We’ve been super fortunate to have this pack of wild turkeys hanging out at our place. They come right into the yard, struttin’ their stuff. They’ve been around for quite a few years but this year they have been really quite prevalent. It made for some sweet photo ops early this morning. I took some shots through window glass and then stalked them out into the back prairie. I was able to get within 10-15′ of the birds which was pretty sweet. 😎
2017 has been the year of the road trip! Not only did we do our big epic Waterton/Montana/Cypress Hills trip, we also did a few other smaller trips, including our inaugural visit to Grasslands National Park. For Canada’s 150th birthday, all the Federal Canadian parks have their
exorbitant entrance fees waved. We tried to take advantage of that as much as possible this year. I had been wanting to go to GNP for quite some time. But it’s a really different park experience. There is hardly any development in the park, let alone the region. We might associate things like playgrounds, swimming spots and beaches, ice cream stores and the like as “attractions” that will draw people to an area. Grasslands has none of these typical things. Instead, the park itself is the attraction.
The interesting (untold) history behind the creation of Grasslands is documented in the book “Dams of Contention” by Bill Redekop. The book centres around the creation of the Rafferty & Alameda Dams in South East Saskatchewan. The only reason I read the book is that I knew/know Ed and Harold Tetzlaff personally. I have a signed copy of the book in fact. As I read the book, Grasslands National Park was mentioned. In a convoluted and heavily political deal, GNP basically was created as a consolation prize for Saskatchewan after agreeing to translate Saskatchewan’s laws into French & appease/make a good impression for Quebec to sign the Canadian Constitution. This was all during the Mulroney days & the Meech Lake accord (p.131, 165). What a mouthful! When I went to Grasslands, I talked with one of the landowners who had sold their land to the government at the time of the creation of the park. She had no knowledge of this untold back story of the park’s creation.
Regardless of what actually took place in the park’s creation, it is one amazing place. For years it was a ranchers paradise. And by that, I mean it was a darn tough place to make a living. The land is dry and to sustain livestock you need a metric tonne of land. So the ranches in the area go on and on as far as the eye can see. Now the park does too. You feel about 2 inches tall walking around as the landscape is absolutely enormous and unruly. As you drive around and hike, the magnanimous quality of the area becomes abundantly clear.
The park exists in two blocks, West and East. The West has more development but the East is rapidly catching. The park has a very free quality about. Most National parks are tightly regulated. You can’t go off trails. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. Grasslands is free-for-all. You can go hiking. You can go horseback riding. You can drive. You can go where you like. In fact many of the hikes aren’t on trails of any kind. You can blaze your own trail which is refreshing. It’s a glorious dark sky preserve as well with no light pollution to speak of. We had rain every night we were there though. No stars for us. But the blessings of this wild and untamed landscape are also a bit of a double edged sword. Development and services are very scarce. If you go to Val Marie, I STRONGLY SUGGEST you fill up your gas tank. On our way to the East block we though we could fill up at Wood Mountain. Nope. We were panicking on our way to Rock Glen to get fuel!
One of the hikes we did with the family was the 70 Mile Butte hike. What a glorious walk it was. Of course we were on high alert so that the children didn’t get eaten by rattlesnakes. But the scenery is fantastic and well worth it! It was ridiculously hot but as you climbed the butte trail, the winds picked up and it was excellent! Apparently the aboriginals used the top of 70 Mile Butte for get togethers rather than the valley where there is no wind and insects galore. I stitched a panorama together of the view from the top in Lightroom. The photos still don’t do the view justice.
For accommodations, we stayed in the oTENTiks that the park has. You can bring a tent or camper but we elected to stay in the permanent structure. Glad we did. A heinous storm with gale force wind hit that night. The whole time I had visions of the oTENTik being carried off like Dorothy to the magical land of Oz! With no trees on the horizon to slow down the wind, it comes at you with full force! The park also has Wigwams that you can rent and camp in as well. All the sites are primitive camping and you need to bring your own water.
Grasslands National Park is a photographer’s paradise. The landscapes are vast and the perfect place for ultra-wide lenses. But even they fail to capture it all. Also, the opportunities for wildlife photography are endless. There are many unique species of animals from Bison to Prairie Dogs to Ferrets to Rattlesnakes and many others. It’s almost like being on a foreign safari shooting photos in GNP. My gear of choice with the family in tow was just my Nikon Df camera and my 24mm f/1.8 AF-S lens and the 70-200 f/4 AF-S lens. That’s it. It was a simple kit but I wanted to be as light as possible and still use full frame. It did the job admirably. I probably could have brought the 16-35 f/4 though for some extra wide angle goodness.
