Stumbling Upon A Herd of Deer

“Live bold, without fear. This is life amongst the deer.”

Giovannie de Sadeleer

Every nature photographer has moments and experiences that gladdens the heart.

This one for me however was a definite “I pulled over for this” moment.

It was May 13th 2017, and I was cycling along the local multi-use bicycle path on a pleasant summer evening. On the route home next to a local nature reserve, a clearing showed me several deer off in the distance.

Why my main purpose was for a simple bicycle ride, I had a small camera bag slung over my shoulder, just in case anything interesting happened to cross my way.

This particular patch of riparian woodlands, dubbed Creekside Reserve, includes countless deer in my explorations, but this herd was the largest I’ve ever seen in one area.

First, a lone deer carefully crept towards me as I stood frozen. There is something stunning about this large hulking mammals. Some of them can be so skittish and shy of humans that they will retreat at the first sight. Others are completely comfortable being near humans and won’t even bat an eye. I attribute this instinct or behavior to hunting season, each one can react differently!

Almost like a horror movie, one by one more deer came out from the treeline not too far away. By my counts there were about fifteen total deer all feeding and looking at what I was doing. I was equally paralyzed shaking and standing in excitement.

Photographically speaking this was “golden hour” light at its best, as these mammals come out in the open during dusk.

These two in particular seemed awfully curious as they slowly crept up towards me. I was camera-ready by this point with a 75-300mm zoom lens attached. Only needing to zoom in at 120mm and using an f-stop of 6.3 to distance these two away from the background more as a portrait. Then with a shutter speed of 1/200 second handheld, and ISO 800 to keep up with the slowly darkening skies. As you can see, 120mm isn’t that far from these ungulates.

While I doubt as was in any real danger, I stood motionless and only twitched my fingers to adjust dials and buttons. Another third deer seemed rather perturbed and kept pouncing and hissing off to the side to provoke me. After over half an hour, the herd passively retreated back into the woods.

Still brimming with adrenaline, I pedaled on home under the night sky.

This encounter is perhaps my favorite moment I’ve shared with these beautiful mammals.

“Going to the woods is going home.”

John Muir

Photographers: What are some of your favorite stories of encountering wildlife? Did you get the shot? Share them down below.

Make sure to get out there!

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A List of Favorite Nature Books

As you can probably tell from this blog, writing is one such interest and passion of mine. So naturally talking about my favorite books related to the subject of nature and photography seemed incredibly poignant.

A majority of these books are ones that combine nature and photography as I obviously prefer those the most. Others are more about the hikes and scenery, while others focus more on the biology of the land.

My preference (both ideally and literally) at this time to stay local (in Ohio) which means the majority are exclusively about the Buckeye state. For your convenience, I have separated the strictly Ohio books from the others.

Save these for a nice rainy spring day or brutally cold winter day. Read up, do your research, and be willing to learn!

Here’s the list hitherto, no affiliate links (affixed photos are not my own) but you may copy/paste the titles and authors into your browser to find them. Enjoy!

OHIO BOOKS

Wild Ohio: The Best of Our Natural Heritage – Jim McCormac, Gary Meszaros

A very satisfying read of natural features in Ohio. The depth of info about the flora and fauna from a well-known naturalist like Jim and photographer like Gary. A page-turner from beginning to end.

A Place Called Aullwood – Its Flowers, Woodlands and Meadows: Photographic Essay – Allan Horvath, Paul E. Knoop, Gail Horvath

A beautifully-told narrative of how Aullwood Garden came to be, the history and married couple who sought to protect this property from outside urban influence. Aullwood became the first nature education center in the country. Fortunately Aullwood is still a stunning place to visit to this day, where the history is alive and well as you take each step through the meadows and garden trails. This piece of land was the Aull’s gift to the world, and must cherish it all that we can.

A Photographer’s Guide to Ohio (Volume 1 & 2) – Ian Adams

A very treasured two-volume guide to nature and scenic photographers in the Buckeye state, I have discovered a number of new locations close to home to explore with the camera and lens. Discover everything from lighthouses, hills and bluffs, forbs and petite waterfalls. There is so much out there that many would be happy to see.

