always delights me and continues to provide wondrous wildlife moments. I love the place because of moments like this!
All these factors contribute to a Sunday where I was still very tired. I wasn’t about to miss a morning shooting in my blind at the Upper Pond. However, during the morning in the blind, I kept nodding off. A couple of California Quail came up to the perches that surrounded the pond; it was their constant chuckling that woke me up.
The female and the male flew up to my raptor perch. I took several images of them both. The female quail stayed longer and started calling out. Photographically, I was having a hard time fitting her image into the frame. My 600 mm IS f4.0 lens is sometimes just too tight, and this was the case here.
I had my 100—400 mm lens with me in the blind just for this case. As I took my camera body off the 600 mm lens, putting on the shorter lens, I looked up and saw that the female quail flew into the little blue oak tree that’s right behind the pond, and out of sight. My frustration was high, for it appeared that I changed the lens in vain, and for nothing.
With the 100—400 mm lens and camera on my lap as the minutes ticked by, I noticed a change in the quail’s chuckling coming from the little blue oak tree. It was different, and I was instantly alert. For these calls were their warning calls that a fox, bobcat, or some other predator was nearby. I had heard them many times before.
I looked out toward the brush line where the jeep road goes up the mountain and walking into my sight line appears a beautiful bobcat. For once I was prepared with the right lens, for all I had to do was raise the camera up from my lap. It has taken many years of coming close and many missed opportunities, I finally had my chance to capture a good image of Bobcat. I have seen them around the ranch many times over the years. My clients have got images of them from the same pond. Somehow my luck and fortune through the years weren’t good.
The bobcat might have come up to the pond to drink, like the Gray Foxes, have over the years. However, I think it heard the clicking from my camera shutter and after about thirty images it turn around and disappeared into the brush. For next time, I need to use the silent shooting mode that’s available on my Canon 7D Mark II camera body, for this mode really reduces the noise coming from closing and clicking the shutter. Then, I might get that coveted drinking image.
The male and female quail were still giving their warning calls, so I knew that the bobcat was still around. After a few minutes, I looked up through what I call the breezeway towards the big metal water tank. There was the bobcat next to the tank sniffing the ladder I have there to check the water level in the tank. It was between the tank and the ladder. I took a few more images before it moved off into the thick brush. As the minutes passed, the quail stopped their warning calls; I knew that the bobcat was gone, and no longer in the immediate area.
Thrilling moments, after a lifetime of disappointment. This beautiful bobcat is now forever close to my heart. I will remember and cherish these moments, every time I look at these images. I am so happy and glad I awakened just in time!
I just spent five fabulous days at my Ramrod Ranch, setting up my photo blinds for bird photography, adding new perches, and preparing backgrounds by clearing grass around the ponds.
Because of my serious back injury, there was a period of 767 days from early 2015 through early 2017 that I was unable to go to my sacred place. During this visit, I reconnect to this place again, emotionally and spiritually. These five days I soaked in all the bird life. I took moonlight walks each evening, hearing a Great Horned Owl hooting its deep voice on a nearby hill. Each day I was surprised by a special and rare bird species. First, it was a Yellow Warbler, then, a Nashville Warbler—my first real photographs of this bird. The next day a Sharp-shinned hawk came by the cabin pond searching for its next meal.
The third and four days a Pacific-sloped Flycatcher made an appearance. I love Flycatchers; they are very shy but I got some very good images with good backgrounds of this wary bird. It seemed to favor the five o’clock hour to make an evening show.
However, it was the fifth day and my last morning where up by the water tank and the large main pond that I was graced with a special visit by a Gray Fox. They are so beautiful. It was thirsty and ran around the pond just feet away from me. For once I was prepared by having my 100 – 400 mm lens ready so I could zoom back and forth, getting wide-angle full body shots as well as tight portraits. This moment lasted only a minute or so but was so wonderful it seemed to last much longer. It is also forever imprinted on the view screen of my mind.
