The best piece of camera equipment that I took on my bear photography trip to Alaska was my ground pod. If you follow my blog or on Facebook, you know that I love to use my ground pod for getting low to take shorebird photos. Never dreamed that I’d get the opportunity to take grizzly bear photos from a ground pod.
A few weeks prior to our trip to Alaska, we had a zoom call with our workshop leader and he described the mudflats at Lake Clark. When I asked him if I should take my ground pod, he said yes. Best advice in the world on this trip. Only used my tripod once but used my ground pod on a daily basis. The mudflats looked just like Bolivar only much larger, better backgrounds and with bears on it.
This first photo is a cell phone shot by our outstanding guide and very good photographer from Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, Dave Rasmus. Mom and her cub were working their way toward us while 3 of our group, along with Dave, were standing up taking photos and I’m the one laying down with my ground pod just shooting away. In this photo, I had already turned my camera vertical so they were getting close @ 500mm, see the 3rd photo below.
This next photo is almost full frame when they were walking towards me. Mom was off to my left but I maintained focus on the cub as he was adorable, although those claws could do some serious damage.
1/1600 @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from ground pod
As he got closer, here is where I rotated my camera on my gimbal head to the vertical position to help try to keep him in the frame. He ended up getting very close before the guide turned him around by talking to him. Mom was a ways away and couldn’t have cared less about us.
1/1600 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm, uncropped from ground pod
Mom later walked by and showed off her claws in this full frame/uncropped photo. Off the charts fantastic experience for sure. Wouldn’t try this anywhere but this location where we had a very experienced guide with bear spray that knows their behavior, the bears are used to people, we aren’t in their food chain, people don’t hunt/harass them.
1/800 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 500mm, uncropped from ground pod
This young coastal brown bear stole my heart when in Alaska a couple of weeks ago. He was very animated and had quite the personality. The look he gave me in this photo was “do you want to go play in the mud”? Of course I said yes, many times. More to follow.
1/2000 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1/3 exposure compensation
Taken with Canon 1DX III with Canon 500mm F4 IS II lens, handheld
Made my first trip to Alaska last week and spent some quality time with the bears at Lake Clark National Park, which was an incredible experience. Took my waders & ground pod with me as they have a mudflats so got down low and up personal with the bears, especially the cub.
In this photo, mom was standing to look over the tall grass to check for male bears, which will kill the cubs. She lost 2 cubs last year. This cub is about 1 ½ yrs old.
1/1600 sec @ F13, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, -1/3 exposure compensation, 560mm, handheld, Canon 100-400 with 1.4X, full frame with no cropping
American Avocet at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary
When using a high shutter speed, sometimes the splash is more interesting than the shorebird. I always start shooting when their head starts going towards the water as you never know what you may capture. In this case, the frozen splash also shows a cool water drop.
As mentioned in my previous post about becoming “one with the flock”, my 1DXIII camera got wet from the salt water lapping at the bottom of my camera after the tide came in while I way laying on my stomach with shooting from my ground pod. After that outing, had some issues with my fully charged camera batteries being fully discharged before I took one shot with them. Would put another battery in and it worked fine.
Sent my camera to Canon to have them check it out. My salt water encounter ended up costing me a $1,200 repair bill. Canon described the issue as: “The bottom multi-controller on the back cover is stuck and will not move. At this time the PCB ASS’Y, MAIN W/LI BATT and COVER ASS’Y, BACK will be replaced.” Apparently, it got dunked a little more than I thought in the salt water.
Will it make me think twice about doing it again next time? Nope.
1/2000 @ F11, ISO 2000, evaluative metering, -1/3 exposure compensation, 700mm (500+1.4X) from ground pod, minor cropping
You never know what my happen to your photos when submitting them to Audubon for their annual photo contest. You get the option to let them use any of your photos in their publications, which was the case for this 2017 whooping crane photo from near Rockport, TX with Kevin Sims. It got published in Audubon’s Whooping Crane Field Guide, which led to lots of views and before I knew it, #1 on Google. Very nice surprise several months ago.
Had a great time again this year leading field trips for Galveston’s FeatherFest. Very glad that we could have the field trips this year as last year had to be cancelled due to Covid-19. We reduced the size of the groups this year for social distancing but it turned out great. Actually like the smaller groups better from an interaction perspective at Bolivar.
The weather did not cooperate with day 1 trip to Bolivar Flats being cancelled with high surf. Had everyone cancel ahead of time except one participant that was driving from Winnie. She called me as I was waiting at the Galveston side of the ferry and the highway along the Bolivar peninsula was getting flooded and had debris on the road. Safety first so I cancelled that trip. Had another day with very high winds that turned out very well. I’ll post some of my bird photos later.