Discovery and Renewal on Huffman Prairie: Where Aviation Took Wing – David Nolin

A story-driven book about local naturalist Mr. Nolin’s experience and knowledge of the famed tallgrass prairie. Huffman Prairie Flying Field is arguably a historical crown jewel of wet meadow and prairie habitat in southwest Ohio, mixed in with a rich history of aviation. The book goes through the entire history of the area from conception, to the Wright Brothers era, to threats of farm and human development, to the way it is protected today.

The Ohio Nature Almanac – Stephen Ostrander

This is practically a bible for the entire state. Jam-packed with trivia, facts, and detailed descriptions for boating, fishing, hiking, hunting, running, and so much more. Listed in detail are state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves both big and small. A rather thick nonfiction book at around 500 pages, this will surely make you want to get out there and experience all the Buckeye state has to offer.

Natural Wonders of Ohio – Janet Groene, Gordon Groene

If I had to give a perfect example of all things natural in Ohio, this is the book! A bevy of trivia and anecdotal stories and sprinkled throughout the text, as well as listings of state parks, wildlife areas, nature preserves. Locations where one can hike, bike, fish, boat and swim are given, and the information is limitless in this large book.

Much less a book for hikers and more of one for aspiring naturalists and nature enthusiasts. This publication lists out many different nature preserves and state-protected natural areas. Reasons to visit include the typical wildlife viewing and observation, botany studying and other “passive” recreational activities.

50 Hikes in Ohio – Ralph Ramey

A short and sweet book detailing many major (and some smaller) hikes to take all across the Buckeye state. I’ve already done a handful of these on my photography trips however discovered many new-to-me locations to explore.

OTHER BOOKS

Notes From the Field – Tom & Pat Cory

An indispensable guidebook to nature photography of all kinds. Written in the late 1990’s for film, the advice and tips still hold up to this day. Technical knowledge is very useful in this easy-to-read book however I felt myself disagreeing with some of the composition techniques. A fantastic read that is currently out of print.

Deer, Elk & Moose: Grand and Majestic Creatures – Stan Tekiela

Stan’s naturalist background shines in this short photo book, detailing these ungulate’s life cycle every year and season. The variety of photographs at different angles provide a narrative-styled and intimate look into these “grand and majestic creatures” everyday happenings.

The New Art of Photographing Nature: An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature, and Landscapes – Art Wolfe, Martha Hill

If I had to give an all-around pick for learning nature photography, this would be the book. Reading and “studying” (as I call it) an Art Wolfe book is like taking a master class through the photographer’s lengthy career. A wealth of photos and techniques are shared.

The Art of the Photograph: Essential Habits for Stronger Compositions – Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

My favorite book for getting out of a creative rut. This one helps you see the world in a new way. Compositions are everything to creating a compelling image, and this piece of text will challenge and delight you with new ways of seeing.

Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer’s Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World – Art Wolfe, Rob Sheppard

Some of the best photographs have a story, and this photo book is no slouch to that. In fact, the entire premise is to share the stories behind each photo in this book. So much goes into taking an image, and explaining what you cannot see adds so much more to the entire experience.

Earth is My Witness – Art Wolfe, Wade Davis

A career retrospective look at the stunning work of Art Wolfe. Nature, travel and cultural photography are all nicely blended in this publication in a seamless matter, displaying the best this planet has to offer.

Trees: Between Earth & Heaven – Art Wolfe, Gregory McNamee

Learn about the world’s towering giants and experience their size and scale through photographs. The immense size of this photo book really lends itself well to page-spreading trees. Paragraph-filled captions of the spiritual and traditional meanings of trees in each region of the world add a lot of context. Perhaps my favorite example of an impressive presentation of nature photography in a photo book.