That’s not all, the Gray Fox, made a second appearance twenty minutes after the first, still thirsty. It drank again. The few quail around scattered deep into the brush. I was blessed and felt honored by sharing these few moments with this beautiful fox.
Due to a recent cancellation, I have spaces available for the October 6 and 7th, if you would like to share nature with me, and take the journey to become a better nature photographer.
It’s an incredible experience to watch birdlife so close, behaving so naturally as if you aren’t even there. I have included a couple of images of this beautiful Gray Fox and one of the Pacific-sloped Flycatcher. If I can capture these images, it possible for you to do so too. Let me teach you how.
For more information and to register, follow this link to my signup page.
Each morning a bird call awakens me. Its song is familiar yet unknown. I have not been able to identify it yet, to come know what species makes its familiar call. It’s bothering me not to know. Nevertheless, it is very pleasing to hear each morning–like hearing an old friend’s voice again after a long absence.
Imagine the world without songbirds–without bird songs to wake you in the morning. The world would be diminished, and Rachel Carson’s vision of a “Silent Spring” would be realized. How sad would that day be, not to hear the thrilling sound of birdcalls? Have their calls only remembrances in our dreams!
Songbird populations across the world are in trouble. From the pesticides that worried Rachel Carson, “to the feral and domestic cats catching many birds in their claws, to those who die in collisions with skyscrapers, communication towers, wind turbines, and even glass windows and doors of suburban homes.”(1) Just the other day, I found a female Lesser Goldfinch outside of my glass back door lying dead on my backyard porch. It happens more than you realize.
Habitat fragmentation is a great concern as our world becomes more commercialized for our needs. Our exponential growing populations place greater demands upon the natural world. As more of wild nature succumbs to our human environments and less and less is left for wild creatures including songbirds. As we pave over, build our structures, and alter the world’s surroundings to meet our needs and wants. There simply are fewer and fewer places for songbirds to live and flourish.
Bird populations are falling fast; we have lost almost half the songbirds that filled the skies forty years ago, by some counts over a billion birds.(1) Year by year more songbirds become endangered of going extinct. One of my large bird books has a picture of a passenger pigeon. An artist drawing of a beautiful bird of subtle pastel colors. Wow, I say to myself when I see this picture. I would have loved a chance to see one alive. However, it is extinct, and no long possible to see one fly in the sky, yet over a hundred and fifty years ago, millions blotted the skies of the eastern North America.
Ultimately, I think it comes down to a choice. Our generation and the next must decide to save and protect our natural world, preserving the diversity of life on our wonderful living planet. Now we alone hold the future of life on earth in our hands. We must change our thoughts and actions from one of domination to one of coexistence.
Evolve enough to understand, I am because of you; I am because of other life forms. (2) Relearn that humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web; we do to ourselves. All living things are bound together. All living things are interconnected and dependent on each other for survival. (3)
Otherwise, if we don’t relearn and absorb these lessons, take it to heart; it will be very bad and a very sad hour for mankind. No more melodic birds’ songs will grace the airways and bring music to our ears each every morning we awaken to greet a new day. Truly, their songs of life will go silent for the last time.
Nature has incredible restorative powers. Life has an indomitable spirit. If we make the right choice, then there is optimism. Hope for mankind and for a better future. Eventually, my singing songbird will come out of the dense tree foliage, and I’ll have my identification. I will have kept at it; the way mankind must persevere in the coming decades.
Bruce Finocchio is one of the WBB photographers who images are currently showing at the Art Ark Gallery in San Jose, California. Meet Bruce and the other WBB photographers at the June 3 reception from 5:00 to 9:00 PM, and hear their incredible stories of photographing wildlife all over the world, and how they take their work from “Beauty to Deeper Understanding”.
