I Blew it!

Last Wednesday, I received a text from a friend who lives on 50 acres of beautiful mountain terrain, bordering 1000’s of acres of national forest. The night before ( 2:00am), he and his wife were woken by some otherworldly noises: screams, gurgling, growling, etc. A spotlight revealed a cougar killing a large deer in their driveway. They watched for quite some time. Early the next morning, they watched it bury the leftovers for later.

This was it! This was my chance to finally photograph a cougar. I rearranged my day, which among other things, greatly inconvenienced my wife. But she knew what this meant to me. I first had to visit my bear site to pull down one of the 2 camera traps, along with a trail camera. Off I went! The deer was neatly buried in leaves and pine needles and a casual observer would walk right by. This was text book cougar behavior and soooo impressive. I spent the next hour setting up a camera trap. I checked and rechecked everything. This was a big test for my camera trapping skills and honestly, I was pretty confident about the whole thing. At the last second, I decided to set up a game camera.

The land owners had left town, so when I arrived the next morning, I parked at the gate and walked in. I was still 100 yards from my cameras when I found the deer. It was sprawled out along the edge of a deeply wooded area. It was gruesome and my heart began to race. I looked around for a second or two and then be lined it to the cameras. I knew the cameras were working fine because they went off as I passed by. Frantically going through images on the camera’s screen, I had captured a Gray Fox beautifully, but no cougar! WTF? Trail camera videos tell the story from here.

The cougar came in behind the trees and stayed very low. Unfortunately, I had pointed the motion sensor slightly too high. It’s still painful to watch these videos.

Look how powerful this animal is! I’m more fascinated than ever.

I took down the camera, flashes, sensor, etc. My first thought was I was going to reset everything up again, focusing on the deer once again. For about 10 minutes, I tried to figure out a good angle for the camera and where I could mount flashes, etc. But in the back of my mind, I wasn’t comfortable being there. Why hadn’t the cougar made any effort to conceal its prize like it had the night before? It felt as if I may have interupted it’s meal. I had very poor sight lines in multiple directions. I was getting nervous as cougars are known to defend their kills. Maybe I was being paranoid, but I decided hanging out here for another hour was not the best idea. I quickly pointed a trail camera at the deer and left. I won’t know what is on it till tomorrow, Wednesday, the 31st. I’m very, very curious

The consolation prize was this beautiful Gray Fox, undoubtedly attracted by the scent of the deer.

It’s been several days since this chain of events and I’m still upset the I blew it. Videos are cool, but my goal is always beautiful fine art worthy prints, suitable for galleries. In the back of my mind, I know there will be more opportunities and this has been a great learning experience.

Splish Splash & more

In the little patch of magic forest I’ve been setting up cameras, there is a very small, spring fed pond. It’s always been in the back of my mind to see if much goes on there, but for whatever reason I haven’t, until now. After a stretch of 100 degree days, I finally scrambled down there with a trail camera. All I can say to myself now is “What took me so long?”

Our family of Black Bears have visited several times now. The footage is both amusing and amazing. I’m learning so much about black bears and I’m just getting started. I just ordered two books about these amazing animals.

I’ve been asked about mama’s somewhat cold attitude towards one of her cubs in a few videos, like this one. My best guess this is typical Black Bear behavior, but honestly I don’t know for sure. Someone on Facebook wondered if she is trying to wean them … great question. People come to me with wildlife questions all the time, assuming I’ll have answers. So often I disappoint. I probably know way more about the natural world than most … but there is way, way, way more that I don’t know. And I like it that way. That’s how I know it will always be exciting to me.

At first glance, I would say haven’t gotten anything too exciting since the coyote. Deer, Wild Turkey and squirrels. But looking closer at some of the images, and I’m pretty happy with them. There is something about camera trapping that really appeals to me. It’s a total different approach than traditional photography. I can for the most part control the composition. I can sorta control light (need to get better at this). What I cannot control is how animals will enter the frame. While I’ve had some heartbreaking missed shots, I’ve also had some super interesting things happen. I would never compose an image like the following with my regular camera, but somehow it works.

I LOVE THE RANDOMNESS of camera trapping.

Other stuff:

  • I’ve taken one of the two camera traps down to do some repairs/maintenance. The cubs have been very rough on some equipment. It’s almost not cute anymore. LOL.
  • I’m applying for a grant to purchase two more camera trap set ups. I’ve been successful with this foundation before. I need them to see how passionate I am and what this art is all about.
  • I’ve had two good weekends of business in a row. Being a full time artist/wildlife photographer ain’t always easy. I always want the business to do better and better.

I really enjoyed writing this tonight. A place to say whatever I want to say. Fun. Thank you for reading!!!

Forgive any grammar, spelling and whatever else mistakes I made. I will likely read this in the morning and do some correcting.


Lot’s to Learn

Last week, one of the best of the best camera trappers in existence released an e book full of tips and techniques for this very niche form of photography. It’s almost 200 pages and I’ve already read it … maybe a record for me. I will forever be using it as a reference guide.

I have lots of room for improvement. I still struggle with lighting. Flashes misfiring or not firing at all is my single biggest issue. He addresses this apparently common issue with a whole chapter on flashes. I’ve read and reread it. In a couple of hours, I’ll be making some additional adjustments and hope for the best.

Here I am trying to dial in the flash (along with focus/compostion) on a 105 degree day last week. By this point, I was soaked with sweat and maybe a little delirious. You wouldn’t know it by the smile, but the heat, mosquitoes and poison oak do take a toll on me.

Tuesday, I checked this camera and even though I’m still having issues with flashes, they worked perfect at a critical moment!

A massive win! Coyotes are extremely wary of unusual sounds, smells and sights and they’ve repeatedly outsmarted me. I love the look of photographing wildlife with a wide angle lens. I have the deepest love and respect for coyotes.

As for the other trap site I’ve been very excited about, . a huge limb broke from a tree during a recent storm. It knocked over a flash and the motion sensor, so I got exactly nothing. Big letdown! I was ready to blame the bears until I took a step back and saw what really happened.

That’s camera trapping. Lots of ups and downs. But one great image a week works for me!

Another Surprise

I had no idea these twins were in this small patch of woods until I saw this, despite the fact I have five cameras in this relatively small area. Maybe they are passing through or maybe I’ve just missed them. Whatever … what a beautiful surprise!

I grew up in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Wildlife was hard to come by, so I relied on books and TV shows like Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom to satisfy my craving for wildlife. So when a young Whitetail Deer wandered down our street in Park Ridge when I was about 10yo, my mind was blown! I stood in the picture window of our mostly off limits living room, jaw on the floor. What an extraordinary sight! My life long love of deer was born in that moment.

Now living in Ashland, Oregon, Blacktail Deer wander our neighborhoods all the time. Some even consider them pests. Not me. When a deer strolls down our street, I stand in our picture window and watch, just like I did when I was ten.

I’m forever grateful for deer.