Honorable Mentions

Rarely Seen : Photographs of the Extraordinary – National Geographic

Examples, The Making of 40 Photographs – Ansel Adams

Creatures of Change: An Album of Ohio Animals – Carolyn Platt

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail – Ben Montgomery

Bonus: Favorite Magazines

If shorter magazines are more of your thing, here are some of my top picks for nature, photography and the outdoors in general.

Outdoor Photographer, Birds & Blooms, Birdwatching Magazine, Backpacker Magazine, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Outside, Ohio Magazine, National Wildlife, National Geographic, Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, Smithsonian

Make a visit to your local bookstore or library to find any of these and others.

Happy reading!

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Raising a Bluebird Family

Raising a clutch of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) is such an special moment, and no easy task.

Cavity nesting birds face many modern challenges such as invasive bird species to compete with (on top of competing with native cavity nesters. Habitat decline and development also pose a big risk to their survival.

I began my nest box journey in 2018 when I erected a nest box in my backyard. Early spring that year, Eastern Bluebirds were fortunately arriving to the nest box, however halfway through the year a stubborn male House Sparrow took over and made a very messy nest, Bird poop was all over the top and inside and bugs lived in it.

Late summer brought a male House Wren to this abandoned nest box as it sung on top. The wren never attracted a mate and gave up before the cold of winter came through.

Fast forward to early spring of 2019, and the process was starting to look the same.

Little did I know that success was beginning to be found..

I began to see the beautiful little azure birds again, a pair started to check out the box and set up shop.

The first clutch is typically Early April to mid-May. The second clutch is typically from mid-June to mid-July, and there may even be a third clutch in late summer during August.

So here is a day-to-day highlight of the best moments during their nest building, egg laying, and young raising all the way to fledgling. Enjoy!

Some of the photos above are of favorite perches they were seen on, including a nearby antenna, a shed, various fences and a bird feeder pole.

Early May: I’ve been seeing Eastern Bluebirds here and there checking out the nest box. Making sure the habitat is suitable. I have this nest box facing away from the sun and wind. The box is looking towards fairly open grasses in a suburban neighborhoods with no fences. I found it hard to believe but they enjoy this space as much as they would an open meadow or cropland. One of their favorite spots to perch and hunt is from an old antenna tower next door.

This is the time when bluebirds lay a second clutch.

Late May: A very clean cup nest is being made, similar in design to a bluebird nest.

June 7th: Two bluebird eggs are in the nest! I see the parents come and go with nesting material and guarding the nest box.

June 11th: Three more eggs were laid, making a total of five. A typical bluebird clutch is about five to seven.

June 22nd: Still the same five eggs, no hatches yet. Both the male and female hang around the nest box for most of the day. A nearby European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) was foraging along the ground underneath the nest box. The male flew from his perch and chased the nonnative bird away to a nearby crabapple tree. The male returned to the nest box top a moment later. Safe to say that most birds become very territorial when someone is near their eggs or young.

June 23rd: Eggs must’ve hatched this morning. The male Bluebird was bringing worms and other larvae to the nest box to feed the mouths as well as his partner. Feeding displays of the male and female are observed on top of the nest box.

Due to the sensitivity of the hatchlings, I avoided opening the nest box as much and stopped using flash to take a picture.

June 27th: Finally got a moment to carefully observe the hatchlings in the nest box. The parents still return frequently.

July 1st: The male bluebird is hunting and foraging basically all day as he returns to the nest box with worms and other larvae for the newborns.

Sitting high on a tree branch perch above the nest box. The male will swoop down to the grass below, pluck out a bug and fly back to the nest box.

July 3rd: The hatchlings are growing up fast. Should be ready to fledge soon.

July 7th: A single male House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) floats/flies towards the nest box hole before winging out of the way. The five hatchlings chirp in unison for at least a minute afterwards.

July 8th: Four of the birds have fledged! Upon checking the nest box, one is left behind.

July 9th: The last bluebird fledges and the nest is now empty. Success!

This is why birds are so wonderful, so see their growth and progress truly embeds us as one and the same with them. Leave a comment down below if you enjoyed the article, and share any success (or failure) stories you’ve had with monitoring nest boxes.

