Tip #27. Learn animal behavior

When not in the field photographing, I love to watch National Geographic specials or view YouTube videos on photography and wildlife. In one video, I watched with fascination as they showed how a bird will use its wings to create a canopy to take the glare off of water when fishing. The shading behavior works much the same as a person wearing sunglasses to better see below the surface. I’ve never seen that behavior in Iowa, but when in SW Florida, I saw this Reddish Egret spread its wings to create shade so it could see its prey more easily in the water. I’ve also read that fish will swim under the egret attracted by the patch of shade. Had I not seen this behavior, I would have totally missed what was happening. This was photographed at San Carlos Bay – Bunche Beach Preserve, Fort Myers, Florida.

Tip #26. Create your own opportunities

No good deed goes unpunished? Well sometimes a good deed pays off handsomely. A few miles from our home in central Iowa is R16, a hard-paved road that gets more and more traffic every day. Last winter I was following a northbound pickup on R16, when I noted something quite large on the shoulder of the road. The pickup came to within five feet of the object. When I got closer, I realized it was an eagle feeding on a fresh deer carcass. Knowing it was only a matter of time before the eagle was hit by a passing vehicle, I pulled over and drug the deer into the ditch. I tried to drag it up the opposite ditch embankment, but the slope was too steep. I went home, grabbed a long rope, returned to the carcass, tied the rope to the deer’s front feet, and drug it up the ditch side and 75 feet onto the adjoining field. Luckily there was an approach about 100 feet from the relocated carcass. The next day I saw an eagle feeding on the carcass. I pulled into the approach and photographed him (or her) for about half an hour. I knew if I got out of the car I would have scared him off, so my car made the perfect blind. For the shots, I used my Nikon D7200, Tamron 150-600 zoom, and a bean bag on the window sill of my car. The bean bag works great for camera/long lens support, and I carry it with me at all times.

Tip #20. Monitor migrations

No matter where you live waterfowl should be passing through in the spring and fall. In the spring birds are heading north to their summer nesting grounds. In the fall they are headed south to avoid the harsh winters of the Northland. Here in the Midwest it is important to know both migration times and routes. This photograph was taken in early spring about 20 miles from where I live. I monitor this slough on a near daily basis as my window of opportunity to photograph is usually less than two weeks as the ducks and geese stop through on their migration north. Although we get few Sandhill Cranes in Iowa, you can get great images of thousands of them in Central Nebraska in early spring and then again in late fall. They tend to spend more time in the early spring passing through than the fall. Many preserves parks update their websites daily when the migration is occurring. I often use these to plan our vacations and travels. For instance, last fall Sham and I made reservations months in advance to be at Bosque Del Apache in Central New Mexico in early November for the height of the return of the Sandhill Cranes and Ross Geese. Keep in mind migrations times may vary slightly with the weather. I’ve seen Snow Geese spend a few weeks here in the spring if the Northland is colder than normal, and I’ve seen them fly straight through if the conditions are right up north.

Tip #19. Consider your background

This image was actually shot in a residential setting. But by correctly positioning myself I was able to get a natural looking background. There were many angles to photograph these fox kits, but most of the other locations would have had a fence or building in the background. I know from experience it is easy to get shutter fever and take a bunch of images only to realize later when you look at them enlarged on a monitor that there is a utility line, fence post, farm building, or other distraction in the background. When locating yourself or your blind, take a close look through the lens at the background to make sure there is nothing to take away from the image. If so, you can often move a few feet one way or the other to eliminate the clutter. Fox kits or pups suckle for the first four to seven weeks. The kits emerge from the den at about four weeks and hunt earthworms and insects, but these form only a very small proportion of their diet. The adult fox bring mice, moles, rabbits and other small prey for the kits. 

Tip #18. The love of the craft

This very well may be one of my most important tips. The only reason it‘s a number 18 is that I just took this image a few hours ago. Some people find solace on a church pew, others playing a musical instrument, and others reading a great book or on a golf course. My nirvana is watching wildlife and given the opportunity, to take a good picture and share it with others. I seldom wear a watch when photographing as I don’t want to know what time it is, how long I’ve been there, or when I may have to quit. I usually run out of light well before I run out of interest in the topic. A few hours ago I had the great opportunity to photograph a male fox and his two of his three kits. I waited for two hours before snapping the first shot, and then I took 800 images in the next 45 minutes. Had it not been for a cloud bank in the west, which cost me the sun about a half hour of light before sunset, I would have shot even longer. Had I not lost light, I would probably still be there now. There is no money in wildlife photography, but there is the opportunity to take something I love and share the love of the craft with others through my images. I hope you enjoy my tips and photography. 

Tip #8. The power of closeups

A few springs ago I was photographing fox at a den underneath an old deer-hunting cabin in Central Iowa. I had my back against another building to hide my silhouette, and 1 was covered with a camouflaged netting. I had been photographing the pups, when they suddenly scampered under the cabin. I saw motion in nearby trees and assumed one of the adult foxes had returned to the den with food for the pups. In zooming in on the motion, I was startled to sees a coyote looking for its own meal. It wasn’t until I got home and I enlarged and viewed the images on a monitor, that I noticed the intense look of the coyote’s eyes. Coyote is a key figure in Navajo mythology, and of all the figures in Navajo mythology, Coyote (Maii’) is the most contradictory. He is a shadowy figure that can be funny or fearsome. Coyote is greedy, vain, foolish, cunning and also occasionally displays a degree of power. From looking at this coyote’s eyes, I can see why the mystical references came to be. If you look closely, you can see the teats on this coyote. She was probably looking for a fox to feed to her young pups. 1/160 sec., f/8, 600mm, ISO 720, Nikon D7200, Manfrotto tripod with a Gimbal-style head.