Here are some cell phone group shots from 2021 FeatherFest at Bolivar Flats and the east end of Galveston Island.
Always love to take back-lit photos at High Island TX rookery and captured this one on Friday
Focused on the snowy’s on this trip as they were in abundance compared to my last visit. Way too many people at the rookery. Got there well before the sun came up and had the last platform by myself. By the time the sun came up, I was sharing the platform with 16 other people. So much for social distancing.
Should have known better than to go on Good Friday but the weather was too good to pass up a sunny morning and some back-lit images.
1/1600 @ F8, ISO 800, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from tripod.
My favorite part of wildlife photography is playing with the light. In this case, I was playing with the sun.
This is a great egret at High Island TX rookery. Got there well before sunrise and was taking silhouette photos before the sun came up. Kept track of where the sun was going to rise to optimize my chances of playing with the sun and one of the egrets. This one cooperated while standing in some branches. She moved to the right and displayed her breeding plumage just at the right time.
Taken with Canon 1DX III with 500mm F4 IS II mounted on tripod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/3200 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1/3 exposure compensation, 500mm
1/8000 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, -1 exposure compensation, 500mm
1/8000 sec @ F8, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, no exposure compensation, 500mm
Have to share some details and photos about my unique adventure on Sunday (3/7/21) at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast in search of American Avocets. Needless to say, I found just a few.
While walking along the beach as the sun came up, there were a couple of flocks of avocets off shore but they wouldn’t have been worth the effort to photograph so decided to keep going to see what was around the corner. Found a group of white pelicans with some avocets feeding around them. Took the first photo with handholding my rig with ground pod/Wimberley head attached while deciding where to lay down.
The avocets were working their way to my right but couldn’t get upstream without spooking them so decided to lay down in the opposite direction in anticipation that they would eventually move that way. Laid down at the water’s edge of a sandbar and focused on flight shots as more and more avocets were coming in to join what soon became a feeding frenzy.
The enlarging flock eventually reversed course and headed in my direction. During that time, the tide was starting to come in and my sandbar ended up under water and I felt water getting into my waders. At 53 deg F air temp, 15 to 20 mph winds and 59 deg water temperature, it got really cold really fast. Tried to back up a few feet to find dry ground but looked behind me and there was no sandbar in site for over 50 ft.
With a flock of several hundred avocets heading my way, had to make the decision to get up to save my frozen body parts or grin and bare it. As my ground pod filled with water, figured that it couldn’t get much worse so stayed put as the flock was nearly upon me. When avocets feed, they put their head in the water and use their long bills to rake across the sand to find invertebrates. They just kept feeding and getting closer and closer.
Eventually they were within 20 ft of me and just moved around me and kept feeding. Was very cool to be surrounded 360 deg. by one of my favorite birds. Don’t know if it helped but I was in full camo with the hood of my sweatshirt pulled over my head. One of the major advantages of photography using a ground pod is that the birds don’t recognize you as a person.
At this point, I became “one with the flock”, which was an amazing experience. I’ve had avocets all around me before but it was a handful, not a full flock. Got a couple of photos that may be photo contest worthy but would have loved this experience if I didn’t get any photos.
It was challenging to photograph them that close as I couldn’t shift my position without moving too much in fear of spooking them. Eventually switched to F16 for more depth of field but it didn’t help much at that distance. The white pelicans also joined the fray and flew about 10 ft over me with one landing very close. Slowly rotated my ground pod around to get a couple of shots of him.
Was so focused and in the zone that I didn’t realize my ground pod was floating in the water and had shifted so that the back end was down into the sand under the water with the front end up resting on the bottom of my 500mm lens. With my gimbal head adjustments being loose for shooting, it just floated up in the water. Pulled it back down and locked it into place for a few seconds to stabilize it when I realized that the salt water was lapping at the bottom of my camera. Shifted the camera up slightly to get it out of the water and then my lens raincoat was in the water.
Didn’t take a rocket scientist to say it was time to get up quickly, which was easier said than done with my waders/clothing full of water and my desire to not dunk my gear. Usually grab the base of my ground pod to help get up but in this case, didn’t want to move/splash my camera/lens so got up next to my gear as water poured out of my jacket. Slowly made my way back to my car while water was squishing in my wader boots. Water just poured out of my waders when taking them off. Removed my camera raincoat and put my camera in the passenger seat for the drive back to the ferry.
After getting on the ferry, noticed that there was water dripping out of my lens hood. Removed the hood and saw that the bottom part had been in the water. Took off the Lenscoat neoprene covers on my lens to dry it off. Took a couple of hours to clean up myself and my gear but was well worth it.
