Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Play the Seasons and Learn


You can't fight it, you have to go with the flow. Let the salmon go up river to their death, struggling to survive, but as a photographer - learn the seasons, research the places, scout them, make friends, make visits, and over time get to know places and what works best.

I guess in a nut shell that's what I've been doing for a few years or more. Traveling mostly a hundred miles this way or that way, and when it works well either learning about a location or getting some good and new images - and on the really good days both. A day with learning but no stand out images, that's still got to be counted as a success.

Cape May New Jersey is sort of my new favorite place. Last year I went a couple times, but this year I am even more in to it.

Cooper's Hawk resting for a moment at the beach

Having gone to spots here and there at Cape May and tried sunrise or sunset at a few spots I now have more info and more local knowledge. The folks that live nearby, or visit lots, they know what's up - and it can largely be a matter of asking, and also trial and error.

The hawk landed on that fence post - I was just 20 feet away, and when I moved the camera over and started to shoot he saw me and flew off a moment later. That brief encounter, what it really highlighted for me was - hawks will do anything and land and then scan the area - IF they aren't spooked off to begin with. I was there already, but when I moved and focused on him, THAT bother him.

So, that was a couple weekends ago. What happened a few minutes later was a group of ~15 birders came up to the spot near me, and walked up and started looking around. Needless to say, no more hawks landed on the fence.

A week later I was back and it was like ground-hog-day, but I had just a little more info. I was at a similar spot along the dune and the hawks were all over the place, and migrating, and flying mostly south.

What I tried differently was to not be in a spot so often traveled by people. It was still pretty close to the beach, at a dunes spot, and basically equally good for hawks.

Here's the spot I picked and how I setup with some cover. Having shot a few places where I just made the seemingly minor choice of picking some cover to try to blend in with, it really made a difference.

The thing about shooting raptors flying by close and fast though is that shooting from a tripod - that's not so good. I couldn't move around and adjust fast enough. I wound up hand holding most of the time. I'd rest the camera and lens on the tripod, and then when something was approaching I'd hand hold the camera and get ready...

What actually happened next THREE TIMES though was I was too hidden, I blended in too much for my own good. Last year I got a camo coat, and hat, and have wrapped my lens in camo too. So, THREE times at this *other* spot a hawk landed on the fence post, so close that by the time I reached for the camera and began to adjust and move to just begin to PREPARE to take a shot, the hawk was so spooked by my new found presence that it took off before I even came CLOSE to getting a shot. Three times. Once the hawk was just on right of that tall grass perched on the fence maybe 4 feet from me and the camera.


So, I tried to learn from that, expect things, and plan and move around differently... It didn't quite work out, but I think if I had done what I did later during the earlier encounters, it could have worked. So, for me, I learned and will try new things next time.


One of the great things about this time of year and Cape May also is that there are so many knowledgeable and friendly people there. In just a few visits this year, I really learned a bunch already. I will still basically say much of the bird IDs I tell people are "guesses" because I know I have so much more to learn, but, with hundreds of raptors passing by, often per hour, I kind of feel like I know more every day of every visit I'm there.

Taking time to blend in, dress right, move slowly, and predict things is something I've picked up more in the past 2 years I'd say. It's like being a hunter... The input influences the output. If you don't know what you're doing the best you can hope for is being lucky. But there more you know, the more you can predict, the more you can steer chance in your own favor.......

Find spots and go with the seasons, learn the lay of the land, patterns, and NEVER be afraid to get info from a local or fellow visitor.

-Jon / Jon


Happyjack said...

Jon you are such a great guy! Thanks for giving all that info out. I know it will help me next time I go shoot:) You are very generous with your experiences:)

Shelly said...

Thanks so much for the advice. It's very much appreciated.