I’ve posted images of the cascades on Black Mountain before. After some good rains, Casey and I visited this past March with hopes of making it to the top. This is not an easy hike, but Casey had not yet seen most of the cascades. This was our intention, but it was quickly realized that the overcast afternoon we were promised was not going to be. So, we utilized the few clouds remaining to the best of our ability and climbed high enough to find some falls hidden behind canyon walls that blocked the harsh afternoon sun.
This post is a modified article that was originally published in the Webster Groves Nature Study Society’s journal, Nature Notes (February, 2020, Vol. 92, No. 2).
The alarm on the phone sounds off at 4:00 am. You have a quick, light breakfast but no coffee. Making moves required during the act of recycling that coffee would be detrimental to your goals this morning. You’ve packed the car the night before, so you simply need to wash your face and throw on the required number of layers it will take to stay warm enough during your several hours sit. This requires some critical thought as morning temperatures during the rut can often be in the teens or twenties.
You arrive at the site by 5:30 am and are under cover at your pre-scouted location by 6:15 am — first light. Sunrise and the golden-hour will come in about 30 minutes. You picked this location due to heavy deer traffic signified by sign such as tracks and scat, scrapes and rubs. You put your back to the rising sun to take advantage of the beautiful golden-hour light that will be splashed across the scene. You also considered the potential background for your photos. You made sure there is plenty of space between your subjects and a natural, potentially autumn-colored background to get that creamy, out of focus quality that helps your magnificent subject stand out. Remember, the key to improving your nature photography is to make the photo, not simply take the photo. Previsualization and planning are often critical!
Arriving prior to first light brings the best potential for being unnoticed in your blind. However, deer are often just as active at night and sometimes you may find your spot is already occupied by your subjects! Don’t worry too much; you may spook those deer out of the area, but there are plenty of others who will likely visit these hangouts before the morning is over. Where you choose to photograph will be important in this respect. Take advantage of photographing in areas that are closed to hunting, like parks and sanctuaries. Here the deer are very accustomed to people and our scents, showing little fear. Often, during the rut, younger bucks may be curious and will move closer to you. You will typically need to work harder to get closer to the wearier does and old, veteran bucks who have been around the block a few times. In non-hunting areas, you can often get close enough to your subjects to make meaningful photographs by simply having an early-morning walk around with a longer telephoto lens (e.g. 300-600 mm focal length).
Like clockwork, at 6:30 am every morning, large flocks of blackbirds move overhead from the west, chasing the rising sun in search of feeding grounds. Photographing the rut is very similar to hunting. Deer hunters in our area typically use tree stands. This higher elevation provides advantages in being able to see greater distances, being out of direct eye-line of the deer and aids in dispersing your scent, which is frequently a give away of the pursuer. When hunting with a camera and lens, you need to stay on level ground and shoot the deer at eye level or lower.
A method Miguel Acosta and I like to use is hiding in a blind (we like the portability of ‘throw-blinds’) along well-established deer trail or nearby communal rub or scrape areas. This will require using camouflage, blinds or similar methods to break up the human form. In the types of areas described above, you need not worry too much about your scent. Deer have very strong sense of smell and in the middle of an unpopulated forest, your odors can very easily give you away. But, in areas like parks where people and deer are often found in close proximity, your own scent is less likely to alarm the deer and thereby allow you to get much closer.
Around mid-morning a Red-shouldered Hawk, perched above our location, vocalizes and a mixed-species flock of songbirds moves into our copse of trees. Since we have our large lenses, we try our hands at photographing Chickadees and Titmouse. Although scent and wind direction may not play an important role in this setting, being quiet is important for getting those close and intimate shots. I recommend doing everything you can to keep your noise to a minimum. Try and chose gear without Velcro or other noisy fasteners. Keep your voices to a minimum and try not to move frequently. If available on your camera, choose the “silent shutter” setting. Many dSLR cameras have this setting that lowers the volume of the mirror flapping. Consequently, this will lower the frame rate of the camera, but this is preferable to spooking your subjects before you get your shots. New mirrorless cameras lack the mirror box of their older brethren and can shoot very quietly at high frame rates.