Happy Bluebirding!

Nothing else says true love quite as much as sharing a meal together.

If you are interested in supporting Bluebird conservation and all Ohio cavity nesters. I would recommend a donation or yearly membership to the Ohio Bluebird Society or North American Bluebird Society.

To submit your own sightings and reporting of nesting birds, please consider using Cornell Lab’s NestWatch website to log your data for citizen science.

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Is Photography Art?

I have visited a number of fine art galleries big and small over time, and only one so far has said ‘no’ to accepting any photography.

And so recently I visited a local art gallery with a juried exhibition.

The subject matter? Landscapes.

All artistic mediums were accepted, and fortunately I saw a variety of them present: a lot of paintings, sculptures, wall art, ceramics, mixed media, and of course photography.

Photography was in fact well represented, more than half of the exhibit was such.

And what’s wrong with that? Landscape photography is massive at the moment. So much that the industry is bloated with them, admittedly so.

While I enjoyed the both film and digital photos, my annoyance came when viewing the guestbook halfway through the show..

“Too much photos/digital stuff.”

“Too much photography.”

“Where are the paintings?”

With some optimism sprinkled in between such as..

“Nice to see photography being represented well!”

To be honest I felt a little bit offended, and I wasn’t even showing any of my work in this group exhibit! I felt a little sympathetic for the very talented photographers exhibiting.

People have their opinions and that is fine. To be honest I will say I wished there were more landscape paintings involved. Art is simply art to me.

And while none of them said photography isn’t art. It still got me thinking..

what really is Photography?
is it Art?

To start, we need to know what art is; what does that word objectively mean?

Let’s rationally break down what a typical photographer may do in their day-to-day activities and operations.

So, art is defined as…

“Skill acquired by experience, study, or observation.”

In its simplest form of explanation, I go out and press the shutter button. But that’s not it, to make a halfway decent photograph requires a trained eye for pleasing composition and balance. That to me sounds like a skill or set of skills based on experience, study and/or observation.

“An occupation requiring knowledge or skill.”

Photography can and is an occupation for millions of people around the world. Any occupation requires a legitimate set of knowledge and skills in order to finish the task.

I only can improve with making an effort and with time. Studying the works of others and observing my own failed photos helps to become a better photographer.

Even after the shutter capture, I still meticulously edit the image file, then print on the suitable papers, checking all the colors for accuracy. Then choosing a frame and matting that appeals to the photos’ strengths while improving the overall “experience.”

And as I said, many people make a living producing these works or similar, whether for a client on commission or for a gallery.

“The conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.”

This is perhaps my favorite definition for the word. I am taking a tangible three-dimensional reality, for example a old-growth forest, and transferring it to a two-dimensional photograph. There is a conscious need to know what looks right vs. wrong in making a photograph of something real.

Not only that, but the photo must have a stopping-power that only the best can do. Stellar use of contrast, color or subject matter needs to apparent, and that only comes with harnessing a creative imagination.

Now, that image you have created is the production of an aesthetic object. Photos can document and spread awareness or ideas, but at the end of the day they are a means of communication or entertainment. With the photo being an object to admire and appreciate for aesthetic purposes.

“One of the fine arts.”

This is obvious, but a good majority of photography can be classified as “fine art.” To be fine art photography in my opinion is producing an image or print in hopes of selling if after the fact to prospective buyers. In essence, the opposite of commercial photography. I am creating this image first and foremost for myself and with my unique vision, but then intending on someone else to “buy my unique vision” in the form of an open or limited edition print.

You can probably guess, but yes.

I believe photography is an art form, and always will.

Art transcends digital pixels and technology and is no different from using a paintbrush or pastel, which at one point were considered new technology as well.

So with that being said, I personally don’t care what camera you choose to use, or whether you shoot digital or film, full-frame or mirrorless.

The point is, to keep on shooting shutter bugs and f-stoppers.

Photography is alive and well.

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