A Loner’s Life

Photograph of a bull moose in the forest
Bull Moose – North Park, Colorado

For the most part, wildlife photography is a loner’s journey.

The physical connection between the wildlife photographer and photographic subject is symbiotic in many ways. One must learn to adapt to that relationship too.

Moose are social animals but seem to prefer their own company to that of others. Moose are unique subjects. They will hang out together at times. Good feeding conditions, breeding and some type of kinship with others of their type are gathering factors but they are more likely to be found on the move and alone. For the wildlife photographer, the same holds true. I enjoy the company of others but for the most part, I prefer to work alone.

My wife is quite supportive of my photography efforts but she’s not really into the “nature photography” thing with the same enthusiasm as I. If you’re a photographer, you’ve probably experienced this yourself. The travel companion is more often than not quickly bored with the adventure. Sitting alone in a vehicle without an internet connection or phone signal could be a factor. Perhaps it’s not enjoyable to watch some old guy trudging across the field in the rain. It’s a rare person who is willing to sacrifice their sleep and worldly conveniences to trek out into the wilderness with a photographer who is focused primarily on finding critters in the early morning mist.

Most times it’s just better to share the fruits of our labor. I imagine that a typical construction worker has to deal with the same thing. I’ve never heard of a carpenter taking their wife or girlfriend to work to watch them measuring and cutting lumber. It’s boring.

Moose on the other hand seem to like boring, so the photographer must learn to be bored in the same fashion as the loner animal. Other things factor in to this equation though.

The wildlife photographer’s work doesn’t hinge on the hard to alter habits of other humans when heading out into the field. Most of the adaptation comes from the photographer, not from the travel companion. While we still have to account for the presence of other people from time to time, to a large degree the other humans that are present are typically loners too. Our paths are simply crossing at a certain time and place.

Being of retirement age, I have the time to roam around alone in the back woods and mountain tops. My travel and photography plans are for the most part kept to weekdays and not weekends. For those still working a real job, their commitments in life relegate them to getting out on weekends. Though I will get out on a weekend, it’s not an option I give priority. As a matter of fact, I avoid weekends specifically to avoid the folks getting out on weekends. Too many people disrupt the shooting environment and the experience of being alone with the subject.

More than a few of my friends who are my age and older find their photographic comradery within the confines of camera and nature clubs. I’m not a group outing kind of guy though, I’m like a loner moose. My best photos come from working alone or with one other equally enthusiastic photographer. It’s never a personal thing when hatching a plan doesn’t work. We all have different needs and desires. Finding folks who are on the same wavelength isn’t an easy task.

So, I’m incubating another egg that will hatch into a lone adventure in the near future and there will be more after that. Like that lone moose, you may see me pass by from time to time, on my mission to get to some remote spot that I find delightful. But only if you get up early. I’ll typically be done working by 10:00 am and taking a nap by noon. I’ll share the photos with those who prefer to sleep in at a later time.

Being a loner isn’t lonely at all.

I’m Not a Weekend Warrior

Photograph of a wild mountain goat
Juvenile Mountain Goat – Colorado

Mountain goat season is here.

This is a photo from June of 2016.

With the tourist season upon us here in Colorado, I try to avoid getting out on weekends. The crowds form quickly and the probability of getting nice photos goes down dramatically.

I’m not a weekend warrior.

Small Surprises

Colorado’s San Juan Mountains in Autumn

For me, landscape photography sells almost 2:1 better than wildlife. My most popular theme is Autumn photography in Colorado.

Sometimes I take the scenic beauty in Colorado for granted. I’ve been doing this for long enough, going to my normal haunts around the state begin to feel redundant.

What I’ve discovered is to not concentrate on the iconic locations and scenes, photographed by thousands, over and over.

These days I spend more time looking for scenery in the nooks and crannies along the back roads. Areas that one doesn’t normally associate with group workshops and camera club outings.

I don’t recall ever seeing a photograph of this location, though the area is heavily covered by shutterbugs.

The best days are when you find small surprises.

Sheep Sunday

The rain is still coming down. No worries, I’m still heading out later this afternoon to finish up the cabin work.

I’ll take the camera gear and maybe I’ll find something when the rain stops. If not, I’ll enjoy the quiet of the mountains for a day or two.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend and is staying dry.

That’s A Different Story

Bull moose in a lake. Northern Colorado
Bull Moose – Northern Colorado

I suppose I’m a traditional type of person in that I find emotional comfort in certain traditions.

For internet purposes, I practice the tradition of “Moose Monday.”

I’m not quite certain of the origins of “Moose Monday” as it’s been observed by quite a few people I associate with. I’m I the reason? I don’t think so, but I may have contributed to the delinquency of others.

The Moose Collective. I think the first guy other than me who I recall using the phrase was Matt Dirkson and he too appears to have this insatiable appetite for photographing wild moose but we aren’t alone. Birds of a feather so to speak, it was inevitable that we collide and join a growing a photographic tradition of naming specific photographic themes for days of the week. Some days are better than others, literally.

Still, no one person gets credit for anything organizational in a collective. It’s more symbiotic than organized. We have “Moose Mommas” in the group too, so it isn’t a guy thing, I know that much.

These things aren’t just limited to Moose either. Us moose people in the collective are sort of a sub-collective. There are many sub-collectives in photography and we all appear to be traditional people from what I can see. Many of us are obcessed with our traditional ways, so we find our collectives and carry on.

To add to the confusions, I’ve picked up a nick-name as well.”The Moose Whisperer.” I’m not certain of the origin of that name, as I’ve heard it used many times over the years describing me but that’s a different story.

 

Rainy Moose Monday

Moose Photography in Colorado
Shiras Moose Cow – Northern Colorado

It is raining here in Denver this morning so I abandoned any thought of going to the tree in the lake. The weather should be improving this week.

Opportunities will improve.

Here’s a moose photo for Moose Monday. Taken on July 15th, 2015 during one of my scouting trips in North Park.  Canon EOS 7D 1/800, f/8, ISO 1000, 300mm.

Sunday Morning Deer Action

Wildlife photography by Gary Gray
Mule Deer Doe

Out to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR this morning.

There have been news reports of newborn bison at the Arsenal so my buddy Tim and I made a run through the arsenal this morning.

Lots of bison, lots of deer, not a lot of photography as the animals weren’t exactly in good light for most of the morning.  Still, we managed to spot three newborn bison calves. One looks like it was born in the past 24 hours as the mother was looking quite raw and low on strength.

Bison photograph by Gary Gray
Newborn Bison Calf

The placenta is still fresh and hanging from the calf and the mother is on her feet.  One of three calves we spotted.

Some Days, All You Have To Do Is Show Up

This morning was a very nice morning of photography at the tree in the lake.

The bird activity was primarily the double-crested cormorants, however, the great blue heron were present and ultimately gave me a present. Photographically speaking.

This morning’s gift was an entire great blue heron mating sequence in good light.

So, guess what today’s entry is going to be about.

These next five photographs explain everything. (Nikon D810/200-500mmVR)

It all starts with the stick. The male great blue heron will bring sticks to his nesting desire. If she likes the stick she will add it to the nest. If she really likes the stick, well, you’ll see.

She likes the stick.

She more than likes the stick. This is “thestick she has been waiting for.

Notice how the feathers on their necks puff up. Look at her gaze at the male suitor. This is the moment they choose each other.

The male asks her to mate and the female obliges by positioning herself in her new family nest.

Once the female has positioned herself, the male mounts her.

I’ll spare you the additional bird sex, but I will tell you that it last about 10 seconds and he’s gone.

Some days, all you have to do is show up.

Trending on Sunday.

Photography by Gary Gray
Bison Sparring at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

A nice little snow storm landed on Denver yesterday and they have been far and few between this season to use an overused cliche.

As a result, my friend Tim and I took the opportunity to spend Sunday morning at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, Northwest of Denver.

We lucked out with a herd of about 100 or so Bison being positioned in good light near the road.

The kit today.  Nikon D750 with the 200-500mm VR and the Nikon D7200 with the 18-140mm VR.

Bison are one of the more difficult larger animals I’ve photographed over the years.  Reason being, their fur.  Bison fur is very course and thick and doesn’t provide a lot of edge contrast for the autofocus on most cameras to accurately pick up on.  End result, I get a higher than normal amount of out of focus shots with Bison.  Therefore, I take lots of shots when I’m shooting Buffalo, just to add a little more water to the gravy so to speak.

Couple the fur/focus issue with the fact that we were working in large open fields of snow, and you’re just asking for trouble with the cameras focus and exposure.  Today, I cranked in +.7 stops of exposure compensation to make up for metering in an almost solid white environment.