Outside your door is a world to explore. Miles or inches away from that door is some sort of nature. It may not be as sexy as elk and grizzly bears, but there is something. It could be insects or pigeons, dandelions or oak trees. Study something to improve and build skills. It will make your next adventure more productive, because it doesn’t matter what you are looking at that matters, it is what you see. Your trained eye is what will help you spot the unnoticed things others walk past everyday. Ask yourself questions and recall the details. Give this a try 5-10 minutes a day. I would love to know your results.
Sometimes I get asked about what camera I use. And the answer is simple, whatever I had available. Anything from point and shoot, iPhone, drone, GoPro and various trail cameras make the images I happily share on social media. Brands have little meaning to me. Whatever will I get me closest to my vision is what I will use. One piece of advice I have for newbies, avoid G.A.S. Or gear-acquisition-syndrome. It is a costly game and can become habit forming. As much as I would love to have big lenses, I can wait to save up and buy them later when I feel I really need them to step up my wildlife photography game.
Keep in mind a simple point-and-shoot camera still takes great pictures that can produce sizable prints. This little old Olympus camera is nothing special; waterproof, drop-proof, decent video and tough. No RAW, interchangeable lens, or other fancy features happen on this camera. Birds in flight pictures? Not likely. Nightscapes and star-trails? Nope. Take it every where I go in case something interesting happens? YES. That’s where the “one you have with you” photography cliche comes from. You always have be ready. Other fitting cliche? You will always miss the shots you didn’t take.
A simple point and shoot can produce great printable images.
You do not need a big arsenal of equipment to document nature. In fact, some of my favorite stuff from others naturalists is hand sketched. They make beautiful pictures and notes. One book I love on how to nature journal is Keeping a Nature Journal by Leslie/Roth. Never lose sight of why you are out enjoying nature observation.
I will leave you with a picture of a Stellar’s Jay taken with a trailcam from EBay. This camera is a close focus system. I have been looking for a long time and found this one “cheep cheep” on eBay.
Trail Cameras can be a great help for those shots you can’t be there for.
Early mornings on the North Fork of the Flathead remind me of the pictures often posted of the sun coming up on the African Serengeti. Each biome is rich in its own wildlife, and the Glacier National Park area of Montana is no exception. Many different species live in this area, however seeing them is complicated by the dense trees of the inland rainforests, aka refugia. These areas make ideal hunting for wolves and big cats, add some elevation to your journey and you leave the trees and find yourself in alpine areas of scrubby bushes and mountain goats.
One of my favorite things about the sunrises in this area is the summer slow mornings. The sun starts rising at about 4:30 and takes a little bit of time. The birds are easily an alarm clock. Robins start singing not long after that first light and it is definitely time to wake up, make the coffee, and see what the new day holds.
Getting out and seeing wildlife starts long before that sunrise and ends long after the last light. In the winter, that means a really short day, however in the summer that can easily become over an 18 hour day. so this leads to a new project.
Sunrise on the Montana Serengeti is only the start.
In the relaunch and rebuild of this blog, I want to start sharing a virtual safari with readers. Once or twice a year, I would love to offer a full Montana Safari itenerary for people. This is only an early start of an idea. I am in awe of people I follow on social media sharing their African safari photos and camps. I would love to offer that to people that want to see this area. This is a great place to call home, and I would love for you to vacation here, see the wild, and leave with lifetime memories.
Thanks for reading.
This is a short brief on my techniques to spotting wildlife. While there are no photography tips in this post, a photographer could use these tips in finding their next subject. These tips with a little bit of luck should give you a successful outing next time you go out exploring. So grab your binoculars and a coat and get ready to spot those animals.
Get Outside – The first thing to be a successful wildlife spotter is that you have to go where the wildlife is. Sometimes the hardest thing is grabbing your gear and getting off the couch. Once you are off the couch and walking in nature, you will already be in the environment for studying wildlife.
Slow Down / Move Quietly– Our day to day lives are full of hustle. We all have places to go and things to do. How much stuff do you miss on a commute, only to notice it when someone else is driving. This same thing applies to nature-spotting. When you slow down, you can visually take in more of your environment, and things aren’t whizzing past in your periphery. Slowing down gives you a chance to scan. Slowing down also means you can think and move with stealth and intention. Practice walking quietly.
Stop and Shut Up – Sometimes completely stopping and being quiet is what it takes to find what you are looking for. Becoming part of the environment and blending in may just make wildlife more comfortable in making themselves seen. This also lets you settle and listen to things around you. Are there birds chirping or did they get quiet? Looking for changes is a key to this technique.
