Bald Eagle at Anahuac NWR
Couldn’t resist heading out to take photos this morning with sun finally coming out while I’m on vacation. It was a little chilly in Texas at Anahuac NWR with 18 deg temperature and windchill at 0 deg F. Geared up with some of my winter Yellowstone clothing and got there about 1 hour before sunrise.
Some of the birds around Shoveler’s Pond were hunkered down but the raptors were out in full force as they still have to eat. Saw a juvi bald eagle flying at a distance, took a few photos and followed him towards the woodlot. Rounded a corner and spooked 2 other juvi bald eagles that were sitting on the fence line. Didn’t see them until they took off.
Captured this one as he was looking up while playing with the other eagle. They were too close to get a decent shot of both of them in the frame together.
1/8000 sec @ F5.6, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, 700mm (R3 + 500F4 + 1.4X), handheld out my car window
Breaking the Rules
It pays to break the rules sometimes, and in this case, a butt shot paid off. This bear was walking away but I kept shooting as my autofocus stayed on her head. You never know what you may get, and in this case, it’s a very unique perspective showing off the bottom of her foot and claws.
Lying in the wet mud while photographing bears at ground level in Lake Clark Alaska is an incredible experience that continues to fill my soul with pure joy.
1/640 @ F8, ISO 2000, evaluative metering, +1 1/3 exposure compensation, 500mm (R3 + 500F4) mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley gimbal, cropped
Audubon Top 100 X 2
Honored again this year to make the Top 100 in Audubon’s photo contest with these two photos. Must have been slacking off since I had 4 in the top 100 last year. Congratulations to everyone that won and made the top 100.
First photo is a black skimmer coming in for a landing at Bolivar Flats. I love the unique wing position on this photo as it was one that I’ve never seen before.
This photo is an American avocet riding the surf at Bolivar Flats. Love the water swirling around her neck, which looks like she is getting ready to turn into a Disney princess.
Back to Alaska
Made it back to Lake Clark in Alaska for some more bear photography this year with Marc and bear guide extraordinaire, David Rasmus. Had a great time to say the least.
Last year was spent following Crimp and her cub around. This year, we saw Crimp on our first day and she was mating as she had kicked her cub out a few weeks ago. We did see her 3rd year cub and he pretty much looks the same, just larger. He was hanging out with Old Sow’s 3 year old cub on one of the days.
On this trip, we spent more quality time with the bears digging up clams on the mudflats, which I loved. Being able to get full framed shots like this still blows my mind. This bear is displaying an interesting behavior using the top of her paw for a table to eat the clam, which I don’t recall seeing last year. They have amazing dexterity with their claws and use them like fingers to pry apart the clams.
1/1600 @ F11, ISO 6400, evaluative metering, R3+500F4 on Skimmer ground pod, uncropped
Riding the Wave @ Galveston’s FeatherFest
Took this photo during my first Galveston FeatherFest field trip to Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary on the Texas gulf coast. I led four trips to Bolivar Flats again this year in April with this one being challenging with the weather that morning. The wind was blowing at 25 – 30 mph with heavy surf for this area. If it wasn’t for FeatherFest, I typically would have stayed home in those conditions, which makes me wonder how many great photo ops that I’ve missed over the years by not going in adverse conditions. This outing was unique as only one participant, Peggy, showed up for this trip.
In this photo, a group of dunlins and one ruddy turnstone were hanging out on a batch of seaweed that was bobbing up and down with the waves. A small wave came in that made the first dunlin launch up into the air. This group would then feed off of the material that washed up on the mound of seaweed.
I finally made the dive into mirrorless cameras with a Canon R3, which I’ll provide some more information on in a future post.
Taken with Canon R3 with 500mm F4 IS II lens, 1.4X teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
1/1000 @ F11, ISO 4000, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation
Black Wolf in Yellowstone
One of my goals after seeing a black wolf in 2018 was to get a better shot showing their yellow eyes. Mission accomplished from my recent Yellowstone trip.
After he came out of the woods with his mate, he stopped and looked in my direction. Great pose for a full frame uncropped photo.
1/1000 sec @ F7.1, ISO 400, manual mode, 700mm, handheld while sitting in a snowbank
He walked to our left and then made his way closer. In this photo, he had just turned his body slightly towards us and looked at me again with his right leg in motion for just the photo op that I was hoping for. He only looked at me for 2 seconds but was able to get a few shots off. The eyes have it!
