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Monday, 18 July 2016


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I would bet that they were turkey vultures. If they held their wings in a slight dihedral and their flight was a little wobbly, they were turkey vultures.

Funny this would come up; I just snapped a shot of a local deer meandering toward our favorite rose-bush! And of course the 28-84mme kit lens was attached, so nothing dramatic: a recording not a composition.

I then shooed the deer off - that bloom is already promised to my mom tomorrow, as it's one of her favorites we re-rooted and passed around the family. Truly an heirloom rose, I suppose..

In my experience, wildlife is where you find it, not where you go looking for it.

The four or five acceptable wildlife picture I've made were the result of being in the right place at the right time with the right camera and the right lens while taking pictures of people or flowers or buildings or cars or airplanes.

They might have been turkey vultures waiting for you and Butters to keel over from heat exhaustion. ;-)

Probably eagles. They love to find a good thermal and circle around. They're often a feature of Mariners games on a hot day, occasionally tangling with idiot seagulls who drift up there to hassle them (guess who wins those fights). They were once rare sightings around here, but have made a big comeback.

Not quite as exciting as eagles, but could your birds have been turkey vultures? They're big and their wheeling, effortless flight is wonderful to watch.

Maybe turkey vultures? Similarly large, more common and less solitary.

Wassamatta wid squirrel pitchers?

Squirrel, January 11, 2013

Nick Furry, Agent of S.Q.U.I.R.R.E.L., April 29, 2012

Obviously I didn't see them, but I'd guess they were turkey vultures based on your description. They are the only raptors I've seen soaring in groups in NY. If you had taken the shot with the 23mm you'd probably be able to at least identify them.

With no particular evidence, I would guess that you saw some vultures, either turkey or black. Did you notice if their wingspan formed a sort of shallow "V" and they rocked left and right while gliding? Sans binoculars, the rocking dihedral is a big giveaway for vultures.

I think that a high proportion of my images originated in my backyard. Eagles we've got, and herons, and for unknown reasons, a huge colony about 80 strong of vultures.

Worth watching, even for us non-wildlife photographers. (Sponsored by Really Right Stuff's overpriced tripods.)

"Even if I did have my camera with me, the longest lens I own is a 23mm". But Mike, that's not true! A couple of posts back you told us you owned the 'Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm ƒ/2.8 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. lens'. So what you meant to say was "the longest lens I own that I also have a camera to put it on".

(I know you don't like having words put in your mouth, but I couldn't resist :) Also, I can see the solution to your problem: when buying lenses and cameras, buy ones that fit on each other! )

On the serious matter of your post, I found the whole linked article very depressing. I have probably just had too much bad news of late.

A small story of birding. as a kid i had a point and shoot 110 film camera. at an excursion i saw a hawk hovering over something in mid air. i took the shot only to be reminded by the minilab owner that this little spot in this little negative could never become a 4x6 print. i needed better camera. when i bought a better 35mm film camera and a slow zoom reaching 300mm i went birding once. i went to a village with stork nests. after that afternoon and 2 rolls of film that gave me 0 interesting photos of these pretty almost tame wildlife, that zoom rests in the closet. funny thing is that i shot in a rainy day walk an otter at a river with a digicam some years later by sheer luck but the wildlife photographer was long dead in me.

I share your inability to recognize tree species. I can only identify poplars, but that's because they're very poplar around here.
(Sorry, couldn't fight it.)

My guess also is turkey vultures; they are by far the most common raptors. And they circle around riding on the thermals. They have a rather straight beak compared to eagles, hawks and falcons.

Zack Arias says that no digital camera review is complete without a squirrel picture!

Oh, and BTW, I have a Fuji XF 55-200 I'll sell ya for a great price! It's been sitting unused on the shelf for way too long.

I used to be a pretty involved birder but that was one of those short crushes I had rather than a life-long passion (like photography). I still have my long lenses from when I tried bird and wildlife photography. It's not easy and I never was very good at it.