On our last day we decided to head over to the East Block and check it out. As mentioned previously, FUEL UP when you can! Otherwise there is basically nothing along the way. This aspect of non-development is an obstacle that tourism Saskatchewan should really look at addressing in the near future. The East Block has a lot more badlands than does the West. It was more reminiscent to Big Muddy to us. There are many cool hikes we would have liked to pursue but will have to wait until our kids are a bit older. The Valley of 1000 Devils will definitely be a must see! Grasslands National Park truly is another Saskatchewan diamond in the rough. Get off the beaten trail and goto Grasslands. It’s scenery and landscape are one of a kind. They define the wild spirit of the Land of the Living Skies! 😎
It was neat to go out and release some ring-necked pheasants today with the Souris Moose Creek Wildlife Federation. Hunters and conservationists have been releasing pheasants since the 1880s in North America. They have flourished here and have become a favourite quarry for upland bird hunters. I’ve hunted them my whole life and there is not much more excitement to be had than walking around almost stepping on them because they hold cover so tightly! Of course, we enjoyed watching the dogs work the cover more than shooting. But pheasants are more than delicious! In fact, they are my favourite “Chinese food!” We’ve had some fairly destructive winters since 2011 in our area which has no doubt lowered the numbers of pheasants and other upland game birds. Not to mention large numbers of coyotes, hawks, skunks, racoons and other predators that have also brought their numbers down. So it is nice to get out and put some back! Hopefully the 200 birds that were released today will make it through the winter and make more in the spring.
People may complain about the high megapixels of today’s generation of DSLR cameras and I’d agree that yes, sometimes they are are über overkill. But then, some whitetail deer might show up 363 yards and all you might have with you is a 70-200mm lens. And then, you’re happy to have the D800 mega-pretzel madness! The photo above is a 100% crop of this photo: #LOL 😎
It’s a bummer. I was too late grabbing the camera because this deer and another buck were sparring. I watched with binoculars for a bit then ran for the camera. When I got back, the other deer had already run off. To the victor goes the spoils! Cheers to next years Whitetail babies! 😀
Today is earth day. Nice green trees, fresh water streams, bumble bees going hither and thither. Not here! We’re still caught in the death grip of winter at the end of April for crying out loud! It’s insane. Riddle me this. Why don’t climate action groups ever hold their meetings in Oxbow?! Nope, it’s always Florida or Hawaii or someplace nice! 😉 Come here and get your global warming, it’s buried under 3 feet of snow! 😈 (more…)
Deer are deer right? They all look the same to me! I used to think that way until this one doe kept coming into the yard. She had really dark eyes, like she was wearing eyeshadow almost. It made her eyes look enormous, like a fashion model! Other whitetails typically have more of a white rim around their eyes, but this doe is quite unique from the rest. Also, in our yard, it is rare to see any bucks. It is primarily doe and fawn pairs that show up to gobble up my bird seed. But lo and behold, a big bodied buck showed up – missing his head gear.
I immediately knew that this was a different deer that hadn’t been in the yard before. I wanted to get a head shot of his antler sockets too. I finally was able to nab this (100% crop) image and get a better look. Pretty nifty!
You can also notice what a different color the buck is from the doe and fawn. He’s much more golden brown than the typical grey color that winter whitetails usually sport. It truly is amazing how well the doe blends into the tree branches. They melt away just by turning sideways.
And finally, a blurry action shot of the male deer “doe-slappin'” the female. She was too close to his food store, aka my bird feeder. It was quite the exchange. For everyone who thinks that Bambi is the way life is in the deer kingdom, think again! In the winter, food competition is tough and the biggest deer gets the spoils. And, they have no problem beating the crap out of the competition. I’ve seen does up on their back legs kicking each other like kangaroos! Note the awesome body language here, besides the hoof slap. His ears are WAAAY back. Look out deer pals, trouble’s a brewin’! 😎
When the weather gets bloody cold, the deer come to town. Even if you don’t see them, you see their tracks in the snow. But lately in the cold snaps we’ve been having, we’re getting deer coming through the yard right in the middle of the day! But predictably, they start to come in right about sunset. I feed the birds and they help themselves to whatever the birds don’t eat. It’s a whitetail bonanza and it’s great for getting the deer to come in close to the camera. I shot all these photos from our little deck that sits up high above the back yard. It works great because deer don’t have any natural predators in trees, meaning, they don’t look up much. 😎 This doe is letting me know she’s putting her foot down! hehehehhe… 😉
OK, OK. I’ve nearly got this camera nerdery out of my system. But check this out. The deer were coming by the yard to freeload and eat the bird seed. I waited until it was very dark outside with barely any light, save what was spilling through our living room window. I had my 70-300 lens on the camera, 300mm 1/25 f/5.6 (bleh, I know) but I nabbed these deer shots at 25600 ISO or H2.0 in Nikon speak. The files are heinously, cell-phone-esque noisy, but a) the camera nailed the focus in utter darkness and b) when down sampled they are nearly usable! All that resolution really helps make a purse from a pig’s ear. 😎 I didn’t edit the shots except for watermark and the one crop. They are all SOOC RAW conversion.