It’s always a thrill to see a wolf in Yellowstone. Got lucky on 2 of my 4 trips to see them up close.
We saw a male black wolf and a female walking down the road on one of our trips in the snow coach. They left the road and went into the woods. We drove past the crowd of people trying to see them and stopped at a field next to the woods. They came out of the woods and walked parallel to the road at a distance and then came closer. Looked like they were going to give us a show by mating, but it didn’t happen.
1/1000 sec @ F7.1, ISO 400, manual mode, 700mm, handheld
Here is the beautiful female.
Got home yesterday from a trip to Yellowstone with 7 days of shooting in the park. Spend 3 days in a snow coach from West Yellowstone and 4 days driving on the northern range from Gardiner. It’s always a great time to be in Yellowstone in the winter. The animal activity was slower than normal this year likely due to the lower snow pack in the park but still had some great photo ops with wolves, moose, bison, coyotes, bald eagles and a large herd of big horned sheep.
Used manual mode while shooting in the snow. Only used my tripod once since it is much easier to use a Black Rapid strap for my 500mm lens when bailing out of the vehicle for some fast-moving action shots.
Found this frosty bison close to the road as he was using his head to push away the snow to get to the grass in -16 deg F temperatures. Was hoping for colder weather for more frost.
1/640 sec @ F7.1, ISO 2500, manual mode, 700mm, handheld
American avocet gliding along after sunrise on Texas gulf coast this morning. Sunrise was amazing with the cloud formations and red light. The sun eventually popped out of the clouds providing some good light. Ended up leaving when the sun went behind the clouds as I’m not a fan of flat light.
1/2000 sec @ F9, ISO 3200, evaluative metering, -2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm from Skimmer ground pod, minor cropping
Taken with Canon 1DX III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II with 1.4X III teleconverter mounted on Skimmer ground pod with Wimberley II gimbal head
Water Explosion Frozen in Time
Reddish egret diving for fish in a tidal pond at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary. While heading back to my car after a successful early morning taking shorebird photos, found this reddish egret that was catching some small fish in a separate small tidal pool. Got some very cool splash shots but didn’t like the background so converted this one to B&W and cropped in on the splash.
1/1250 @ F10, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 700mm from ground pod
Clam Tasting Close-up
Here is a very close-up shot of an adult female coastal brown bear (grizzly) eating a clam at Lake Clark Alaska. The bears make their way out to the mudflats at low tide when they smell the clams. The tides are intense as they rise/fall 17 ft so when it starts coming in you had better get to higher ground.
1/800 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1 exposure compensation, uncropped @ 500mm from Skimmer ground pod.
Coastal brown bear take a break and rests on mom
Lake Clark Alaska
1/2500 sec @ F13, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, +1 1/3 exposure compensation, 500,, handheld, full frame with pano crop
Close Encounters of the Bear Kind
This photo sequence was a major adrenalin rush to say the least. One of my favorite bear encounters of my most awesome Alaskan adventure in Lake Clark Alaska with coastal brown bears.
Started out with mom and her cub playing near the shoreline.
Following his typical behavior, the cub took off running and he ran right past us. Tracked him while lying in the mud with my ground pod and got off a few shots while he gave me the side-eye.
Thought that was very cool experience but it got really interesting when mom decided to chase him. Glanced back to my right and saw mom coming my way. Didn’t have time to get worried or think but just react.
My years of experience with shooting from a ground pod came in very handy and quickly pivoted around on my stomach and focused on her as she “beared“ down on us. Mom was doing her “happy run” with swinging her head from side to side, which is a behavior that we witnessed several times that week.
Just follow your nose….
Very little time to react as this entire sequence with mom lasted only 4 seconds. Was challenging to try to keep her in the frame. Major rush…
She kept getting closer…
Then, direct eye contact with a full size grizzly bear as she runs past me. Doesn’t get much better than that. Didn’t know that I got this shot until getting home and downloading my photos to the computer. Couldn’t take my laptop with me due to the bush plane weight restrictions.
She kept going and I kept shooting…
She kept running past us with this being the last frame that I captured in this series. Just wow!
Another one of those once in a lifetime encounters on this trip that I kept having and must repeat.
Grand Slam in 2021 Audubon Top 100
Four of my photos made the top 100 this year in Audubon’s 2021 photo contest. Although 2020 was a very challenging year from a pandemic perspective, it challenged me to get out an shoot more with over 60 local field trips, which paid off in the Audubon contest.
