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Three of a kind

November 30th, 2010 2 comments

 

After a successful evening with an adult red fox, I was itching to take more pictures of the fox family.  I moved my photo blind closer to the front of the den and left it there for a few days. Most animals wouldn’t care about a photo blind, but a wary animal like foxes know their environment very well. 

Of course,… things didn’t go as I planned. For the next two days, the fox kits were so wary that they didn’t even come out of the den.  As you can imagine, sitting in a photo blind for hours in a hot and humid day isn’t necessarily fun. 

The third day, I tried something different.  I sprayed myself with a scent eliminator and went into the blind well before sunrise.  The first hour I saw one kit poking its head out a few times.  The second hour I saw a second one and then a third one poke their head in and out of the den.  At last, the next hour, a magic happened.  All three of the kittens came out of the den at the same time. 

Startled at the sounds of camera shutter, they pointed their ears and looked straight into my direction. With a 600mm lens with 2x teleconverter, I decided to have more depth of field (f/stop) to get all of them in focus.  I set my f/stop at f/11 and sacrifice a shutter speed, as slow as 1/60sec.

With a new Canon 1D Mark IV, I was able to set ISO at 1600. Amazingly, this new Canon camera allowed ISO to go this high and still managed to produce sharp images.  How sharp? I made a 24×36 inches print and I could see every hair on them.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Wildlife Tags:

Prairie Birds

November 29th, 2010 1 comment

For several years some birds like Henslow’s Sparrow, Sedge Wren, and Upland Sandpiper had eluded me.  They are not the most striking-looking or the most interesting birds.  However, they are unique and important in the prairie ecosystem. 

In fact, Henslow’s Sparrow is on a watch list in many states including Missouri.  These birds spend most of their time hiding in grass and only in certain time of the year (and only if you’re lucky) you can hear their calls. 

Some photographers don’t get much excited about these birds or don’t have much desire to photograph them.  But as a conservation photographer, I feel it is my duty to document these birds and make people care and understand their importance.  

To find these birds, I have to learn to listen to their calls and watch for their movement in the prairie.  Both Henslow’s Sparrow and Sedge Wren pop up very quickly to perch on grasses or flowers.  My technique of getting close to these birds is to sit low and move slow. 

I was able to get close enough to this bird with my 600mm lens with 1.4x teleconverter.  One hot evening I spot an upland sandpiper perched on a fence post. I positioned myself directly below where the bird appeared.  

Categories: Birds, Photo Shooting, Wildlife Tags:

Last light on fox

October 8th, 2010 1 comment

With all wildlife subjects I’ve photographed, Red Fox is one of my all time favorites.  They are very smart and witty.  More often, they can outsmart me.  It doesn’t matter what I do to conceal myself.  The fox always knows that’s a foreign object.  

This spring I was fortunate enough to locate a fox’s den over the hill behind a residential home in the countryside.  The forest was very dense, so it was very difficult to get a good light and a fast shutter speed to freeze the movement. 

I put on my camouflage clothes and sat quietly against a tree. For hours as I waited, the fox didn’t come close enough.  Just as the sun was setting behind the hill, the female fox came back with food to feed her youngsters.  She sat over the hill covered with moss right in front of me.  The light was on her perfectly. 

I carefully rested my hand on the top of my lens in an attempt to stabilize any vibration – this technique is called long lens technique (or LLT).  The shutter speed was 1/10sec even with ISO setting at 1000 ISO – I could have gone higher with my camera ISO, but then I would have had to sacrifice details and add much noise in my image.  I held my breath as I pressed my shutter button.  I took eight shots, three of which were on focus.  The fox moved off quickly as soon as she spotted me.  But it was one of those incredible moments in my photography experiences.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Wildlife Tags:

Dream comes true – photographing River Otters

January 20th, 2010 49 comments

River Otter

After waiting a number of days for dense fogs to clear up, I decided to go check my favorite wetland area not too far from my house.  I was cruising around the area searching for waterfowls without much expectation, when I spotted a River Otter sitting on the ice.  However, before I could even pull my gear out of bag, it went underwater.

