The Circle Of Life Begins…

Young fawn bedding down.

Late spring to early summer ushers in a time of new beginnings for the white-tailed deer, a time when does are giving birth to their fawns all across the South Texas brush country. The first week of a young fawns life is the most perilous as they are ever vulnerable to predators such as coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions. Although fawns are able to walk at birth, it is their ability to lay motionless for hours at a time that is often the difference between living and dying. Instinct tells these young fawns to curl their heads into their bodies, or to lay it stretched flat on the ground, making it harder for predators to see them.

Twin Fawns In Open Meadow. By this age, they are quick and agile and can easily evade predators.

Nature has equipped the fawn for survival as they are born nearly odorless for the first few days of their life. Their spotted coats, which serve as a natural form of camouflage, blend in perfectly with the brush. During a fawn’s first three weeks, the does will leave their young alone for extended periods of time, returning only to nurse them and move them to another secluded area. Doing this reduces the amount of scent left by the doe and makes it more difficult for predators to determine exactly where the fawns are hiding. Interestingly, if a doe gives birth to multiple fawns, she will hide each of them in separate locations.

Doe and Twin Fawns At The Alert.

Young Fawn Struggling To Keep Up With It's Mom Across Open Pasture.

As the fawns grow and mature, they will begin to follow their mother, bonding and learning the way of life in the brush country. With greater strength in their legs, they are now faster, more agile, and able to evade predators. If you see a lone fawn, do not fear that it has been deserted. Momma is not far away. Take care not to touch a wild fawn; human scent on the young deer could cause a doe to abandon her young.

Getting Close Enough To Photograph A Fawn

Unless you are very lucky or know where to go, getting a great photograph of a young fawn is difficult. If you know of a location where seeing does is a common occurrence, then you are likely to see a young fawn after its third week of life when it begins to cling to its mother’s side. Thus, to capture a great image of a fawn, try to attract the does with feed. To paraphrase a line from the movie “Field of Dreams”, if you bait it, they will come. In South Texas, where the deer are accustomed to being fed corn, simply keeping an area baited will assure that the does, and eventually their fawns, frequently visit the bait site. Try to isolate the fawns in your images, but remember to take a few with them by their mother’s side. Getting behavioral shots, e.g. nursing, jumping, playing, etc. requires a bit of anticipation on your part but if you pay attention, you will learn to anticipate the action and thus, be ready to capture it when it occurs. Photos of fawns juxtaposed with a buck, such as the one in this blog’s header, are rare; as bucks play no part in raising their fawns so if you are lucky enough to capture this image, know that you have a rare photograph.

Photography Essentials

White-tailed deer are crepuscular animals, i.e. they are most active during twilight hours. So, to capture inspiring images of white-tailed fawns, you’ll need to be in the brush early in the morning or late in the evening when: a) they are most active, and b) the light is most pleasing. Speaking of light, you need to consider its direction and the time of day in which you plan on taking the photograph. Once you have determined whether to shoot in the morning or evening, setup a photo blind at the baited area and within the distance of your longest telephoto lens. Then, just patiently wait. I typically use a 500mm lens when photographing white-tailed fawns but on occasion have captured good images with a 70-200 + 1.4x extender on a crop factor camera body.

Recent Images

Near the end of August, my good friend, Hector Astorga, and I took a trip to the coast to photograph white-tailed fawns. At this time the fawns were about 2-3.5 months old and very active. We were up at 5:00 A.M. and in the brush by 6:45. As the sun started to come up on the eastern horizon, the fawns were evenly painted by its warm luminescence. Their spotted coats were a blazed in a deep, rich, reddish brown color. This was the magic hour of light and over the next 90 minutes, we proceeded to capture some truly spectacular images that I share below:

Whitetail Fawn Leaping Over Large Lumps of Coastal Grass.

White-tail are curious animals so whistling as they walk away can often result in these beautiful, looking back over the shoulder poses.

Not all fawn pictures have to be frame filling. This is a classic picture that tells a story of the fawns survival in its environment.

Seeing a white-tailed fawn in the wild is one of the most fascinating sights in nature. It’s also very rare. So if you happen to come across a fawn in the brush, briefly observe it and enjoy the moment. Until next time, remember to take your kids outdoors. –Kevin

South Padre Island-World Birding Center

SPI-WBC Headquarters.

The past three where to photograph articles I have written have been about places to shoot on private ranchland. While I believe photographing on private land is the best way to capitalize on capturing the variety of birds and mammals found in South Texas, I also recognize that it’s not in everybody’s budget or desire to do so. Therefore, in a continuation of my series of places to photograph, I’m going to write about some of the public places I often frequent with a camera and share some of the best ways to maximize your time at these locales.

View from tower overlooking Blinds 1, 2, 3, and part of 4. This is overlooking the saltwater intake from the laguna madre.

View from tower of Blinds 5 and 6. You can drive your vehicle on the flats in the distance and get some great sunsets.

View of boardwalk at SPI-WBC.

The South Padre Island World Birding Center is located adjacent to the SPI convention center. It contains over 4800 linear feet of boardwalks and 7 bird blinds. Numerous shorebirds can be easily photographed at the center. Some of the most common birds you will find there include the Great Blue Heron, White Ibis, Black-necked Stilt, Tri-Colored Heron, Royal Tern, Seagulls, Roseate Spoonbill, Least Bittern, Reddish Egret, Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Killdeer, and Snowy Egret. This list is not exhaustive.

