“What Does Mom See?”

Kodiak Brown Bear family captured by Z 8 / Z600f4 @840mm

The cubs for their first three years depend on mom for everything. They are in many ways, little mirrors of their mom during the day doing nearly exactly what she does when she does it. Oh yeah, there is always that one cub that has to be curious. There is that one cub that is more reserved than the other two. But mom is everything to them so when she stops grazing and comes to attention, so do they. They depend on their noses to tell them what’s happening in their world. It does an amazing job of keeping them informed of who all is on the flats for miles around. When they get scent of something that alarms them, like a big male Kodiak Brown, they stop to look and check things out. With the tall foliage, standing on their hand legs provides them extra elevation to see further. Standing over nine foot tall, there isn’t anything they miss!

What about the old “don’t get between a mom and her cubs” thing? There are lots of really bad myths about bears that I think were started with one simple thought in mind, be respectful of them! Obviously after spending a week in the field with these giants, I’m safe and sharing their story with you (with more to come). The one thing I want to impress on you right now is this very simple thought which will keep the bears and you safe and bringing back the stories. When in their world, all critters for that matter, remember you are a guest in their home so act like a great guest. You’d be surprised how welcomed they will make you feel, over and over again!

The Background is the Stage

Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep ewe captured by Z 9 / Z600f4 @840mm

Bighorn sheep are one of my favorite critters to spend time with and photographing having spent decades with them. I know their world really well but most think of them as living in one place. High up on a cliff. And while that is where they feel safest, that’s not the only place they live. We found them last week on a knoll in Yellowstone amongst the bison and pronghorn. It was as far from a cliff as you can imagine. They weren’t up high but rather, out in the open on the flats. The photo below is how most saw (it was your basic Yellowstone car jam) them at that time and while there is nothing wrong with that click below, the stage wasn’t really set for this regal critter.

Above you can see the photo I desired and one I couldn’t get until the last moment. I saw the stage but had no star! The entire herd had moved through, none going up to the edge of the knoll where there was an opening in the pines with the distant mountains in view. I was hoping for an animal in that aperture to give a sense of space, height, wilderness. Finally, literally, the last ewe ventured to that spot I wanted for the star, it was the perfect stage. No, it doesn’t show it living on its vertical world but it does show them to be at the top of it. Being picky about the background can make an impact in your photograph. Because the background is the stage.

Rocky Mtn Bighorn Sheep ewe captured by Z 9 / Z600f4 @840mm

The Cycle Continues

Bison mom & newborn captured by Z 9 / Z600f4 @1176mm

I’ve seen it a hundred times but it never gets old. All wet and shivering, its up and going and following mom right after birth. Probably the onl times its cute, there is nothing like a baby Bison. They have just started to drop and this week I’m hopng to get a whole bunch more time with them. Will be a challenge with all the magic that is Yellowstone but it will be great fun in the process!

They Run Me Ragged

Brown Creeper captured by Z 9 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x & Profoto A10

I’m sitting here at my desk right this moment watching a Brown Creeper scale the pine outside my window as I write this! More than once I have grabbed my camera and raced out to photograph them only to come back with no clicks. So last week while at Magee Marsh (such a wonderful place) when the first Brown Creeper appeared, I was excited but had little hope of making a click. This little bird some call bark mouse, is about the size of your thumb. It forages by scaling up and down tree trunks looking for minute bugs. With the massive wind storm that hit Magee two years back, the trunks the creepers scale are no longer tall putting them within range. Schweet!

With the biggest challenges being overcome it left just one, the light. The creepers were keeping to the dark recesses of the forest, not ideal for photographs at all. Luckily I had my own light with me, the Profoto A10 attached to the Z 9 / Z400f4.5 rig. I just kissed the Brown Creeper with light, just enough to bring out its color, not enough to even create a shadow and that’s all it took to bring it out of the shadows. As it turned out there were a pair of Brown Creepers. I thought chasing the one at The Ranch was a challenge, I never tried photographing a mating pair. I was greedy and wanted that frame with two creepers in it. I never got it but I had a ton of fun as they ran me ragged!

Just Takes One

female Northern Cardinal captured by Z 9 / Z400f4.5 w/Z1.4x w/Profoto A10

It was a solid morning! There wasn’t a ton of captures compared to the potential but we had some quality time with a Virginia Rail, an elusive subject. By noon though, the rain had settled in and making things more of a downer, wind. With these conditions, bird activity comes to a near halt and that brings photography to an end. That means only one thing, ice cream time! After that break we came back to find the rain was still falling but the wind had died down. When we got a window we headed out to the boardwalk but the activity that late in the day had wound down. There were no clicks. Then as I was just leaving the boardwalk, one step from leaving it I saw this female Northern Cardinal taking a bath in the shower. Shooting through the canopy I made this simple click. The Profoto A10 popped in a touch of light bringing up the color, the rain and saturated light brought to life the spring greens and in a heartbeat, I had one click. And that’s all it takes to make it a successful outing as far as I am concerned. Yes, I would have loved lots of successful clicks but that wasn’t to be. That’s important to understand with wildlife photography because more times than not, I come back with nothing. That’s why I’ve come to learn and enjoy the fact a smile just takes one.

Keeper of the Tides

Sanderling captured by Z 9 / 800AFS

Sanderlings are a fearless shorebird spending a vast majority of its life at the waters edge. They appear to be the keepers of the tide, always chasing the waves back from where they came. As fast as their little legs will go, the run after the waves looking for what they might have deposited or what’s in the sand coming up to greet the water, they an make a meal of. It’s an endless cycle that has been in motion nearly forever. It’s a delicate balance, one we need to share in our photographs.

In telling their story, I start by getting down on their level looking for the background setting that stage for our star. I then think about that background. At times, I might want a soft blur to the water like you see above. Other times, I might want everything crystal clear like you see below. It’s all a matter of shutter speed. Always shooting in Aperture Priority makin the change is as simple as opening up or closing down the aperture. Lying there in the wet sand, one grows a great appreciation for the keeper of the tides.

Sanderling captured by Z 9 / 800AFS

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