Monday, March 1, 2010


Great Blue Heron
I was given a zoom lens by my family for a birthday present in 2006. The lens was not really a very long lens (by the standards of wildlife photographers) with 28-135mm range.  With digital cameras' sensors being a little smaller than the 35mm film that SLR cameras use, the lens was effectively the same as a 40-200mm zoom.

Even with this zoom, wildlife is pretty inaccessible. I bought a camouflage mesh mosquito netting to drape over me so that I could lie near our bird feeder and get pictures of chipmunks, squirrels and birds, much to the amusement of my family.

When we decided to go back to South Africa for a visit in 2008, I saved up and bought a 100-400mm zoom lens, one of those white Canon lenses that you see professional photographers lugging around. The lens is expensive, one of Canon's high-end lenses (although at $1400 it is about a third of the cost of the really high-end equivalent that sports photographers use).

When I first got the zoom lens I went off with two friends from our Camera Club to a local state reserve to try to photograph birds.

In the meadow behind our house we had seen some wild deer. This meadow is linked to some open woods and reservation land between the highway and the next town and the deer roam freely there. They are very shy and it is almost impossible to come upon them without a snort and the sight of their white tails bounding off into the distance.

They are called White-tailed deer and are indigenous to this area. Back in the day (when the European settlers first landed here) their numbers were contained by wolves and by being hunted by the Native Americans who lived here. Over the years, encroaching settlements and hunting thinned their numbers until in the early 1900's there were fewer than 1000 counted in Massachusetts.

Of course since then, legislative efforts and a reduction in hunting (both as a result of the laws and a lower interest in the sport around urban areas) has seen a resurgence in their population.

The deer population today is in the vicinity of 85 000 which makes them a problem. They have a tick that feeds on them called the deer tick.  This tick can carry a parasite that causes a disease called Lymes Disease.  It can be treated if found early enough but is debilitating if left to incubate in your body. After the initial symptoms if untreated it hangs about undetected and appears with severe symptoms (heart, central nervous system, arthritis etc.)

The deer ticks in our meadow are enough to drive us out of there during the summer. Matt had the characteristic bulls eye that can be the early symptoms of lymes disease one year and had to be treated with a very strong course of antibiotics.

I spent some days in our meadow with my mosquito netting draped over me waiting for an opportunity to photograph one of these animals. You can imagine how exciting it is to look up and see one standing no more than about 20m (60ft) away from you - usually staring intently at you because even though you may not be immediately visible, they can sense you.

I happened upon a buck on a walk that I took in this meadow one day in the summer. This was purely by accident and I stopped dead when I saw it. I was behind it and it had not noticed me so I was able to get my camera ready in time to get a few shots of it as it noticed me, stared intently at me to try to figure out what I was and then decided to run.  The buck are magnificent animals. They grow these antlers that have a velvet covering on them over the course of the year and are far less frequently seen than the females.

There is a nature reserve near my work that I visit occasionally. With the new lens I discovered two things about the deer that live in this reserve: they are not as shy as those in our meadow and you can learn how to spot them in the woods as you are walking despite their well disguised coloration. So after a few trips there, I have had good success in spotting and photographing the deer in this reserve. I happen upon them almost every time that I go there and have been able to get quite close to them on several occasions.

This past week we had a tremendous storm that brought hurricane force winds to us. I decided to take a detour to the reserve on my way from work on Friday. I seemed to be the only person wandering around the reserve which was littered with fallen trees and broken branches. I came around a corner and saw a deer a few meters off the path with its ears pricked up looking at me. I stopped dead and saw that there were at least 5 more of them grazing off to the left. It watched me for a few seconds and bounded off without the rest of them taking note.

I got my camera ready and walked as slowly as I could to a large tree off to the right. Once there I was able to get ready for them - I suspected that they would go off in the same direction as the first one had which would bring them into a direct line for me.

In club competition there is a category for nature photography. In order to do well in this category you need to have extremely sharp images - particularly around the face and eyes - and you are given additional credit if the images tell a good nature story. The things that really count against you are objects that distract from the subject - for example branches that are too bright, or in the way. In the woods it is really hard to shoot a deer without having some branches between you and them.

I stood still for a few minutes before the deer started to move. They are naturally fairly curious so if you are standing really still and they hear the sound of your camera shutter they will often look up, notice you and then stand and stare at you for a long time before making their minds up to bolt or simply move on.

I was able to photograph just about each of them as they moved across in front of me over the path.

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