All photos were taken with Canon 1DXIII, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III, Skimmer ground pod (now a designated floaty) with Wimberley II gimbal head.
Found this bald eagle at Anahuac NWR in Texas on 12/5/20. Was driving around a corner and spotted a very large bird sitting on a fence post. Initial thought that is was a turkey vulture as they are in abundance out there. Second thought was that it was too big for a vulture and then saw the white head. Bingo – bald eagle. Turned my car to the right to get an angle on him where I could take a photo out of my car window. The sun was right behind him getting higher in the sky resulting in a challenging exposure. Kept checking my histogram and was blowing out the sky at times which is not a major concern as the bird was my subject. Just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t blowing out the whites on his head.
Took several shots and was moving my car to get a better position what I heard another vehicle approaching on the dirt road. Pulled off of the road and then a pick-up truck came flying by. He had no clue that there was an eagle there and almost hit him when he spooked from his perch.
Ended up finding him a couple more times before I left but this was my best photo. Always very cool to see an eagle out at Anahuac. First time that I had one posing for me.
Found that he as a bad eye when reviewing my photos on the computer. His left eye is gray in color.
1/3200 @ F9, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, + 1 2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm, handheld out my car window
This was my first year to enter NANPA (North America Nature Photography Association) photo contest and was honored to get all 10 of my entries in the semi-finals and two photos making the top 250.
Here is my first one with a coyote intimidating a field rat at Anahuac NWR in Texas, which was taken in Dec 2018. After pulling up behind a group of vehicles taking his photo, he reversed course and came my way. Saw him “mousing” and he came up with a field rat and brought him out in the road right in front of my car. He initially played with him like a dog plays with a toy.
I tried to take photos out my car window but gave up as he was right in front of my car and didn’t want to get out and spook him. After watching him for a while, slowly opened up my door and stood between my car and my door taking photos.
Right before devouring breakfast, he stood over the rat and bared his teeth which was very intimidating.
Almost full frame shot with only cropping a little off of the bottom to remove the yellow stripe in the road. 1/640 sec @ F5.6, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, 700mm
Taken with Canon 1DX, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter, handheld
Had one of those great mornings along the Texas Gulf Coast recently when the stars aligned. One big star and a great blue heron.
Visualized this shot when spotting this great blue heron while walking on the beach when it was still dark out. Had to guess where to lay down based on the light peeking through on the horizon. Only had to shift my position slightly when seeing the sun start to pop to keep him in the sunrise. He stayed in one spot while I got off several shots.
While wishing that the skimmers weren’t in front of him, they blasted off and left me with a challenge – do I keep my focus on the GBH or do I try to take photos of the skimmers. I stuck with the heron and eventually all of the skimmers were gone. He then looked up into the sky and I’ll save that photo for a photo contest.
Taken with Canon 1DX Mark III and 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on skimmer ground pod with a Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/640 sec @ F11, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm
Have been published again by Audubon Magazine, this time the Fall 2020 edition. Audubon contacted me back in early August to use my great egret shot in an add for their Great Egret Society. This is the photo that made the top 100 in the 2019 Audubon photo contest.
Sent them the photo and pretty much forgot about it until I opened their magazine this week and saw my photo. Always a great way to start my day.
Spent some quality time last week at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast. Found several reddish egrets at sunrise with this white morph really standing out from the rest. Right place at the right time for some great action and beautiful light.
This was about 1/2 hour after sunrise. Had to cranked up the exposure compensation to get the proper exposure. Having 16 frames/sec from my new 1DX III comes in real handy in these situations with being able to capture the action as it happens. The focusing ability of this camera is just off of the charts.
Taken with Canon 1DX mark III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on a Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
All photos at: 1/2000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, +2 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod, minor cropping
Took a couple of vacation days this past week and headed to the Gulf coast for some quality social distancing at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary. Was well worth the time and effort.
Saw these 3 brown pelicans flying close to each other at a distance and started tracking them with my camera. Got about 80 shots of them just waiting for this photo when they were side by side, coming right at me with their wings outstretched.
Pre-visualized this shot as I’ve gotten some similar pelican photos probably 10 years ago and have been waiting to recreate it ever since. Was very pleased on how this one turned out.
Taken with Canon 1DX mark III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II and 1.4X III telconverter, mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
1/800 sec @ F5.6, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, aperture priority, + 2 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod
After taking photos of wood storks in the rain, found this clapper rail in the middle of the dirt road at Brazoria NWR. As soon as my car moved, he ran into the grass next to the road. Slowly moved forward while watching the spot where he went in. Pulled closer and turned my car perpendicular to the road to be able to photograph him out my window. Changed to a small single focus point while trying to spot him in the grass with no luck.
