The Best Part of Wildlife Photography

I think the most exciting aspect of Wildlife Photography is the chance to observe wild animals in their habitat, doing what they like to do. You can learn a lot from watching their behavior, and in doing that, I feel like a privileged secret observer. While we always keep a respectful distance in order not to distract or interfere with the animal, we whisper to each other, and our excitement is palpable.

Early one morning in Grand Teton National Park, we spotted a bull elk in the field, and his silhouette in the bright morning sun was striking.

Bull elk in Grand Teton National Park with morning light and fall colors.
A photograph of this bull elk in his habitat tells the story of his life in the wild. Grand Teton National Park, September 2021.
Bull elk running after his “girl,” an elk cow, during mating season in Grand Teton National Park.

At one point, we observed the interaction of the bull, the cow and the calf elk, and then they ran out of our line of sight. While close-up photographs are satisfying and show us exactly what the animal looks like, these experiences are exciting, and the photographs share a story. Autumn is a busy time in Grand Teton National Park for the elk, as well as the moose and bears.

Gator on the Move

I made a sunrise trip to Ten Thousand Islands near the Florida Everglades hoping to see roseate spoonbills, but instead got a good look at a very large alligator. He was old, long and big bellied, yet still looking for his next meal. As he swam parallel to the shore, I followed him down the trail for about 15 minutes, getting a good look at him at each clearing. He was looking at me, while I was looking at him (her). Do you see the sunrise reflecting in his eye?

With my Sony 200-600 mm lens, I could stay at a safe distance, but get a close look at this gator’s face. Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Southwest Florida, February 2021.

To give you an idea of the length of this alligator, here is a second photo showing its length. As he cruised the marsh, pelicans, cormorants, anhinga, and a variety of herons flew off to safety.

Some shoreline grasses blocked my view of this 10-foot alligator, but I didn’t want to approach this dangerous creature, as they can move very fast when they attack. Here, he seemed to be crawling on a sandbar.

Pelicans in Formation

When I observe birds flying and swimming in formation, I often think of synchronized dancers performing on stage or marching bands, but then I realize that humans are the ones imitating nature. We wear uniforms or dance costumes, so we will look as similar as two birds of the same species, right?

Two White Pelicans foraging together at low tide mirror each other in formation, as the overhead sun casts a mirror-like shadow on all three pelicans in the water. Low tide is feeding time, and on this day it happened near noon. J.N. Ding Darling Nature Preserve, Sanibel Island, Florida, January 2021.

When photographing wildlife, you can’t plan this. You just have to be patient enough to sit and wait, following your subject and continually adjusting your focus. Note: something really cool usually happens after you pack up your tripod and start walking back to the car!

Pelican Stare Down

I’m not sure who blinked first, but I do know that my camera shutter clicked before this handsome Brown Pelican looked away. I followed this Pelican for several minutes through a 600mm lens at a significant distance, tracking his behavior at a comfortable distance, not disturbing him. Yet he saw me watching!

As a bird lover with a specific affection for Brown Pelicans, I enjoyed this moment of connection with a Brown Pelican at the J.N. Ding Darling Wildlife Preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida. The yellow crown feathers and pink bill indicate a pre-breeding adult. January 2021.

Jumping the Waves

Humans of all shapes and sizes flock to the beach on a hot summer’s day, saunter to the water’s edge and…jump the waves! The water feels so good. I think it’s fun to find animals doing the same things people like to do. So I had fun photographing this Snowy Egret in the air, jumping the waves.

#egret, #snowyegret, #jump, #wave, #ocean, #beach, #action, #wildlife, #birds, #wadingbird, #florida, #naples
Snowy Egret jumps the wave while fishing on the beach in Naples, Florida.

This image also gives us a good look at the crashing surf, frozen in time, and the snowy egret’s wings outstretched. He/she is such a graceful bird!

How to Improve Your Photography

Looking through my archives for color photographs that would make a satisfying black and white image made me realize that “seeing in black and white” will make me a better photographer. Any consistently successful photographer will pre-visualize the image before image capture. For starters, one evaluates dynamic range, depth of field, light quality, composition, timing of the action and whether the subject is meaningful.

To choose a good subject for black and white photography there are more factors to evaluate: tonal range and contrast, simplicity, shape, texture, interest. I like my black and white images to be strong. The image has to be eye catching and hold the viewer’s interest without the help of color. I admit, I’m a photographer who loves color, so this challenge is fun for me!

This photograph of a mother Bison and her calf grazing on top of the hillside made the cut for a color to black and white candidate. In my judgement, it has simplicity, large repeating shapes, texture in the fur, wide tonal range and plenty of interest — from the unusual wildlife sighting to the eye contact and tongue in mid-air.