I’ve always dreamed of photographing River Otters in winter.  So, missing an opportunity to photograph a River Otter on the ice was very frustrating.  After kicking myself for not being prepared, I sat quietly inside my vehicle hoping to get a glimpse of it again.

Hours passed, and I finally spot not just one, but five River Otters.

Camera SetupI covered my car window in camouflage and sat quietly inside the vehicle.  The otters approached with caution but later presumed their daily activities.  After years of photographing wildlife, my gut told me that this was going to be once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My choice of lens was Canon 800mm f/5.6 IS and 1.4X teleconverter, which allowed me to get a lot closer than 600mm or 500mm.  Besides, 800mm lens is very sharp even when used with 1.4X teleconverter.  River Otters have high contrast with darker coat, so overcast light didn’t hurt.  I over-exposed by +1 ½ stop over a camera normal recommendation.

Several times the Otters came so close as it caught a fish underwater and brought to the ice to feed on.   The light wasn’t great, but it was a unique opportunity to capture a close-up of River Otters hunting, socializing, and playing in front of me all morning.

Actually it was a dream come true in the most unexpected bad weather.

River Otter

River Otter

River Otter

Categories: Wildlife Tags:

Photographing winter birds

January 10th, 2010 No comments

Northern Cardinal

Snow and cold weather bring some of the most unique wildlife photography opportunities, since most of wildlife have to concentrate their efforts on searching for food and enduring the severe weather.  As eager as I am to photograph them, I am very careful in approaching them during these harsh times.  I believe no image is worth putting wellbeing of my subjects in danger.

Fox SparrowDuring the heavy snowstorm in early January, I located a spot in the field nearby my house where many birds feed on leftover gains.  I sat my photo blind across the area.  I didn’t have to wait long before more than 20 Northern Cardinals and a few dozens of various birds showed up.

The temperature was in minus with wind chill as low as -30F.  All birds puffed up their feathers to keep the heat inside, which made them to appear bigger than they actually are.  That’s why I always prefer photographing birds in early spring and winter.

Northern CardinalWhen photographing something less than 18% gray especially snow, I overexpose by +1/2 to +1 depend on the subject.  For a Northern Cardinal, I normally give +3/4 exposure, so it won’t blow too much highlight of the bird’s bright red feathers.

Categories: Wildlife Tags:

Sneaky Mink

December 30th, 2009 2 comments

I’ve wanted to photograph Mink ever since it had snuck up on me about 2 years ago.  It literally ran between my feet while I was sitting in my hiding spot.  Not only it was rare to spot a wild Mink, but also it was highly unlikely that this shy animal ran right towards me.

MinkA funny thing is that it always seems to have a mischievous grin on its face.

So, one day when a biologist informed me a spot where a Mink had been regularly spotted, I was quite excited about the chance to photograph them.

Many times (or most of times) successful capturing of wildlife images depend on how much you know about the species.  So I did my research trying to learn about their eating habits, living environments, etc. as much as possible.

The American Mink (Neovison vison) is a North American member of the Mustelidae family found in Canada and most of the United States.  It is related to Weasels, and Otters.  Just like their cousin, Otters, Minks are particularly fond of crayfish and spend most of time in the water searching for food.

As with any other wildlife, it wasn’t easy to photograph a Mink.  It moved quite fast and constantly between water and land.  In addition, its small body was well blended with the environment, which made it difficult to keep track while looking through my camera viewfinder.