What Goes into a Spectacular Wildlife Portrait? (5 Essential Ingredients)
A portrait without a great subject just doesn’t work; there is nothing to catch and hold the eye, nothing to draw and elicit emotions from the viewer. Some would think a green lynx spider is a great subject, it can be, for spiders and insects strike a chord in some. Yet, sea otters who have a human baby like face, and other attractive animals especially cats and members of the dog family, are more popular subjects and really strike the emotional heart of humans. Young mammals have that “cute” factor that always touches people and produce that “ah” and “wow” response. Many nature photographers capitalize on this reaction and develop much of their efforts in photographing the young of many mammal species. Yet, I still believe that any wildlife subject photographed extremely well can be a great portrait.
How clean is the image? Are there distractions? Where does the eye go to? Whatever the subject is it cannot stand out or sing, unless the background is clear and clean. Ultimately, a complex and busy background will draw the viewer’s attention away from the subject itself. The background’s color, line, and content need to compliment the subject and add to the overall impact of the image, not detract from the subject. Sometimes the background is just as important as the subject.
Another significant factor is light. Light is the key to any successful image. A great image must have great light. For inherently, photography is essentially capturing light. Many types of light can be used in portrait making. Side lighting can be effective, and with human subjects, the use of flash gives the photographer lots of control over the overall quality of light. The classic Rembrandt technique with its two to one ratio give classic human portraits. Window lightening is also a very simple yet effective light source in the hands of a competent photographer. For outdoor wildlife portraits, my favorite light is diffused light: soft and not harsh, and rendering colors to their most vibrant essence. Not the thick gray clouds of rain, nor the dreary gray of fogging days, but just the thin clouds just obscuring the sun’s direct and bright light–a big giant softbox obscuring the sun.
Another factor is the spirit of life. That twinkle in the eyes that reflect back the spirit and personality of the animal. Black and dull eyes mean lifeless eyes. Without good illumination, you have a stuffed animal look that doesn’t capture the mystery and wonder of life. Eyes must be sharp in focus. As they say, eyes are windows to the soul!
The final element is the composition. Like a great painter, you must draw the observer in. Create a three-dimension space from a two-dimension medium. Diagonal lines are more powerful and less static than horizontal or vertical lines. Use s-curves, color, form, and texture to keep your viewer engaged. Study great art! The composition principals are the same in both mediums. Keep the composition simple, for simplicity clarifies the structure and purposes the image-maker intend. Whereas complexity visually clutters the eye and leaves a general disinterest and disappointment with the viewer. Great composition means a powerful impact that engages on an emotional and spiritual level. Hauntingly drawing the viewer back time and time again, to see with fresh eye once more.
In summary, you need an interesting subject that sparkles with life and engages the viewer with its own unique personality. Where all the elements contribute and enhance the subject. Keeping the background simple and clean lets the subject captivate the viewer and tugs at the strings of the heart. Photography is an evocative art. The making of a great portrait image is accomplished with distinct and interesting illumination and with a creative composition that ties in all the elements together.
Adding a little behavior could also enhance the overall impact, educating the viewer, providing a glimpse or window into the lives of these animals. Here for my example, a fox with a prey animal in its mouth. Yet other than serendipity, this requires lots of time in the field, much studying their behavior and patience and more patience. However, the reward could be outstanding, a portrait with behavior.
Applying these ingredients over time, with practice and dedication, you will develop a style, and furthermore, your vision and unique way of seeing the world will come through in your images, in your body of work, and that’s the making of great art!
Here is a particular wildlife portrait I really love. It’s one of my gray fox images taken at my beloved ramrod ranch from a photo blind. It’s just incredible to watch a wild gray fox come into drink not ten feet away from you. It’s a humbling and spiritual experience. I just love the diffused fall colors in the background. Especially, the diagonal flow of the top part and the subtle warm circular colors in the bottom left. Love also the expression of life in this young gray fox’s face. It’s so alive and alert… One of my best wildlife portraits!!!
