The Thrill Of The Hunt

121124_port mansfield__n0j3950_0066

Deer season is nearing an end and many hunters have filled their tags while others are still waiting on that one special animal. It’s been over 16 years since I hunted (I guess I’m still hunting but these days I’m armed with a 500mm lens) but I still get excited at the site of a truly beautiful buck. The hunting industry seems to have gone a bit awry, obsessed with manufacturing genetically freakish antlers to fuel hunter appetites for that record book buck. To me, genetically modified nontypical freaks have become somewhat grotesque. I much prefer the beauty of a big typical (natural) deer.

On this day, I woke up at 5AM, packed my gear in the truck, then drove to the ranch for my day’s hunt (yes, I was using a camera but I was hunting just the same). I had no idea what I would see on this day and that’s part of what I found exciting. At mid-morning, this buck appeared from the thick brush with his nose to the ground. It’s not often that one captures a mature buck like this in the open and in broad daylight, but when one does, it likely has something to do with the rut and a buck’s interest in finding a lady suitor. That was certainly the case here as he was hot on the trail of a doe in estrus. I tracked him through the lens, gave a slight vocal grunt to get his attention and have him stop. When he looked up and locked his ears on the sound I made, I took my shot and bagged my trophy for the year. That, my friends, was a thrilling hunt.

Photographically, what made this shot possible at that late morning hour was the overcast day. A bright sunny day would have ruined this moment with too much contrast/shadow. With the overcast sky, I had softened light that allowed me to photograph longer this morning. Overcast skies can be dull from a color perspective but setting the white balance to cloudy enhances the colors.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting.–KEVIN

Follow me on instagram: hurtnaturephoto

2015 – Year In Pictures

I finally put a video up of my 2015 images. I start out thinking I’ll just put a top 12 but you know, I just get carried away sometimes. There are way more than 12 photos shared in my HurtNaturePhoto YouTube Video which I have linked for you. I’m very much a novice at putting together videos and I’m working with a very outdated workhorse of a computer. In fact, the Apple reps call it “Vintage” but it continues to perform. It is taxed on resources so I am unable to determine whether there is video compression due to my computer or something that occurs when I share the video to YouTube. The images are sharp but please let me know how they appear to you on video. Enjoy and thanks for watching it. — KEVIN

VideoSpotlight: “Surreal”

I spent last Saturday morning photographing at my favorite garden hotspot. I eluded to the surreal experience in my previous post and was inspired to share those images, all of them rendered in artistic form, in this short video. I created this in iMovie and on that, the image quality is fantastic. I hope this translates to a high-quality video on this blog but I still have a learning curve to go through when it comes to video. I will follow-up with the still images in a later post. Until then, I hope you enjoy “Surreal”.  –KEVIN

Birds On An Icy Perch

Tufted Titmouse. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm |f7.1 | ISO 800

Tufted Titmouse. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm |f7.1 | ISO 800

A winter storm pushed through Georgia these past few days, bringing snow and ice to most of the state. My home received 2-3″ of snow and as I gazed out the window before going to bed, I knew I’d have a good opportunity for some great images if I could convince myself to leave the warm covers and brave the cold conditions. To put things in perspective, people in my native South Texas think 40 degrees is arctic cold. So, knowing that the morning hours would start in the upper teens, this South Texas transplant had to do some convincing that getting out there was the right thing to do. Now, I realize that people in the North country might laugh at that comment and I’m laughing with you; but get out there I did.

Eastern Phoebe.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

I was after birds on this day, but I also wanted to convey the cold in my images so I searched for the perfect perch. After a few minutes of walking around my property, I spotted this small, multi-forked branch sheathed in ice and knew this was what I was looking for. I placed it at an attractive angle near my feeder and waited. My toes and fingers were numb and on numerous occasions I had a case of the shivers, but the birds were flying and I knew it was only a matter of time. The first bird to land on the perch was the Titmouse above, followed by numerous Pine Warblers and an Eastern Phoebe. The Phoebe was a new species for me so I was excited about that one.

Pine Warbler.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | f7.1 | ISO 800

Pine Warbler. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm | f7.1 | ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe.  Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

Eastern Phoebe. Canon 7D | 500/4.5 | f7.1 |ISO 800

For most of the day, I was shooting under overcast conditions. Since some of the birds I was photographing had dark plumage, I used a Canon 550ex flash as fill set at -2/3. I had the flash zoomed to 50mm so that I got a decent amount of light projected forward, but broad enough to cover the bird and perch. I also had to bump up the ISO to 800 because early in the day there was little light. The Canon 7D is not reputed to be a great high ISO camera, and while I like to keep the ISO at 400 or lower, I will not hesitate to shoot at 800 or even 1600 when I need to. At those higher ISO’s I do tend to expose to the right and pull the exposure back in post processing. I have found that this helps with the noise on this particular camera body. Anyway, that’s probably enough technical information but hopefully it is useful to you.

I had a great day of bird photography in the cold, documented several new species that I will share in another post, and made use of a very “cool” perch.

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. –KEVIN

A Day In The Field With The Georgia Falconry Association

_MG_3604-web

Red-Tailed Hawk perched and awaiting instructions from his falconer. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

The Georgia Falconry Association is a group of individuals dedicated to preserving the art and practice of falconry, as well as educating the public on the conservation, management and ecology of raptors. By pure good fortune, I happened to come across their website this past Friday and discovered that their annual event/hunt was taking place this weekend just 30 minutes from my home. I emailed the President of the association to inquire whether I could tag along and he invited me to show up the next morning.