Later in the morning I awake from a nap to the sound of Wild Turkeys vocalizing. I quickly realize that a small flock have wandered near our location and Miguel is offering them some verbal enticement to come a little closer to our shooting lane. It didn’t work, but the fact they were within ten yards of our location offers further proof that our blinds and technique work to get us closer to wild animals. Until recently, I had never given our North American game species much thought as a subject of natural history study. I’m sure that not growing up as a hunter or outdoorsman has had an influence on this. Over the past couple of years, I have fallen hook, line and sinker into learning everything I can about white-tailed deer and finding ways to best capture them with the camera. Miguel and I have much to learn and we are eager in making more photographs, capturing their different behaviors and at different times of the year.
For recommended reading about the rut and other aspects of the lives of white-tailed deer, I recommend reading any books you can find by authors Leonard Lee Rue III and Mark Raycroft.
Photographed with my friends Miguel and David at Sax Zim Bog on December 31, 2019.
This post is a modified article that was originally published in the Webster Groves Nature Study Society’s journal, Nature Notes (January, 2020, Vol. 92, No. 1).
Finding the orchid, Triphora trianthophora (three-bird orchid, nodding pogonia), during open bloom can be somewhat of a chore, particularly among us weekend warriors. Casey Galvin and I were both intrigued about the possibility of getting photographs of this diminutive and gorgeous orchid since learning of their discovery at Babler State Park by the WGNSS Botany Group led by Nels Holmberg, John Oliver and others in 2018. The following descriptions and photographs are anecdotal and were not collected using rigorous scientific methodology.
There are several reasons it is challenging to find this extremely ephemeral plant in bloom. First, being partially saprophytic, the plants exhibit periodic dormancy and may not send up above-ground shoots every year, persisting instead as subterranean tubers for extended periods (Homoya, 1992). Even when they do produce stems and leaves, there is no guarantee the plants will flower in a given year. Additionally, when they do flower, any one bloom is open for only a few hours during a single day.
Exhibiting a phenomenon known as thermoperiodicity, a group or population of these plants are synchronized to open mature buds on the same day. This first wave of synchronous blooming is reportedly induced by a drop in minimum daily temperature of at least three degrees over two or more consecutive days. Following another 48-hour period, all mature buds within the population will then open on the same day (Luer 1975). Being skeptically minded, this was something I wanted to observe for myself.
Beginning in late July, Casey and I began monitoring the easier to get to population at Babler State Park. The first wave of synchronous flowering occurred on August 3rd. We unfortunately missed this but know the exact date because of visits on days immediately before and after this date. Looking into historical temperatures collected from the closest publicly-available weather station (Babler Park Estates – KMOBALLW37) revealed the initial blooming date fit the required temperature pattern perfectly (see attached figure). I continued monitoring and collecting flowering data and observed two more large flushes of synchronized blooms along with three days interspersed where only 3–10 stems/plants opened flowers. For subsequent synchronized days, I did not observe a coinciding drop in temperature as described above. I assume that the trigger for the initial bloom works to synchronize the population and subsequent larger bloom days are consequently synchronized due to all plants ‘running ahead’ at the same rate. However, there could potentially be some other unknown environmental triggers that are playing a hand here.
Halictid bees have been reported to be the primary pollinator for this species (Luer 1975). I had this in mind as I observed and began taking photographs while visiting on a large bloom day but doubted I would be fortunate enough to observe or photograph a potential pollinator visit. However, patience allowed me to do just that. I first observed visits by small flies and Bombus impatiens. Although Williams (1994) reported that Bombus have acted as pollinators of this species, I did not observe any of these visitors with attached pollinia during the 10-15 flowers I watched them visit. Eventually, I observed three different Halictid bees as they visited multiple flowers and observed these were heavily attached with pollinia. As described by Williams (1994), seed capsule production (successful pollination) is a relatively rare event in this species. Nevertheless, this was a treat to observe and photograph.
Homoya, M.A. Orchids of Indiana. Indiana University Press, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.
Luer, C.A. 1975. The Native Orchids of the United States and Canada. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York, USA.
Williams, S.A. 1994. Observations on reproduction in Triphora trianthophora. Rhodora 96:30-43.