This image was taken at the Ramrod Ranch where I offer bird blind photography each spring and fall. Not only do birds come to water, but so does many other animals like this beautiful gray fox.
It has come to me; I must become a mother to seven or eight young juvenile Merriam’s chipmunks. Their mothers are gone, passed into the fourth world–never again to suckle these seven or eight youngsters. Was it my fault, yes and no! Am I to blame? I ask myself?
The answer is that the mothers are gone, and I now must take the responsibility to keep these youngsters alive. Assigning blame isn’t going to keep these little guys and girls alive. Get them to adulthood, and foraging on their own. So they too, can grow up and raise young ones of their own. That’s now my mission.
My friend Randy knows the situation; the task is a bit daunting. I must get them to be independent, but they are going to be dependent on me for a while. It is going to be a step by step process. Tame them, no! Really lead them, to the direction of being wild and able to live on their own.
I know that I am being a bit cryptic and mysterious. I have my reasons, and they are good ones. If you want the whole or full story, you’ll have to contact me personally.
I leave you with a couple images of Chipmunks being Chipmunks. I never cease to marvel at these little dynamos of energy. Their antics always seem to make me happy, and if I am a bit depressed they always lift my spirits. Yet, now too, I realize that even they have moments of dependency, of fright, and loneliness.
I am also recognizing individual personalities too. I know that some are going to make it with no problem; others are going to present a great challenge!
A mother must give the type of love that each require. All seven or eight aren’t the same; they are individuals! Not only must I be a loving mother, but a smart one too…
A story from the Ramrod Ranch, a series of wildlife adventures…
And the Last Chipmunk Word…
The first, absolutely the first thing I did when I arrived at the Ramrod Ranch was to go to the bird feed. It’s all in a large garbage can. I have a plastic cup that I use to scoop it out with, so I filled this large plastic cup and headed over to the chipmunk corner, laying out the feed for them. They have been living on the thistle seed, and I put out a large pile for them. I figured that they would be starving… I was right they were!
But this mother was too late for two of them; I found one laying dead close to the area where I left out the seed. I put out a lot of seed before I left, was it not enough? Did I make a mistake? Or was this little chipmunk just too weak to survive. Later in the day, I found another dead chipmunk close by, they were so young. They just did not make it.
Sorrow was in my heart, I had failed two young lives. However, my spirits were buoyed by the flourishing four others who scamper down and came to eat the feed I had left. At least four made it, so far, not sure where the other two are, I know that last time I had counted at least seven. Maybe, the other two were off on their own; I heard at least one down by the barn when I came back from the blind midday and finished photographing.
It was a warm spring day, temperature in the low eighties, tomorrow promise to be another slightly warmer day at the Ramrod Ranch! Even with the sad deaths of the two little chipmunks, and a slight bout with heat stroke, I still had an incredible day observing all the bird life at the ramrod ranch… I just couldn’t stay sad, for all the other life up lifted my spirits!!! Nature and life just fortify the soul and sooth the heart every time. I feel like I am in heaven every moment I spend in nature…
PS: You can guarantee I am going to drink more water tomorrow, and I’ll definitely wear my baseball cap. I really need to find a type of hat that I can photograph with and that will protect me from the hot rays of the sun…
The Final Chapter
A week later I was relaxing in the yard one late afternoon, when a chipmunk came hopping down the yard to the base of the big oak tree by the cabin. It started feeding on some of the grasses around this oak tree. Yet, its movements were kind of slow and not chipmunk like at all. When, it turned toward me, I could see a strange glow in its eye. At first, I thought it might be just the light. I got up and I took several pictures of it, and then I checked the back of my camera and the images still showed this strange glow. I didn’t use flash so that could not be it.
