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FIELD NOTES


One: You can take the human out of the Pleistocene, but you can’t take the Pleistocene out of the human.  And so it is with me and my 21st century techno-marvel digital cameras, hunting and gathering images of the nature world to bring home to share with family, friends and the folks who visit this site.  Kind of a fascinating circle of the ancient and the new, don’t you think?  

Two: I keep my approach to photography as simple as possible.  The images are shot in raw format, and then edited and processed into JPEG using Canon’s DPP software.  There are no further software alterations made, or desired, on my part.  If I don’t capture the image within the confines of the sensor’s capabilities and the limited parameters of what my editing software affords, then it just isn’t a “keeper”.  I have a fine arts painting background, and creating an original painting necessarily involves hand, brush, paint and an enormous amount of interpretation on my part.  In comparison with painting, what appeals to me about photography is that I can preserve an image I see in nature with a camera and a lens with a very minimal amount of manipulation of the captured image.   


Three: While I was out walking with my gear recently, a fox squirrel came running towards me--obviously in a panic.  The reason for the panic, to my surprise, was a female mink in hot pursuit of the squirrel.  Once they saw me, the two quickly veered into thick cover where I could barely follow their activity.  At one point, the mink chased the squirrel up a tree and then decided against it and disappeared into deeper woods.  It all happened so fast that I did not have time to get a picture of this odd encounter.  It was also very amusing to see the smaller of the two (the mink) taking on a squirrel maybe 20-25 % larger than itself.  Being a member of the weasel family, which includes skunks, fishers, otters and wolverines, it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise I guess, only that I had the good fortune to witness it.  


Four: Autumn is here at last.  Nearly all the deer I have been seeing are in their winter coats.  The bucks have shed their antler velvet.  A chubby groundhog strays into our yard to eat acorns from the white oak tree nearly every day now.  The number of wood ducks in the east marsh are growing, and I can hear them vocalizing as I slip through the still dark woods to my photo blind.   The world around me is stirring with energy as all prepare for the coming winter.  I think of autumn as the “quickening”—both a visual thing and also something felt deeply within. 


Five: In mid-January of 2023, I discovered we had river otters moving through our property.  For the next couple of months I searched for them, but found only numerous tracks and some of their unique trails through the snow whenever it was deep enough to see their almost tunnel-like paths.  It was all very exciting, but I came up empty with respect to a live sighting. Then in September, nearly nine months later, I heard splashing as I walked up to our north creek.  With camera ready, I took a few more steps and saw a mother otter with two large offspring chasing some fish in a deep stretch of water.  So intent were they at their antics that I had a few minutes to photograph them before they finally realized I was there and scampered downstream.  And though I got several frames in focus, I had too much lens on for the close distance this encounter presented.  However, I am thrilled to have had the experience and to have gotten my first reasonable images of this delightful species on our place. 


Six: We’ve had an awful lot of rainy days here since early October, and this has really thrown a wrench into my plans to be outside this autumn.  I’d had my heart set on spending more time sitting with a camera at several locations in hopes of getting deer images deeper in the woods, and of maybe getting some more shots of otters around the creek.   Instead, whenever the light was strong enough and the rain had eased up for a bit, I had to resort to a blind by the active beaver dam and put my efforts into wood ducks and passing squirrels.  I haven’t had a sighting of the beaver in several weeks, as most of his visits to work on the dam have been at night as he has added to the structure to deal with the steady rains. 


Seven: Despite letting up of the early autumn rains and a heavy crop of acorns this year, the deer activity around our place remained at a low level.  Deer scrapes, rubbed trees, or even sightings of mature deer increased only marginally throughout October, unlike the typical explosion of signs and sightings that I usually find.  Our woods and small clearings remained quiet as the whitetail breeding season stretched into November.   After a great deal of time and luck, I did manage to photograph two fairly nice bucks.  The uncut corn fields around the area had drawn the deer away, and I was lucky to find any animal over 1-1.5 years old out and about on our place.  Photographing wild deer, though much easier than in the good old film days, can still be a difficult task even with modern gear.  Modern cameras are capable of capturing good images of free ranging wild deer in hard lighting conditions, but it remains a wonderful challenge.   


Eight: Around the second week of November, I heard the distinctive sound of migrating snow geese.  Snow geese calls sound like the far away voices of children on a playground.  As I was in a blind trying to get some buck pictures to add to my very small collection of shots for this autumn, I was unable to see much of the sky and watch them pass over.   Two days after Thanksgiving, I again heard the snow geese and was able to step out into the yard and spot an uneven “V” formation, high, high above, and pushing southward.  I have watched this yearly event over many seasons and my enjoyment of it never dims.  I remember a cold and silvery night long ago in Pennsylvania when they flew over, and we all went out into the frosty yard to witness them heading south through the moonlight. 


Nine: A person could go on and on about the gear a nature photographer needs, and most folks will give you a long list of “must haves”, including camera bodies, lenses, maximum apertures, image stabilization and so on.  In my opinion, having equipment that affords some level of weather sealing is more important than all other considerations.  It may not be a sexy subject in the online communities where nature image gathering is discussed and debated, but a pair of rubber boots will aid a person more than about anything else, since they allow you to get to places that most others, outfitted with their inadequate footwear (like my wife), will not venture. 


Ten: A couple of years ago I was walking the trails in late spring when I saw a doe nearby.  She was snorting and stamping her hoof, obviously upset.  Does with fawns usually move away from you, trusting the little ones to their camouflage and silence, so I wondered what was happening. The path veered away from the doe, so I continued along until I came upon a dead fawn right in the middle of the trail.  Looking it over, it was obvious that coyotes had done the deed, as there were teeth marks on the muzzle and a chunk of the throat torn away.  I had my answer to the mother’s distress. Much like stunning sunrises over a misty lake or the dramatic slap of a beaver’s tail, this too is also nature.  I decided that, although sad, I’d photograph the fawn.  I got down low and close to its damaged muzzle and started to focus on the vacant eye when all of the sudden, the fawn blinked, let out a horrible, raspy breath from its damaged throat, and tried to raise its head!  Needless to say this rattled me a great deal, but I did get a few photographs nonetheless. I’ll never show those images to anyone.  They capture something too intimate to be shared.  It was a gruesome experience, sure, but also a strangely intimate moment to have witnessed as well and I am richer, and maybe wiser, for it.

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