Great Blue Heron. The largest heron of North America. Talk about biting off more than you can chew, the GBH has been known to choke to death on prey that is too large.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck. Sometimes called the black-bellied tree-duck because they like to perch and nest in trees.

White Ibis. These birds help the fish population by eating crabs and crayfish.

Roseate Spoonbill. In the USA, these birds are found along the coast of Texas, Louisiana, and southern tip of Florida. Look for them along mangroves, saltwater lagoons, and large, shallow lakes.

In addition to the abundant species of birds, this is also a good location to photograph the American Alligator. No your eyes did not deceive you, I wrote alligator. But alligators are fresh-water reptiles and the coast is obviously salt-water so what gives? Well, the SPI birding center has both a large fresh-water lake that is served from the city’s water supply, and a salt-water inlet fed from the Laguna Madre so you get the best of both worlds here. Alligators can tolerate brackish water so they are doing just fine in this environment.

American Alligator At Sunrise.

There are three alligators living on the property and one is generally very predictably seen at Blind #7. The alligator will often swim right up to you. Don’t worry, it’s actually right beneath you from the boardwalk so you’re quite safe…just don’t fall in. Feeding is prohibited but there it sits, waiting for a meal, which I believe it thinks is you. It will slowly sink to the bottom and wait underneath the water, rising slowly after a few minutes. It’s an amazing reptile and an awesome creature to photograph but it is primarily a morning blind so you’ll have to wake up early to capture the gator in nice light. Afternoon shots can still be had but you’ll need a little luck on your side and hope the gator cooperates with where it decides to swim. It prefers to rest on the west bank and that would mean shooting into the sun and a loss of contrast, color, or both, in the evening.

American Alligator.

From Blind #6 you can often see gulls and terns skimming the water. It’s a great location to photograph them in flight. While you are there, don’t forget to keep your eyes on the cattails. There are plenty of least bittern and sometimes red-winged blackbirds too.

Laughing Gull. Skimming the water.

Laughing Gull.

Finally, if you are there in the evening, you are sure to see and photograph some amazing sunsets. You can shoot from either blind #3 or #4 and capture the sun on the water, perhaps a boat or two in the image. I recommend you also shoot from a location on the boardwalk where you can incorporate Blind #3 or #4 into the picture. Immediately North of the convention center, you can drive your car right up to the water and photograph the sunset from there. There are often people canoeing the laguna madre so try to incorporate that into your pictures too as this adds an interesting element to the photograph.

Canoeist Paddling The Laguna Madre At Sunset.

Sunset Over The Laguna Madre.

Laguna Madre Sunset. View from the boardwalk at the SPI-WBC.

Other places on South Padre Island and Port Isabel: If you drive as far North as the road allows, there are wonderful sand dunes that you can try to photograph. If you go to Access #5, you can drive your vehicle onto the beach. It’s a great place to photograph the sunrise. Finally, don’t forget about Port Isabel. The shrimp boats go in and out of the channel and if you get lucky, you might photograph them coming in/going out. I think it’s more of a sunset shot given the direction of light. At the very least, you should be able to photograph them while docked. Brown Pelican are often perched on posts on the Port Isabel side, but I haven’t found a good location from which to photograph them. If you know of any, send me a message.

Moonrise over sanddunes at South Padre Island, Texas.

Sunrise On The Gulf Of Mexico.

Port Isabel Lighthouse. Constructed in 1852 to make seagoing along the Texas coast less dangerous, it is the only lighthouse of the original 16 constructed in Texas that is open to the public.

Shrimp Boats At Dock.

During the month of April to about mid-May, the convention center is a prime spot to photograph migratory birds flying to northern nesting grounds. A few examples of what you’ll find are indigo bunting, lazuli bunting, scarlet tanager, chestnut sided warblers, baltimore oriole and more. There are plenty of birds…but plenty of photographers and birders there too so you’ll have to jockey for position but it’s worth the trip to photograph these amazing birds.

Indigo Bunting.

Summer Tanager.

Baltimore Oriole.

Equipment:  You’ll want your longest focal length. I’m often using the 500mm on a crop-factor camera. You may want to carry your best bird-in-flight lens on your shoulder to capture that action but long lens is the name of the game here for birds. If you are after sunsets, a wide angle or 70-200 lens will be just about right but the 500 will also work wonders as the sunset will be larger in the image. Caution: Do NOT look through your viewfinder at the sun as this will cause damage to your eye. If you have live view, then put your camera in that mode and compose the shot. Otherwise, meter the sky adjacent to the sun, set your camera on manual mode with the metered settings, then recompose quickly and fire away.

UPDATE: I was at the SPI birding center in July 2011 and there are a couple of negative things to report. First, the freshwater is getting overgrown with cattails. You can still get great images, but the cattails have taken over and in short time will only get worse. Second, the boardwalk connecting the birding center and convention center now has a big gap which made no sense to me. I used to park at the convention center and walk to Blind #7 in the morning to photograph the alligator. At present, you’ll have to park at the birding center headquarters and walk at least 4000 of the 4800 linear feet to get there. I may be exaggerating a bit but it’s a long walk with heavy equipment. I visited with the center staff one morning and in short, the gap in the boardwalk has to do with a political battle between the city and the county. No telling how or when that is resolved. They did acknowledge the cattail problem and they stated that during the fall, they had plans to weed them out. If they follow through with those plans, the photography will get much better so here’s hoping they do.

That’s all for now folks. Remember to spend time with your kids outdoors. I did that very thing at the birding center this past July and they had a great time…but not as great a time as their dad.