My home is in an older neighborhood in an urban area that is also rich with some types of wildlife due to proximity to bodies of water and older, established vegetation. We see lots of bird species as well as the occasional raccoon and opossum and the rare coyote. But squirrels! In my neighborhood they are considered a minor step up from rats--really. They are very destructive and they thrive here due to the huge number of fruit, pecan and oak trees. Squirrels dig up my wife's flowers in the garden, rob and ruin the bird feeders, destroy nut and fruit crops and vandalize property. We've had to replace the wooden trim on the house with metal trim because squirrels had chewed through to get into the attic. And once in the attic, they destroy whatever suits them and then they keep us awake at night making all manner of noises. I've counted over 20 at one time digging holes in my backyard, gardens and flower pots and chewing through the bird feeders so they can toss the seeds all over the lawn. And you cannot get rid of them! I've tried live-trapping, have the dogs chase them away, using chemical repellents, squirrel-proof bird feeders and BB guns. Nothing has worked as well as the feral cats that have begun to roam the neighborhood in the last couple of years. And those bring their own problems.

Photography or critterposing? Let's fight about the label!

Ah, the hard life of the wildlife photographer!
I don't know if it's urban myth but I heard a story many moons ago of one such individual who was sent on assignment to somewhere in Southeast Asia or photograph a certain rare species of butterfly. He battled every day through swamp and jungle to reach the spot where they were supposed to appear, for three weeks. On the final unsuccessful day he went to relieve himself in a small clearing and lo and behold thousands of these butterflies flocked to the area, apparently attracted by the urine, as it was later discovered. Had he known this of course, he would have saved himself a lot of hardship and a thousand mosquito bites!

If you want photos of squirrels (and/or birds and other critters), start putting out a sunflower bird feeder, or two or three, on a tree branch, and a water source like a bird bath. Once the squirrels find it, they will camp out on or near the feeder every day until the seeds are gone, and return when it's full again. You can then set-up your camera on a tripod, close but at a distance that will not scare them off, and throughout the day you will have plenty of time to get the shots. After a time (a few days), the squirrels are not threatened by you and you can set up surprisingly close to their feeding area. The squirrels will associate you with food and often squat a few feet away until the feeders are replenished and you start walking away. However, squirrels will not take kindly to dogs, and I'm afraid Butters would have to stay in the house during your shooting times.

This is only speculation, but I'd think eagles, as predators, would not be caught in groups of 4, but vultures, as scavengers, would be, so I think the turkey vulture guess is most likely correct.

Do you know why they soar like that? Because they can.

definitely sounds like turkey vultures; raptors, such as eagles, normally would not be found circling in such numbers..

A naturalist once pointed out that Bald Eagles could be spotted in trees by looking not for birds, but golf balls. Sure enough, it made spotting them (from a boat on the wet coast) much easier.

Eagles I see all the time, spotting vultures would be a treat though apparently their numbers are increasing around here. (VI, BC)

So Mike, keeping in mind your recent discussion about photojournalism vs photo art, where do you feel the representation of captive animals as wild fits? I honestly never considered all those images of wild animals might have been nothing more than pictures of someone's pet. What a gullible fool I've been!

I do some wildlife photos and also don't have much patience for sitting and waiting. I currently walk around with a NEX7 and an old Nippon Koguka 200mm manual focus lens. With the smaller sensor it is now a 300mm which for a long time was considered about as long as you could effectively hand hold. I leave the lens wide open or thereabouts. Shoot shutter priority at 1000 and the ISO is set at AUTO. I keep the lens focused at infinity and go hunting. I often had my dog with me and getting those action shots is part of the day. I live in Baja Mexico and seagulls, frigates, and Pelicans are all day, Whales close to shore are seasonal, and up dry arroyos are Eagles, Turkey Vultures and various hawks. white egrets, blue herons, and water fowl abound in the lagoons. I have also found that a shoulder strap through a screw eye in the tripod socket is best to carry and still mess with the dog. OH, and by the way, you need a longer lens Dude. Fuji just released a nice one.