#bison, #motherandcalf, #buffalo, #gtnp, #grandteton, #wyoming, #jacksonhole, #givethemdistance, #safedistance, #wildlifephotography, #wildlife, #photography, #nature, #blackandwhite, #sonyalpha, #nik, #silverefexpro
Mother and calf bison grazing in Grand Teton National Park (shot from a safe distance inside a car with a 600mm lens).

Dawn’s Early Light

While we are staying “safer at home,” I’m looking through the images I captured in February and uncovering a few hidden gems. I have found new examples of why it really pays off to wake up in the dark and get on location as the sun rises. The reflections on the lake makes this egret look regal.

#greategret, #reflection, #lake, #light, #morninglight, #earlybird, #fishing, #color, #dawn, #florida, #naplesflorida
Great White Egret catches a tiny fish while dawn’s early lights paints the lake with color.

This image is similar to one I blogged about in February, but it’s different with the fish in the egret’s bill. Here is another frame from moments later.

#greategret, #ripples, #lake, #water, #fishing, #reflection, #color, #dawn, #morninglight, #florida, #birds, #egret, #wildlife
Walking about in the shallows and dunking its head, this Great Egret makes circular ripples in the lake.

Ever See a Badger?

Seeing a North American Badger might not be on your bucket list, but for four photographers in Jackson Hole, seeing a badger was a “bonus.” Having photographed bison, trumpeter swan, elk, coyote, bald eagle and golden eagle earlier in the day, the we called the badger sighting our “Bonus Badger.” For me, it was a first.

#badger, #wildlife, #jacksonhole, #elksanctuary, #nature, #winter, #nocturnal, #
North American badger comes out of his den to look around in the Elk Sanctuary in Jackson Hole, WY.

Reading about the badger’s behavior on Wikipedia, I discovered that it’s not surprising that sightings are rare. Badgers are solitary creatures, living in underground dens and are mostly noctural. Their predators are golden eagles, coyote and bears all of which are plentiful in this part of Wyoming. Moreover, they are aggressive animals, so I’m glad I was able to capture this photo from the safety of our car.

I like the badger’s furry coat and face markings, and I’m glad I had the chance to see it. Look at those long claws!

Bald Eagle in Winter

February 28, 2020 — It was just after dawn in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with temperatures hovering around 8 degrees Fahrenheit, and I was scouting for wildlife with three other photographers. We spotted a Bald Eagle high in a frosty tree. A long lens (400 mm Sony) afforded us a closer look.

#baldeagle, #eagle, #winter, #wyoming, #wildlife, #nature, #jacksonhole, #eagleintree
Bald Eagle in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on a frosty morning in February 2020. Perched high in an aspen tree along a stream, this eagle kept watch for possible prey.

For my friend Chris, this was his first time seeing a bald eagle. I had just been bald eagle watching and photographing in Florida the previous week, but seeing a Bald Eagle is always exciting.

We were only weeks away from the lockdown to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, but we were blissfully unaware. How blessed we were to complete this trip to Wyoming before the crisis hit the United States. I think of that childhood game of Musical Chairs. This is where we were just before the music stopped.

What Ducklings?

As soon as Mama Muscovy Duck saw a photographer across the lake, she silently signaled her ducklings to hide beneath her. It amazed me to see all eight ducklings completely hidden underneath her feathers, while she confidently looked around as if to say, “what ducklings? I don’t see any ducklings.” In this sequence of photos, you can see the adorable fluffy chicks before they huddle together beneath Mama’s feathers.

#muscovyduck, #ducklings, #muscovy, #florida, #motherandchild, #wildlife, #nature, #spring, naplesflorida,
Two yellow chicks and one dark one hide under mother Muscovy Duck. Soon the rest will follow. Naples, Florida 2020.
#muscovy #muscovyduck, #duck, #ducklings, #florida, #nature, #wildlife
Muscovy Duck with ducklings. Native to Central and South America, the Muscovy Duck is an invasive species, but very common now in Florida. Note the adult’s distinctive red fleshy face. Many bird field guides do not include this duck.
#muscovy, #muscovyduck, #ducklings, #florida, #nature, #wildlife
All eight chicks have followed each other under the protective skirt of their mother. One duckling takes a moment to look at the “threat,” only a photographer about 30 meters away. Photo shot with 600 mm lens, and cropped.
#muscovy, #duck, #mother, #behavior, #protect, #ducklings, #hiding, #nature, #instinct, #maternal, #florida, #colorful
Mother Muscovy Duck, hiding all her ducklings under her feathers while she sits lakeside. Location is near my home in Naples, Florida, 2020.
#muscovyduck, #muscovy, #duck, #ducklings, #behavior, #wildlife, #nature, #florida, #lake, reflection
Mother Muscovy Duck hiding her 8 ducklings, reflected in the lake — still until the photographer leaves.