_MG_3611-web

Red-Tailed Hawk coming down from the tree tops. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

I arrived at the hotel early and enjoyed some good conversation with others as we awaited instructions. After a quick group photo, those who would be attending as observers were assigned to those who would be hunting with their hawks. I joined the group that would be hunting with Red-Tailed Hawks at “The Chili Lady’s” property. Ms. Liz always makes a big batch of chili to feed the group at lunch and let me just say, it was very good.

After a few minutes of falconry etiquette at Ms. Liz’ home, we split into two groups and began the hunt. Not exactly sure of what gear I might need, I decided to take the 500mm mounted on a tripod, along with a 70-200/2.8 slung over my shoulder. The members in my group split up and began walking through the Georgia timber, trying to locate a squirrel. The hawk flew from tree to tree in pursuit. We had been instructed to yell “Ho, Ho, Ho” at the sight of a squirrel and it wasn’t long before someone in the group sounded out. Everyone, bird included, rallied to that person. The squirrel, meanwhile, was scurrying from branch to branch, and tree to tree, trying to evade the hawk.

_MG_3695-web

Red-Tailed Hawk In Pursuit of Squirrel (lower right). Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

At one point, it bailed out of the tree and plummeted 30 feet to the ground. The hawk quickly followed and pounced on the squirrel. I was sure that was it, when suddenly, the squirrel darted off. It quickly climbed a tree and went into its nest. The falconers in the group fired their slingshots at the tree/nest, trying to get the squirrel to come out but this was one elusive, smart, and fortunate squirrel. It had no intentions of coming out. To my surprise, this squirrel got away.

_MG_3639-web

Falconer attempting to get squirrel to leave nest. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

We regrouped at Ms. Liz’ home, got another hawk, and went back in the timber. Ho, Ho, Ho! rang out ahead and soon we were watching the events unfold anew. The squirrel’s ability to maneuver through the trees was impressive. Time after time, the hawks were coming up short. Often, the squirrels would hug the trees so close that even the hawks had a hard time seeing them. To try and flush out the squirrel, the hawks employ a “laddering” maneuver, jumping from one branch to another as they climb through the tree. Though not always successful, the hawk will eventually get its kill. One slight miscalculation or mistake by the squirrel and the hawk will quickly snatch it in its talons and once that happens, it’s lights out.

_MG_3527-web

Red-Tailed Hawk after missing squirrel on the ground. Attempting to relocate it in the trees. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm.

Once the hawks have their prey on the ground, the falconers place a towel over the squirrel and spend some time getting the hawks to loosen their talons and let it go. They do give them some meat to reward the effort but as I understand it, they will feed that squirrel to the hawks later at their enclosures. I believe this is to avoid a full-bellied bird from flying away and not returning. It takes some effort on the part of the falconer to convince the hawks to let go of the squirrel, but the hawks eventually release their prey and eat the tasty morsel given to them by the falconers.

_MG_3800-web

After a successful hunt, a falconer recovers the squirrel from the hawk and rewards it with some meat. Canon 7D | 70-200/2.8 w/1.4x converter.

After a successful morning hunt, we would return to Ms. Liz’ house for lunch, then regroup with another hawk and hunt the afternoon on a different part of her property. I would leave the 500mm in the vehicle this time as the 70-200/2.8 (I used mine with a 1.4x converter) is better suited for this type of photography. It’s not a bad idea to carry a wide angle lens too but I opted to leave that behind as well. Soon we were trekking through the countryside and the sounds of Ho Ho Ho would ring through the hardwoods twice more. Watching those hawks hunt, and the resiliency of the squirrels, was impressive. I had never witnessed this type of event and felt lucky to be a part it. I gained a new respect for the falconer and the sport of falconry. As the day came to an end, we gathered around the vehicles, exchanged our good byes, then went our separate ways. It was a day to remember.

_MG_3592 art

A falconer and his bird return home after a day’s hunt. Digitally rendered as an oil painting. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm.

Red Tailed Hawk Portrait. Digitally rendered as an oil painting.

Red Tailed Hawk Portrait. Digitally rendered as an oil painting. Canon 7D | 500/4.5mm.

A Few South Texas Birds

_N0J8685-20110205

Recently, I’ve been reviewing old files and while I’ve been generally pleased with my portfolio, I’ve also wondered exactly what I was thinking by saving many of the images I photographed. I’m going to let you in on a little secret…those soft images you saved years ago…well, they are not going to get sharp by saving them for a few years. Now how many of you reading this are shaking your head thinking, “yep, I’ve done that”. 🙂

_N0J8642-20110205

Anyway, the images I’m sharing hear were not those of which I just spoke. These images were some I was very pleased with and a few, such as the Green Jay and Oriole above, had never been processed until now. It’s good to go through your old files every now and then, you may be surprised at some of the jewels you overlooked the first time you downloaded your images.

Make sure you CLICK ON THE IMAGES to view the best resolution.

_J0P8113 _J0P6464 2H Ranch-Linn, TX - 2006 VLF STC IMG_6374-Cardinal-Male Perched on Thorny Shrub, Raised Crest

Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN

Migratory Fallout @ South Padre Island, Texas

About 10 days ago, an unexpected northern front blew through South Texas and with it came a massive fallout of migratory birds. To my misfortune, my Canon 7D was at Canon CPS for repair. Those who have shot with me in the past know that I always have two cameras but I had sold my 1Ds MarkII so that I could save up for a new full frame camera. Well, I still haven’t purchased a new one so when the fallout came, I was caught without a camera. This past weekend, another northern, though much less intense, pushed through the area. With my 7D back from repair, I drove to the South Padre Island Convention Center and was able to photograph the birds below. While this second fallout was nothing compared to the week before, I had a great time and some interesting experiences. The weather is warm now and these birds will soon be departing but they’ll be back another day…and I’ll be there with “two” cameras at the ready.

Until next time, keep shooting. –KEVIN