Great egret in silhouette through her breeding plumage from High Island TX rookery
White moph reddish egret spreading its wings just after landing at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary last summer.
Two lesser yellowlegs running in unison at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.
American avocets at Bolivar Flats Audubon Shorebird Sanctuary.
Up Close & Personal with Grizzly Bears
By day 4 of my trip to Lake Clark Alaska, we were all getting worn out so when we came upon mom and her cub feeding on grass in an open meadow, we decided to lay up against a log on the outside edge of the field and just watch them. Was very relaxing and we loved the opportunity to not shoot but just to chill out and take it all in. We were sitting in a field watching grizzly bears with snowcapped mountains in the background. We weren’t in Kansas (or Houston) anymore Dorthey. Couldn’t get much better than that…until it did!
A male boar entered the field behind mom and she quickly spotted him. She then turned to look at us, foreshadowing her next steps. Mom and her cub quickly got up to check him out. Here is where it got really interesting. As a complete surprise to me, mom started running with her cub directly towards us. That definitely got me to sit up a little straighter against that log and get into the zone while hand holding my 500mm lens.
So, what do you do when a full-size grizzly bear and her cub come running straight at you? Well, #1 you listen to your guide, #2 you don’t run (which could be very detrimental to your health), #3 you keep your cool and photograph the incoming bears or #4 be prepared to change your shorts. Luckily, I followed steps #1 -3.
When they started getting close, couldn’t keep both of them in the frame with my 500mm lens so I automatically switched to focus on the cub.
It happened so quickly that there was no time to think or check/change any camera settings. Was all muscle memory at that point with trying to get part of them in the frame. Would have been nice to have F16 being that close but was happy that I had at least F11 for some depth of field.
Mom got so close at one point that I couldn’t get her whole head in the frame.
The cub walked past us to our left and then looked back towards the boar, giving me a great opportunity for a full frame head shot.
They kept moving off to our left and out into the field. Eventually they made their way towards the mudflats while the male made a slow walk to their previous location to check out her scent. Our guide said that they got about 12 ft from us and were using us for protection as the male would not typically come close to us. One of my favorite unforgettable bear encounters in Alaska.
Taken with Canon 1DX III, Canon 500mm F4 IS II, handheld, uncropped
The beginning of the eagle saga starts when the cub takes off running and flies by us and out towards the water. Mom then takes off after him and shows us her happy run when she would swing her head around.
The cub had found a bald eagle on a kill and was making a b-line for it. More to come…
The cub catches some air with all four feet off of the ground as he picks up speed. Had no clue on where he was going at this point.
Spun around on my stomach with my ground pod to capture him in partial silhouette as he hit max Q.
Mom followed him and was giving us her happy dance run when she would swing her head back and forth. A very happy bear once she figured out where junior was going to.
The cub was running to take away a fish that the bald eagle had caught.
My wish list for Alaska included seeing some bald eagles, if possible. Never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that I would be getting full frame eagle shots from my ground pod as this one landed on the mudflats right in front of me!
Absolutely blew my mind, which didn’t take much at that point as my mind had already been blown by 3 days of bear photography.
He wasn’t interested in us at all as he had bears on his mind. More to this story coming later…
1/2000 sec @ F11, ISO 1600, evaluative metering, +1/3 exposure compensation, 500mm from ground pod
Lift off which was a challenge to keep him in the frame as he was so close.
Bear fly-by but he will return
This Alaskan coastal brown bear cub was full of energy and personality. He kept trying to get mom to play and she sometimes would indulge him and sometimes not.
In this instance, they were walking along the shoreline of the mudflats while we were further up on the beach. Caught him with “that look” where it looks like he is asking mom, wanna play?
Didn’t like the background on my original photo so cropped it vertical to emphasize the interaction and mom’s claws. Converted it to B&W using NIK silver effects pro to give it some drama and bring out the detail in their fur.
Taken with Canon 1DX Mark III, 500mm F4 IS II lens, handheld
1/2000 sec @ F13, ISO 2500, evaluative metering, +2/3 exposure compensation, 500mm
Ground Pod Bear Photography
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
Drop in a Splash – Expensive Outing
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
Snowy Egret with Backlighting
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.
Playing with the Sun
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
One With the Flock
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.