American black vulture (a.k.a. black vulture; Coragyps atratus); adult
American black vulture (a.k.a. black vulture; Coragyps atratus); adult
[regal: I believe that is the word I would use to describe these birds; photos taken at White Rock Lake]
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.
Staring into the sun trying to locate a distant voice. Seeing a bit of shadow swimming through woodlands. Driving along while trying to snap a photo of something resting atop a building.
Being prepared has little to do with successfully capturing an image when the subject and circumstances conspire against me.
I try, though. Oh how I try…
Two male brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater). An old deer stand at the family farm quickly transformed into a makeshift bird feeder. The blue plastic tray hanging above the ground is filled each day with birdseed, and that beckons to a variety of winged beasts who visit from dawn to dusk—and probably well into the night.
A male belted kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon). His raucous cry had me searching high and low trying to find him. Much to my dismay, he flitted from tree to tree as I ran along some distance away attempting to follow him. Finally realizing I would never get close enough for a respectable photo, I took aim despite not being able to see if I was or was not focused on the right tree.
A pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps). Cunning little creatures, these grebes. They disappear beneath the water’s surface if they perceive a threat. When they return to the surface, they can be one to three meters/yards away from where they vanished. I hurried along the shore of White Rock Lake trying to snap a photo of this critter as it continually dove out of sight only to pop up in random directions and distances from where I lost sight of it.
An American black vulture (a.k.a. black vulture; Coragyps atratus). Driving home one afternoon, I spied this beautiful bird preening in the bright sunshine. Attempting to navigate Dallas’s busy streets while holding a camera out the window to snap photos is not something I recommend for the faint of heart. Oh, and this irony was not lost on me at that time or when I viewed these images later: the vulture was sitting atop a hospital.
A white-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica). During my first visit to the Audubon park near White Rock Lake’s spillway, I stood in a ravine with dense woodlands all around me as a spirited creek bubbled along on its journey to larger waterways. In the dim light of predawn hours, I heard more than saw a bird land in the treetops quite a way from where I stood. I snapped a few photos despite the distance and despite not knowing what kind of bird it was.
A male hairy woodpecker (Picoides villosus). Its size and its beak differentiated this common animal from the downy woodpeckers that also inhabit the area. The rat-tat-tat knocking in the treetops above me drew my attention as I walked home from the lake, and against the contrast of wintry limbs and bright sky I nearly gave up trying to capture an image so high up from such a disadvantaged position far below.