I gathered some food (bird seed), and gently walked over to it. I placed the food right in front of it, stepped back and watched it for a while. Eventually, the young chipmunk began eating the bird seed in front of it. The movements still were slow. I went back to my chair and watched it for a while. It seemed to get disinterested in the food. Then, it tried to climb up the trunk of the big oak tree next to the cabin, but it didn’t make it too high, and almost felled back to the ground, like it didn’t have enough energy to make it up the tree trunk. On the ground not long after, it squeezed between the cabin boards and went underneath the cabin. This is the last time I saw it.
After reviewing the images and thinking about its slow mechanical actions, I realized that the chipmunk was blind. That’s what was accounting for that unusual glow in its eyes. It never did see me as I placed the bird seed inches from its body.
I talked to my doctor about a week later and she said that one of the affects of starvation could be blindness, not enough nutrients for proper eye function.
I am sure this little chipmunk did not make it…very sad!
The good news is that the four remaining juvenile chipmunks hanging around the corner by the bathroom door and on top of the old jerky cage seem to be doing well. Each week I left some bird seed for them. Then, as the weeks passed by, they seem to be foraging on their own, and venturing out from this little corner. I began to see and hear them down by the barn.
As the photography workshops began, the chipmunks disbursed and headed out for a life of their own. I was a little sad, because I didn’t have to feed them any longer, and they weren’t hanging around in their little corner any more where I could see them regularly. Yet, I felt happy too; for now four chipmunks were living on their own now, with the chance to grow up and have babies of their own…
Essential Tips for Bird Blind Photography (Blinds, Ponds, & Perches)
Bird photography starts with some kind of concealment because most birds do not tolerate close presence of people. To take bird images of exceptional quality that sing with their beauty, you must get close. With small birds that means within ten to fifteen feet, even with large lenses and the digital multiplication factor of some modern digital camera sensors.
A popular blind that offers the advantage of portability is the Rue Ultimate Blind, these blinds offer set-up times within minutes and they can be easily moved to different locations. However, I prefer the hunting blinds from Ameristep; these offer the portability of the Rue blinds but offer greater visibility with their window versus snout style. Their mesh window coverings in various degrees can be Velcro attached to conceal the photographer. Also, the bottom is free of the spring steel rods that are sometimes bothersome with the Rue style. The Ameristep blinds also fold up like reflectors and diffusers and fit it a small back pack for easy carrying. Pocket or cloth blinds are another type that can be used, although I found that these types are also difficult with vision, compared to the Ameristep hunting blinds.
All these blinds can be moved from one location to another, from one feeding station or pond to others. Permanent blinds, of the wood type, do allow even shy bird species to become completely accustom to the blind. The portable blinds mentioned above if move or placed at different locations for short periods of time don’t always allow very sensitive species time to completely accept the presence of the blind. Each bird species has its sensitivity. Some species are very shy while others easily tolerate the presence of a blind.
If you provide feed and water, birds will come. Many types of feeders are available, and hummingbird feeders are also very popular. The main point is to be consistent, and keep feeding them once you start. You can set up feeders for bird photography in your backyard, simply hanging them on a favorite tree. An extra step would be to create some kind of pond for them. Something as simple as a drip system will attract birds. Birds like to bathe and keep their feathers clean. A fresh water pond would provide opportunities to take bathing and drinking images from a well placed blind.
Rural Ranches or properties in the suburbs offer more possibilities for attracting additional species to a pond and feeding station. With the extra acres and/or close proximity to parks or natural wilderness, many backyards and ranches offer the ideal habitats to bring birds within range of your camera. Many ranches and properties across the nation are now creating such locations for photo blinds and bird photography, and offer the possibility of photographing many different species of birds. The southwest and Texas where water is precious, many permanent blinds are set up around ponds or water tanks, especially designed for bird photographers. These places charge fees, and also sometimes offer different photographic seasons, where nesting, young birds, migrates, and adults in breeding plumage can be photographed usually during the spring or fall season.