Many moons ago I spent a couple of years working at a stock photo agency that specialized in wildlife photos. That ruined any hope that I’d ever take a “worthy” wildlife photo.

Aside from that, your story reminds me of something I observed here in Montreal four years ago. One day I was walking along downtown when I looked up into the sky (as one does) and saw a flock of six or seven enormous hawk-like birds circling one of the skyscrapers. I mean huge! I’ve never seen birds like that in the city before.

By doing some visual triangulation and comparison with the windows of the building I determined that they had approximately six-foot wingspans. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It felt like an invasion had begun, right out of Hitchcock’s film.

I had my OMD-EM-5 on me, with the 45mm lens, but that’s nothing when shooting birds circling a 34 storey building. And by then they had mostly moved away and were against open sky that provided no frame of reference. But I did manage to get the shot below, which utterly fails as a “wildlife” photo but at least proves that I wasn’t imagining it.

I did some research and found out they were turkey vultures, which were virtually unheard of in Montreal until just a few years ago. Now they’re seen in significant numbers every year during the spring migration, taking up temporary residence at the top of some downtown skyscrapers.

Birds are just about the only wild life I encounter regularly, at home or when rusticating in my home town. Although always a challenge, photographing birds is good practice and sometimes I get lucky. I have an old 200mm Tele-Takumar preset ready to hand when I'm in a birding mood. It's the longest lens that I can hand-hold. The largest birds I've shot, the Philippine eagle and eagle owl, were in captivity, unfortunately. Both raptors are rare and endangered and being able to shoot them in the wild would be a coup.

Zebra dove couple on CATV cable (larger)

This sounds like you are still thinking about PhotoArt and 'Open Mike I: Ctein and TOP'

Take 'The Wildlife Photographer of the Year' competition. The clues are in the words 'wildlife' and 'competition'.

The prizes go to the photographers who stayed out for the extra hours or days and photographed what they saw - and it's better than a staged performance with tame animals because it shows insights into behaviour that can only come from observing in the wild.

If that is undermined then it's not about anything other than fashion and we won't learn anything about the wild, but only about ourselves.

The same with news photography and observations on life - they are either what they say they are or they are not.

If taking out the odd telephone wire genuinely doesn't affect the action and if it really offends artistic sensibility then the question to answer is whether what is foremost in the photographer's desire is to present what was there to be photographed, or whether he/she is primarily interested in what the photo looks like.

Within a few miles of the house, there's some famous wildlife that you can see for free, and sometimes within ten yards of the shore. Out in boat, well not so easy to go and see them closely, as they're a protected species, and if you see them, you're not allowed to approach or disturb them. But fear not, as you're not a protected species, they're allowed to approach you! And me being into sea kayaking an all that sorta thing, they regularly come to investigate. Have had them swim alongside within four feet, a few times - a really special honour... the male ones look rather big though.

One day I might catch some good photos of them - I haven't tried hard.

They arrived to brighten a dreich day (waterproof P&S):

And a wee tale (true one):

I took a weekend workshop with a wildlife photographer years ago and what I came away with it that I could never have the patients required to be successful at it.
Some of the recent wildlife shots that I have seen have been recorded with cameras fitted with motion detectors and left for a week or two at a watering hole or in a bird blind. Takes the patients element out of it, except to sort through all the throw away shots.

Your talk about the difficulty of getting a good wildlife photo reminded me of this story from a year or two ago, managed to find an article, here is an excerpt -

Alan McFadyen, who has been an avid wildlife photographer since 2009, just captured a photo that he has spent 6 years trying to get. By his count, it took him 4,200 hours and 720,000 photos to get a perfect shot of a kingfisher diving straight into the water without a single splash.

“The photo I was going for of the perfect dive, flawlessly straight, with no splash required not only me to be in the right place and get a very lucky shot but also for the bird itself to get it perfect,” McFadyen told The Herald Scotland. “I would often go and take 600 pictures in a session and not a single one of them be any good. But now I look back on the thousands and thousands of photos I have taken to get this one image, it makes me realise just how much work I have done to get it.”