Waited patiently for a few minutes when he started moving through the grass towards the road. He eventually came out onto the road to dry off from the rain. Was very cool to see as they are usually hanging out in the weeds and not in the open.
1/2500 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
1/4000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
1/4000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 1/3 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
I’m usually not out taking photos when it rains but may have to start doing it more often. Was taking wood stork photos at Brazoria NWR when I got a text alert from one of my weather apps that it was going to rain. Looked to my right and saw the rain coming. Reached for my lens raincoat and it started pouring. Through the raincoat on the seat and stuck my 500mm out the window to start shooting the storks in the rain.
Wasn’t sure what shutter speed would be optimal to emphasize the rain so pretty much tried them all from 1/60 to 1/1250 sec. Having a clean background would have helped to see the rain but didn’t have that luxury.
The gully washer lasted about 8 minutes. Hoped that they would flap their wings to dry them off when it stopped but they just stood there. Turned around to drive away and found a much better target standing in the road…
1/250 sec @ F8, ISO 400, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, 700mm, hand held out my car window
Honored to make the top 100 in Audubon’s 2020 photo contest again this year. Entered several photos but only got one to make it. Always appreciate Audubon’s support with my bird photography. Can’t wait until next year.
White morph reddish egret from Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast. This shot was taken last July and was a great time. He was almost too close, which is always a good problem to have.
Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head.
Paying attention to bird behavior really paid off on Friday morning. Was taking photos of a reddish egret when he started looking up in the air. Reddish egrets don’t usually pay attention to other birds in the sky unless it’s another reddish egret. This one kept glancing to the sky which peaked my couriosity so I decided to look up from my prone position and got a fantastic surprise when this magnificent frigatebird was right above me.
Decided to quickly take my camera off of the ground pod and rolled onto my back and started shooting straight up in the air. The wet sand in my hair was a new experience but well worth it. She was almost too close as I was clipping wings off of the frame. Got a few shots from that position but it was too difficult to control my 500mm lens so rolled over and sat up to shoot. Didn’t want to stand up and potentially spook her. She kept circling me and I wondered if she was checking me out, which I confirmed was the case after looking at the photos on the computer.
Magnificent frigatebirds are huge with a 7 ft wingspan and a forked tail. Have seen them at the east end of Galveston Island and while in my car on the ferry several years ago but never at the flats. Getting that close was a major bucket list event for me. Was thinking about frigatebirds a few weeks ago while on the ferry and envisioned having a close-up encounter. I need to start dreaming about birds more often…
In honor of Veterans giving the ultimate sacrifice on this Memorial Day, F-18 nearing the speed of sound at 2007 Wings Over Houston airshow. It was fun to go back in time and reprocess this photo using some gained skill and software since then. Went with B&W to better show off the vapor cloud.
Canon 30D and 100-400 lens @ 100mm
One of my pelican photos made the inside cover of the 2019 Audubon Annual Report recently. The Photography Director from Audubon contacted me in Feb about using this photo that they found on my website. Was very pleased that they reached out to me but also someone concerned that I did not recognize this photo. Had to dig through my website to find it. Next problem was to find the RAW file to reprocess a high resolution photo as it was taken back in 2011. Started digging through my current attached hard drives with no luck. Had to search the house for all of my external hard drives and finally found it on nearly the last hard drive.
This experience led me to revamp my storage and back-up method for all of my photos. Now have all of my photos on a centralized device and backed up in multiple ways/locations. More on that later.
I always get excited when seeing shorebirds take a bath as they almost always jump up and flap their wings to dry off. Usually a good chance for a great photo op.
Took these shots a couple of weeks ago at Bolivar Flats Audubon shorebird sanctuary along the Texas gulf coast. Cranked the ISO up to 3200 to get a decent shutter speed to freeze the action.
Taken with Canon 1DX III and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
1/2500 sec @ F8, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation
1/2000 sec @ F8, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation
Hope that everyone out there is well and staying safe. It’s a very strange/surreal world that we are currently living in. I have been working from home for awhile now so nothing new there, just less travel these days. My day job work has actually picked up lately with more projects so that’s a good thing. Have been spending my off-hours backing up my photos and entering some photo contests. I’ll post more later about my updated back-up strategy that I’ve just completed implementing.
Since almost all of my favorite areas for wildlife photography around Houston are shut down, I’ll dig up some of my photos from my newly archived storage unit.
Here is a reddish egret in flight from last year’s July 4.
Taken with Canon 1DX and Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head – handheld