Get Up Early and Stay Up Late – Most animal activity is in the mornings and evenings. They like to wakeup and feed and go down to water sources first thing and last thing of the day. During the summer, animals avoid the heat like people. You would too if you had on a fur coat! Be sure you are ready with the added equipment to help you navigate twilight-lit landscapes.
Edge Zones – Edge zones are the areas where forests give way to meadows, or forests give way to shorelines. Roads could also be considered edge zones. ever notice deer grazing on the side only to turn back into the trees and hide as you pass. (ok, sometimes they run in front of your car and help you check the operating condition of our brakes and reflexes.) Wildlife likes to hangout in these areas because of the quick retreat into cover. These have often been successful spotting places for me when looking for bears.
Know Your Subject – If you are looking for something specific, do your research. This is where skills in tracking and sign cutting can come into play. Tracking is a longer post blog, but starting early in the day or late at night gives the sun the right position for seeing tracks on road surfaces. Scat is also a helpful indication of what is around and how long ago it was around.
Have theTools – Camouflage cover can be a handy aid to have when it comes to hiding. just be sure it doesn’t flap in a breeze, otherwise being stealthy, still, and quiet could all be a wasted effort. Other things to have handy: binoculars or spotting scope, camera, reference material, water or thermos of a warm drink, warm clothes, insulated sit pad (Crazy Creek chairs are nice for this).
Respect the Wildlife – Lastly, keep a safe distance from animals. Recent videos in Yellowstone show people harassing bison, or getting dangerously close to elk and nearly getting gored by antlers during the mating rut. Use common sense; have an escape plan and stay far enough away that you hopefully won’t need to implement the escape plan.
After putting up the feeder, and then a single hummingbird finally finding it, I am so fascinated by these little birds ability. As a drone flyer, these little birds are the ultimately nature’s drones. And… Look fat those little feet!
If you want to know 25 fun facts about hummingbirds, click here. I learned a lot of things I never knew or considered. Like that an average hummingbird’s heart rate is more than 1,200 beats per minute.
Hummingbird taking a drink
Hummingbird seeing if he emptied the feeder after one drink, then realizes he still has a long way to go.
One of my favorite parts of this time of year is that all the hummingbirds begin to migrate up this way. These little high-performance fighter jets of the bird world have highly reflective feathers. While fur absorbs light, feathers tend to reflect, causing the hummingbird in this image to be beaming with green off the back. Stay tuned for my bird photography tricks and tips coming soon.
Having seasons is nice. One change leads to another and each one is new and exciting with those changes; winter and fresh snow, fall and the larch trees changing to vibrant colors of yellow, or summertime playing in the mountain lakes. But springtime… means there will soon be newborn wildlife all over.
The other day I came across this osprey hanging out on the nesting box. It is in the perfect spot next to a lake, so feeding should be easy. As the season continues, I hope to spot other young wildlife roaming around.
Many of these nest boxes for osprey are occupied this time of year.
As September starts off, it seems that summer is unofficially over. When summer tourist traffic dies down, kids go back to school, and the migratory birds show up it just starts to get that feeling of fall. While the official start of fall isn’t for a few weeks yet (I am working on a autumnal equinox post for then), I have been beginning to see a lot more migratory birds moving south. I was able to capture images of a two so far. The second one was kind of out of reach for the biggest lens I had at the time. I prefer to photograph rather than sketch. It really helps in identification for me later. I am no artist and I would surely miss important details like beak shape or tail shape.
Swainson’s Thrushes breed in Western Montana, the northern part of the western Canadian provinces, and Alaska. As summer ends they migrate to Central and South America in the winter. What a journey for such a small creatures. I imagine this one was feeding and resting up for another leg of the journey.
The Yellow-rumped warbler really pushed the limits of my lens. I could see the motion and knew I needed a quick capture. This warbler has two sub-species. The sub-spedies in the west is know as the “Audubons.” “Myrtle” is the eastern sub-species. The winter grounds for the Yellow-rumped Warbler are central America and the southern United States. Their northern most range and breeding occurs in the northern part of the western Canadian provinces and Alaska.
Tip for birdwatching (and nature observations in general):
Most of these birds flew up close to me as I sat in silence. The only noise I made was my breathing and shutter clicks from the camera. To see what is going on around you, you have to stop and be present. That means taking a break from the digital noise or just daily white noise that is going on around you. At first, the silence may be deafening. In our day to day living, we tune so much out. When you tune in to your environment you will notice so much more. I make it a habit to try and tune in daily for at least for an hour if I can. It has done wonders to discover more in the natural world.
I use the Merlin App by the Cornell Lab to reference my bird information and identification.