Wildlife photography is difficult, but in the USA, our national park system and public lands offer some great wildlife viewing opportunities. Bears, elk, moose, deer, sheep and bison can be readily found. Spend a week in the Everglades during the winter and you see a ton of birds.

Does National Park wildlife photography count as authentic?

I imagine it's very difficult to find real wild animals and make interesting photographs of them.

I'm no wildlife photographer, either, and I'm sure doing it consistently is very, very difficult. But I think anybody can occasionally shoot a decent wildlife picture with sufficient patience and a little luck. Not much you can do about the luck part, but my technique for summoning the patience is to go someplace I enjoy visiting even if I'm not carrying a camera — then keep my eyes open and be ready to react quickly if the opportunity arises: http://www.ChrisKern.net/pix/#58.

[Wow, that's beautiful. --Mike]

I am, in the main, an amateur wildlife photographer; landscapes are a second "love".

"Speed", in his comment, said "In my experience, wildlife is where you find it, not where you go looking for it."

This is NOT true in my experience... wildlife photography is not street photography without the street! The photographer of real wildlife does not simply wander the woods looking for photographs.

If one is going about the job seriously one has to do enough "homework" to know the right places to look and have the patience to wait for things to happen.

This photo (see below) of a male merlin "presenting" a (recently deceased) white-breasted nuthatch to its mate (who is about to grab the prey from the male on the wing) is a case in point.

This pair of birds had been making prey transfers in this dead tree for at least a day and a half before I went to try my hand at making a photo. I staked out the snag for a bit more than three hours in order to make this photo.

The old sayings "chance favors the prepared" and "the harder I work, the luckier I get" are both relevant here; as in so many other endeavors.

You can read the full story of this photo (in the form of a play!), and see what happens next, here: http://gorga.org/blog/?p=2516

Here is the photo:

P.S. I'll add my vote for "turkey vultures" as well. Eagles do not fly (or soar) in groups; pairs, yes, but not larger groups. About the only time you will see groups of more than two eagles is at a food source.

Mike, I had to read to (almost) the end of this post to get to what I see, IMHO, as the important aspect of your experience with the four raptors, that you considered it to be a privilege to witness the event.

Yes it does indeed involve special levels of endeavour to get great wildlife shots. But then, I go more for the privilege than the resultant pics.

"*I know, that's ridiculous. I really should do something about that."

It's not ridiculous if you intend to keep shooting as you have. The funds for another lens could instead go to mounting and framing several of your photos.

It's why, optical quality be damned, I'm probably getting a super zoom for my everyday camera

Your longest lens is the Fuji 23mm? Ditch that and get the Fuji 27mm pancake. I love mine, and wonder why it is so seldom mentioned. It is sharp to the edges, with no discernible distortion. I use the Pentax MH-RC pancake hood, which increases the length by less than a centimeter. Fits easily in your jacket pocket.

I went camping in north Georgia some years ago when in the middle of the night I needed to commune with nature. A half moon lit my way into the forest. While standing behind a tree I sensed something and looked over to find a black bear some twenty feet from me, looking back. Of course I didn't have my camera with me! I slowly eased back to my tent and the bear could be heard going the other direction. I've thought about this from time to time. If I had my camera with me I don't think a long exposure would have worked out. And using a flash might have angered him, so what could I have done?
Nothing, I've decided. And that's ok.

"Anybody can get lucky but isn't it funny how often professionals get lucky?" Not my statement, I believe it was said about Walter Iooss the great Sports Illustrated shooter.

I have photographed wild animals that have become habituated to human presence but getting the image in the wild is extraordinarily difficult and requires great patience, pre-planning and extensive knowledge.

I would suggest you look at Frans Lanting's images. He tells a story of laying in a urine soaked riverbank for hours or days to photograph a butterfly that had not been identified outside of a small section of the Amazon River. Butterflies are drawn to salt which is abundant in urine and Lanting knew this from biological research.