If you are creating your own little bird habitat for photography, one benefit to consider is to create and use your own perch sticks. Birds coming into feeding stations need a place to land. A place to land free of the feeder itself, so you can create natural images of birds. Although, bird images on feeders are good to round out a story, and for products that cater to the bird feeding industry. With your own perch sticks you can put the bird in the right place photographically–using many types of perch sticks for many types of looks. Also, by using perch sticks from the natural areas surrounding your location, you can create realistic and natural images. You would not want to use evergreens from the Pacific Northwest for perches around a Texas hill country blind and watering station. Perch sticks with lichen offer pictorial elements to a scene or image. Green, yellow, or orange lichen, can create a perch image that is pictorially a notch above an image made with boring or ugly branch. Select your perch sticks with care, finding natural ones that enhance your images. In this way you’re actually designing your image, creating an image that sings with beauty and can be published by a magazine.
By knowing birds and their habitats, you can fit the perch sticks to the species. And even go as far as planting natural plants and trees specific to your area for your own backyard bird photographic habitat. Another advantage of perch sticks is that you can place them wherever you want around the feeder or pond. Tying or taping them to existing tree limbs works well. Hanging them over ponds as stopping areas before the birds land next to the water works well too. Placing them close to the feeder and having them different distances from the feeder will create many different landing and photographing points as the birds come in for food. A third advantage to perch sticks is they can be set up around cavity nesting bird nests. Images of parents returning to the nest with moths, butterflies, and other insects can be captured. Special care must be used in these situations as not to cause the parents to abandon the nest. As with all nature photography, the animal or bird’s welfare must be consider first, and no harm or detrimental behavior changes should be caused by any actions of the photographer.
You also must keep in mind the lighting situation of these perches. Bird photography usually relies on front lighting to identify birds and show off their beautiful feathers and plumage. Fill flash is also a great way to add a touch of light to make our feathered friends stand out and sing with beauty—adding the light particularly to the eyes to show the light of life. It fact, for all these reasons, fill flash is an essential tool for bird blind photography, a tool that I use all the time. By using a flash extender that attaches to the end of my flash head I get that extra extended reach from my flash. In addition, using an external battery pack helps recycle flashes quickly, and extends flash battery life. This means more successful fill flash images, for birds are always moving, and are rarely stationary for long periods. Another area to pay strict attention to is the background when placing perch sticks. Perch sticks placed in dense foliage will create a busy background and a busy unexciting image. Backgrounds are just as important as the subject, clean diffused, simple natural backgrounds are best. A scarlet red house in the background, even diffused, is not the type of background color for your natural looking bird images. Dark greens and browns are colors that work best—the colors of nature. Light colored backgrounds draw the viewer away from your subject bird, and make it difficult to see birds with dark plumages.
With a portable blind and a rain tarp you can photograph in any weather, getting those dramatic winter images that you see in bird magazines. Take advantage inclement weather, and of the beautiful diffused light of cloudy days that we loved from our film shooting days. With some planning, preparation, and a little hard work over time you can create your own little bird oasis right in your backyard. Feeders and ponds will bring birds to you, and perches properly placed will give you the opportunity to make great lasting images of our avian friends.
It was a cold and rainy New Year’s weekend; it rained for over 24 hours. While in bed at night, I heard the pitter patters of the rain on the roof of the cabin. And I thought of renewal and the water that would make it happen, and the spring grasses and wildflowers to come. The winter nights were long, and it was very cold. I needed a fire in the fireplace for more warmth and to make the cabin somewhat bearable.
When I finally got outside after the rain was over, the light was magical, and the birds were there feeding on Toyon Berries. There were four hermit thrushes each with its unique feeding style. One would come in and dash out; its feeding style was to grab and run. Another one had eyebrow feathers that stuck out, and it hung out in the open more, where I could get a more open look for my images.
The California Thrashers were there too. You could hear them with their clucks, clicks, and mockingbird sounds. They came in repeatedly for the berries, a big item on their diet. I just love the way they would grab the berries and throw them down their throats. Capturing a berry in mid air between their beaks was my photographic goal.
