Saturday, May 7, 2011

Camera Critters: Birds And Scenery Make Good Subjects

 Rushing Mountain Stream Makes For Great Scenic Opportunity
I spend most mornings  in a blind by a rushing mountain stream, waiting for the wily, elusive Eastern Wild Turkey Gobblers to appear.  Many times the birds do not co-operate, but if one is not totally fixated on the turkeys and looks about for other photo opportunities, they may find other subjects that are as rewarding to photograph. These opportunities range from capturing scenic shots, to photographing other birds or animals that may appear.

While I have seen Eastern Towhee's for years, I have not had many opportunities to photograph them successfully, as they usually inhabit brushy areas where they scratch among the leaves on the forest floor for food.  This changed in April when the birds began utilizing the area around my blind.

Eastern Towhee
This bird used to be called the Rufous Sided Towhee, which still sounds like a good name to me, but for some reason it was changed.  Whatever the case, they are a beautiful bird and it was a thrill to successfully photograph the species.

The Northern or "Yellow Shafted"  Flicker is another bird that frequents our area, but has been difficult for me to photograph until this spring when one stopped by on an April morning.

Northern "Yellow Shafted" Flicker
The birds came near the blind because I sprinkled a mixture of bird seed and sunflower seeds around a nearby stump and on the forest floor.  It is perfectly legal to feed birds and turkeys, but one must not do this if they hunt turkeys from the blind and they may not hunt in the area around where the feed is spread.  They must hunt far enough away that the actions of their quarry is not influenced by the food source.

In Pennsylvania, regulations require that all bait and residue thereof be removed at least thirty days before hunting is done in that area.  This is not a problem since I have not hunted for nearly thirteen years, having found observing and photographing wildlife to be a much more rewarding means of enjoying the outdoors, so if my ex-compatriots in law-enforcement stop by the only weapons they will find will be the cameras and long lenses.

Partially Hollow Stump Makes Both A Good Background And A Natural Bird Feeder
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Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pennsylvania Deer Wars: My First Close-up Whitetail Photograph

Today we continue with the series on "The Pennsylvania Deer Wars", but as I like to say, "with no fighting yet". That; however,  will soon follow if we continue to explore this subject.  This takes up where the post of  March 16, 2011 left off.

Until the spring of 1974 my primary interaction with whitetail deer was either hunting or observing them, although I did have a strong desire to photograph them.  Since I was operating on a shoe-string budget I got the Minolta SRT 101, with 50mm F1.7 normal lens in early May of that year and waited a few weeks until I had more funds before I purchased the Spiratone 400mm.  What a thrill it was to look through the view finder at distant subjects. Now birds and animals were no longer barely visible spots in the finder.  It is hard to describe the excitement I felt at this point--it was even difficult to sleep at night with thoughts of prospective encounters with wildlife running through my mind.

Minolta SRT 101 and Spiratone 400mm F 6.3: Photo by W.Hill
On one fine spring morning I left our family farm and walked to a remote mountain farm where an old barn was still standing.  This was ideal whitetail habitat with excellent prospects for photo opportunities during the entire trip, but I saw no deer until I got to the barn.  When I came around one corner of the barn, a young whitetail doe ran out of the barnyard into the nearby woods, then turned and paused to look at me for a few seconds.  With heart pounding, I brought the camera to eye level and fired a few frames before she bounded away.

Young Whitetail Doe-The First Close-up Photograph: Photo by W.Hill
I was using Ektachrome 100 slide film and the 400mm lens without a tripod, which required an exposure of 1/125 sec. at f6.3, and it is difficult to hand-hold a 400mm steady enough to get acceptably sharp photos at 1/125 sec., especially in the days before image stabilization, Needless to say the photographs were not all that great, but I was so thrilled to finally have a close-up photo of a deer that I didn't even notice that they were not very sharp.  It would not be until the DSLR age that I would become obsessed with sharpness and the use of premium lenses and tripods. 

This was the first of thousands of photos I would take with SLR/DSLR cameras and telephoto lenses.  The photo below shows a mature doe and was taken this past winter with a Canon 7D and 300mm F2.8 telephoto, and what a world of difference there is. She was photographed less than 75 yards from where I took the photo in 1974 and there is a fair probability that she is a descendant of the young doe that I captured on film that day.

Adult Doe Photographed In Same Area Almost 37 years Later: Canon 7D 300mm F2.8
It would be interesting to mount the 400mm Spiratone on the 7D and see how it performs with this camera while mounted on a high end tripod.  This can be done quite cheaply as those lenses utilized a screw on T mount that adapted it to any interchangeably lens SLR and these adapters are still available.  I am certain that the results would not begin to compare with modern professional equipment, but one must consider the price of the lens and high end lenses such as the Canon L series are forbiddingly expensive and like the price of gasoline seem to become more so by the day.

So at this point, any involvement in deer wars was simply struggling to learn how to hunt and photograph them, but these interests would lead my brother Coy and I to become involved in the fight to protect the whitetail deer and other wildlife.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill