It goes without saying nature photography has as its own worst enemy the very thing you’re attempting to capture in an image: nature. Wildlife rarely sits still no matter how much you beg, tree limbs and thickets and reeds and flora of all stripes like to get in the way, clouds have no respect for lighting needs, and the list goes on.
One problem I have most often at White Rock Lake stems from the dense woodlands in which so much life flourishes—and hides. The plethora of birds (hundreds of species) spend a great deal of time hunting and resting and otherwise hanging out behind a near impenetrable shield of ligneous barricades.
Sure, you can see the hawk that landed in that tree over there, but a minefield of limbs and leaves shield it from direct view. The best you can do is find the clearest opening and fire off a few shots with the safe knowledge that the resulting images probably won’t turn out.
For the braver souls amongst us—like me—you can always trudge through the brush and forest in an attempt to get closer to said hawk where clearer views might prevail. But then you wind up directly beneath the bird in question and come home with beautifully in-focus and clear shots of its rump and tail feathers. Which, for all their clarity, might as well be of Easter hats at Sunday service.
Nevertheless, from time to time an animal will sit still long enough and be in a position clear enough for me to get close and get some respectable photographs. Thus was the case with an American black vulture (a.k.a. black vulture; Coragyps atratus)…
Walking along the treeline south of Dixon Branch where the floodplain meets dense woodlands surrounding the creek, I spied a turkey vulture circling above the treetops. It flitted into the open only a few times as it made its way higher and higher, all the while moving further away from me and further behind the woods.
Yet as I watched it, I noticed a black vulture circling low, moving nearer, and finally sweeping through the trees and perching not too far from where I stood. Only one problem: Pacing back and forth several times revealed not one clear view of the bird. Some windows into the woods offered fewer obstructions than others; however, all of them ensured this large black creature remained at least partially obscured.
Unhappy with the few pictures I took from outside the forest realm, I decided to venture inward hoping to find a better vantage—without scaring away my quarry, I mean!
Pushing my way through heavy brush and trying to step on every crackling twig on the forest floor, I made enough noise to be mistaken for a tank trundling through the trees. And the vulture noticed, kept an eye on me as I approached.
The only relatively clear view I found required me to kneel on the ground and aim between branches both near and far. The window of opportunity was rather small.
Of course, as luck would have it, the vulture decided to change positions. Whether tired of the view it had or pushed to relocate a bit by my thunderous approach, it moved only a hop or two, yet it was enough to block half the bird from my lens. Doggone it!
I backed out the way I came in and circled around the edge of the woods looking for another way in that might offer a more versatile viewing area. Or at least one sans all the limitations of the first.
After startling a few mourning doves from their natural bower and scattering a Carolina wren and a few warblers when I stumbled over a log and nearly fell flat on my face, I again tried to make as much noise as possible by finding every dry leaf and every limb and twig on the ground. Someone has to wake the dead, right?
Finally, though, I discovered an almost clearing with smaller trees and fewer limbs to block my view of the vulture. Meanwhile, it had again relocated a hop or two from where I’d last seen it, and this gave it as clear a view of me as I had of it.
I decided to ignore the small number of waving arms that some trees stuck in my way since I feared I was pushing the vulture into a flight response with my approaches and noise making. If I was going to get some photos, they’d have to be from that spot.
Thankfully the bird didn’t move around much while I stood there vying for the right picture. It looked at me, looked at the ground, preened a bit, then cycled through those activities again and again.
I wanted to get closer, mind you, because I was still too far away to get the best images possible. I even considered stumbling further into the forest to see if my loud approach would be tolerated a bit more.
But it was then a second black vulture flew in through the treetops and landed near the first. They engaged in some conversation, perhaps friendly and perhaps not, and the subject of my excursion moved a few steps to get a better view of the latest arrival.
That completely blocked me from seeing all but tail. I would have to circle around into heavier brush and thicker woods in order to see it clearly. I decided they didn’t need a stalker at that moment. I turned around and left them to their day.