The wrentits were very difficult, for they were always feeding from the inside and hardly ever would show themselves on the outside of the Toyon berry bushes. I caught one pecking out from the thick leaves with a berry in its beak, my only successful wrentit image.
My favorite bird was the flicker. I waited and waited, then I waited some more. I was always listening for flickers for they usually announced their presence with a call. Yet, the female came in only once during the whole day. But when she did come in the Light was magical, the sun was just peeking out of the clouds, and the light was bright but had a special softness. My images of her weren’t too harsh; they were just about perfect.
There were short bursts of shooting activity, and very long periods of waiting; such is bird photography from a blind.
During one of the long waiting periods, is when I heard the Bobcat, it was across the canyon from me. It was calling; its call was sort of a rasping and moaning sound. It called for about 10 minutes, so special to hear a Bobcat in the wild. It made my day, for its moaning call touched my soul.
All in all, a great day in the photo blind at the Ramrod Ranch… Someday soon I’ll see that calling Bobcat and capture its heart and spirit in a photograph
Sometimes when you least expect it, something appears out of nowhere and brightens your life, and leaves you with an incredible moment that will stay with you forever. This is the world of nature, and nature photography, special moments, indelible, forever imprinted within your mind as treasured memories. This morning one of these moments happened to me.
California quail were all around me, cackling and chuckling, in the brush around the pond. From both sides of the little breeze way that separates the brush from directly behind the pond and the sea of brush that leads up the slopes of the hills, I could hear them and occasionally see them as they scurried across the breeze way to the shelter of the thick brush.
I was in my photo blind with my 600 mm lens and digital camera body ready and waiting for them to get up enough courage to come into water at the little pond eight feet in front of my lens. In the early days of July, the mature parents had lots of young ones with them, still with the juvenile markings: a dash of brown and white striped patterns with just a touch of a top notching.
All of a sudden the cackling and chuckling increased in volume, more intense, more urgent, and seemingly coming from all around me, as I sat in my blind waiting. In the back of my mind, I knew something was different about the increased level of noise. Yet, I didn’t react or increase my level of awareness; I just contentedly and patiently waited for the quail to get over their fright and nerves, waiting for them to come on out of the brush and into camera range and view.
Then, it was there, right in front of me: a beautiful gray fox. Yes, not eight feet away, a gray fox. I can’t begin to describe what a beautiful animal it was. This was why the quail were making so much noise. After a moment’s hesitation, it went to the pond and started drinking. It happened so fast, one moment nothing was there, and the next moment it was there before my eyes. The photographer in me started to kick in gear, should I reach back in the blind and grasp my other camera body with my 100 to 400 zoom lens. I did not want to take my eyes off this splendid animal. So when it bent down for a drink, I just started shooting with my 600mm, subconsciously knowing that my f-stop might be too high, and my resulting shutter speed too slow. And what was I doing on ISO 500?
But nothing mattered for the moment as I focused on the gray fox’s head lapping up the precious life giving water. It looked up at me, my flash was going, and would it scare it off? God, I was so close, too bloody close, I couldn’t even keep the ears in the frame as it look at me. Then, in a moment it was off, heading back into the brush. One last look back at me, I switched to vertical, and composed a couple more images, praying that I was in focus. Then, the moment that would last me a lifetime was over, the beautiful gray fox slipped back into the sea of brush where it came from, twenty or thirty heart pounding adrenaline seconds it was over.
Did I compose the images correctly, was I focused on the eyes, did I get enough depth of field, at that moment. All these thoughts were secondary, for I just witnessed a beautiful animal at home in its environment. For a brief time it shared its life with me, we were connected, and somehow forever joined. I will carry those eyes as it looked back at me and its life spirit with me always in my mind as an everlasting memory.
Upon later reflection, as a friend reminded me, the gray fox too had courage and understanding, courage to come forth out in the open knowing that I was there, and trusting and understanding that I meant no harm.