Or there was the week he spent in a blazingly hot and humid blind to photograph wild pigs which were notoriously shy. They came into the clearing at the end of the week.

He went through 6 or 7 Nikon F100 film bodies on one shoot due to mold growth from the humidity.

And of course his images are spectacular.

My photographic heroes are those who work with a capital "W" (fill in your favorite photographic specialty) to give great images, information and inspiration to us mere mortals.


Wildlife pictures really depend on the wildlife. It is not difficult to get decent snapshots of many animals - what is hard is getting really good looking shots.
Birds of prey soaring are relatively easy to photograph if they are in your area - they spend most of their time circling, and are fairly high up, so they are easy to see, and if you see them, you can usually rely on getting your camera out and getting a soaring picture before they move on.

Squirrels are fairly easy to photograph - they are bold and inquisitive, and very good at posing.
Birds are generally fairly easy to get a picture of if you are patient.
Most smaller animals are skittish and hard to photograph, and large animals are potentially hazardous.

I have taken pictures of ospreys - my parents have a cabin in the mountains where ospreys were reintroduced and really liked the area - there are now over 8 nesting pairs around a 1 by 8 mile lake, and you can see them fishing, and even spot the nests if know where to look. I barely got one picture of an osprey chasing a smaller bird - I was in the right place at the right time with a decent lens and dSLR in hand, and the chase came towards me - even then, there was only time to aim and pray - the picture isn't very good (trees in the way), but just getting the bird in the picture felt great.

As one with many thousands of miles walking in the mountains & forests of my Northern California home - with brief forays into the Rockies, Southwest, and Pacific Northwest - I think the funniest moments come when you actually surprise a wild animal because it somehow fails to hear or smell you. The most memorable of that kind was meeting a half-dozen wild mountain goats just over a remote summit in Montana. On first sight we were less than 10 feet apart. I can't remember now if I got any shots off before they scattered but I know I had a Nikon F hanging around my neck. They were almost too close for a good group portrait! Another was catching 2 little cubs playing in a "bear wallow". Mama chased them up a tree and sat off some distance scolding me. I told her "I'm going, I'm going" - Fortunately, all my "close" encounters have had happy endings!

I am not surprised by the article you posted Mike. It is "business as usual" in commercial photography.


One of the benefits of living in Florida is the birds. They are beautiful and bountiful. I choose to live in northwest Florida for the TREES and nature. Anyone that wants to photograph Florida birds without spending days in the swamp with bugs, snakes, and gators, I suggest visiting the St. Augustine Alligator Farm:


There are many different types of birds that fly in and out all day long and nest there. It is not very difficult to get great shots because the farm is a bird rookery. Here are a few shots I took all within 15-20 minutes of stepping into the place:


And a shot I made in my back yard because I got lucky!

Wildlife photography generally requires a good deal of effort to find and reach the right place at the right time. Luck plays its part of course - but you also need photographic skill to catch the vital moment. Frank Gorga is absolutely right.
I have sometimes been one of the crowd at Chanonry Point, described in Dave Stewart's response. I have taken many photos of waves, spray and the tips of fins - many blurred and some sharp. That's paying your dues. The reward is your unique, personal record of a special moment.
Mike is right in saying that many people have done better than this. But nobody else has ever taken or will ever take a photo exactly like this one - it is mine!

Yep, it is hard.
BIF are maybe the hardest.
On Van Isle deer are dead easy, but I have only a couple of times, in over 30 years, gotten good shots of Bald Eagles and owls.
Good luck with that squirrel.

PS Rabbits seem to be easier.

Here you are complaining that your longest lens is too short. Sounds like a wildlife photographer to me.

I live in Suburbia, NJ and I have all kinds of wildlife in my backyard.

I know turkey vultures live near your home as evidenced by this shot from Esperanza Mansion on Keuka Lake:


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