After spending some time watching how Mink moved around, I found a temporary burrow or a tunnel, where it would carry the food in and out.  So, I sat and waited.  As I predicted, the Mink immerged from its burrow with surprise expression of its face.   I only had few seconds to capture this before it retreated back inside.Mink

With such a shy species like Mink, my choice of lens is a Canon 600mm with a 1..4X teleconverter.  I prefer ISO setting at 800, which gives me a shutter speed at 1/250 sec for the early morning light to stop any movement of the Mink.   If the light improves, I may change it to 400 ISO.  Most new digital cameras now have a good capability of high ISO.

Categories: Photo Shooting, Wildlife Tags:

Photographing black bears in Missouri

October 5th, 2009 4 comments

When my art director at the Missouri Department of Conservation asked me several years ago if I ever have a chance to photograph black bears in Missouri, please do so.  I told myself, “what a one-in-a million chance that would be”

Black bears had been considered a rare or extirpated species in Missouri in the past.  However, due to the reintroduction in Arkansas years ago, sightings of black bears have become quite regular especially around the Ozark area.

About a month ago I was informed of a family of black bears in the southwest Missouri area.  According to the landowner, a sow weights between 300-350 pounds and her three yearlings have been wondering around in his property in the past year.  I was excited about the news, but I wasn’t that optimistic, considering that I’ve never seen one in Missouri and considering how shy black bears usually are.

PhotoblindI set up my photo blind in a place where the landowner spotted the bears often.  I’ve never photographed bears from a blind before (where there is nothing to block between the bear and me) – so it was quite frightening.

I could only imagine what would happen if the bear decided to “investigate” this plastic structure.

In short, for the following weeks I’ve spent much of my time photographing this bear family.

I have had few incidents that made me feel nervous.  For instance, one morning after feeding on a field of berry, the sow decided to come little too closer to my photo blind.

Black Bear

And of course, being a photographer, I was just focusing on capturing her images until I realized that her face was starting to fill my viewfinder.  You can imagine how frighting that moment must have been.

I grabbed my pepper spray and was getting ready to pick up my tripod to defend myself.  Fortunately, she decided to stop walking towards me and turned back to the woods with her cubs.

I’ve never dreamed of photographing a black bear in Missouri, let alone spending weeks with a family of bear.  The sow definitely weighted 350 pounds or more.  Having photographed big bears in the west and Canada, I know a 300-350 pounds bear is considered quite big and healthy.

So, yes, we have black bears in Missouri.

How many?  No one knows for sure, but black bear sightings are increasing every year.  Missouri Dept. of Conservation is planning to study black bears and hope to have a real estimate number soon.

Black Bear

Categories: Wildlife Tags:

Cottonmouth Snake

March 19th, 2009 9 comments

Cottonmouth_0107

I was informed by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife biologist that there has been a large number of snakes found nearby a bluff at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Puxico, Missouri.

Early morning we found and almost stepped on as many as 20 Cottonmouth on the bluff.

We made a calculated risk and approached them as close as possible, without being bitten by these deadly poisonous snakes.  I’d like to thank John Hartleb for informing me and assisting me in this photo shoot.

Categories: Wildlife Tags:

Snow Geese in Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge

March 11th, 2009 6 comments

geese2

I heard from my friend that a large number of Snow Geese were flocking in Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Mound City, Missouri.

I got up 3AM and headed to the Refuge.  When I arrived, there were very few of Snow Geese.

However, later in the afternoon, a large number of Snow Geese flew back  to the Refuge because of the snow storm in the northern states.  According to a manager at the Refuge, there were as many as 1 million Snow Geese (I have no idea how he counts them.)  The geese filled the entire pond, and the frozen ice started to sink because of their weight.

Categories: Wildlife Tags:

Roadrunner

February 19th, 2009 1 comment

Roadrunner_0077 Greater Roadrunner

I found this friendly (?) Roadrunner nearby Springfield, Missouri.

I set up a photo blind and spent hours inside the blind observing him and photographing.

It was amazing to watch him do a mating display and catch a prey right in front of me.

He got so used to my presence that he even poked his head inside of my blind to investigate me.

Greater Roadrunner Greater Roadrunner

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