And, here’s one more I shot earlier at 6400 ISO which is totally usable. 😀 I heart the D800!
At lunch today I went out back and nabbed a few shots of some chickadees and redpolls that were coming to my black sunflower seed bonanza. I wanted to see how much you can crop a D800 RAW file. As a rule, I don’t crop anything. I like to fill the frame and have the shot exact in camera. But for this challenge, I wanted to see how the detail would hold up as we crop in on an image. Chickadees and other small song birds have loads of fine feather detail and I couldn’t wait to see how the D800 would do. Truly it is amazing how much information is there in these files. You can see in these shots, one at full size, one at 50% and the third at 100%.
Isn’t that wild? It’s unbelievable! But, all that resolution beats the living tar out of your lenses too. I shot this with a 70-300, Nikon’s el-cheapo telephoto and it shows. The fine details quickly turn to mush-mush. It would be nice to see what a 300 f/2.8 would be like. 😎
It was cold this morning, mercury was dipped to -22C. Cold enough even for the creepy crawly critters to seek out a warm sunny spot. 😎 I watched this coyote walk up the ridge opposite to our house. He slowly climbed down over a big snow bank and spun around a few times, making a cozy little spot to catch some rays. I was on breakfast detail so after I had finished my chores, I grabbed the camera and snuck out in our backyard to see if I could nab a shot. My trusty 70-300 has always been my goto wildlife lens, though it’s performance is sluggish. I barely made one frame of the coyote before he saw me and got nervous. The slow AF on the lens didn’t help much either as I wasted precious seconds trying to acquire focus. But I nabbed one while he was resting and a couple more as he began to flee.
The thing about coyotes is, they’re survivors. When World War III happens and nuclear armageddon is unleashed, the last thing walking around will be a coyote. This one looks like it will survive the winter just fine. 🙂 Unless it keeps hanging around my yard. Then it might have a little visit from Dr.223… 😈 I took a couple other shots of those cool winter patterns and textures too.
We got the phone call this morning from our neighbour Eagle-Eye Jimmy that there was a momma & baby Moose on our crescent sauntering around. Nature guide Olivia spotted them from the breakfast table. So I grabbed my camera and went out trying to get the photo of the year with mom & baby in town. However, they had already vacated the premises. But I did find a baby bunny in point blank range and . . . a giant black bear!!!! 😉
Ma & Pa Kettle are down from Moose Jaw and with the wild turkeys in full strut, it was high time to try and get some photos. Dad had his 500mm f/4 and I brought a . . . 16-35 f/4 wide angle. What other lens would do for wildlife?!? hehhehhe… 😉 Anyways, we drove down the road and spotted some turkeys right beside the road. Dad was switching up lenses and some other guy in a truck drove by and spooked them. Great. They were now on the move. So I ran on ahead of them trying to cut them off and steer them back to where Dad was waiting. Well the turkeys must have been chased by coyotes this year because they are far more flighty then they were last year. I was able to walk up with 15-20 feet but this year not so. Long story short on the turkey stalk was me nearly having a heart attack running up and down ginormous hills trying to cut ’em off at the pass. To which the responded by flying away. I have a whole new appreciation for Border Collies. 😎
Happy New Year! Another year of photos is ahead of us and that is an exciting prospect. I can’t wait to see what lies through the lens in 2012. Christmas was good for us and we had great visits with family who loved us much and spoiled us more. When Ma & Pa came down for a visit we of course got to talking about photos. Dad, being an avid nature & wildlife photographer, was showing me what he and his photo pals had been up to lately. Winter wildlife can be some of the most interesting stuff! While most guys are sitting around watching sports, these guys are outside watching the epic battle of survival unfold! Check out these amazing snowy owl photos! These aren’t photoshopped! 😎 Just chuck a mouse out onto the snow and watch as white winged warriors wrathfully wreak havoc on unsuspecting rodentia! The main course is served! Hence, dish one.
(Jealous that dad missed out on snows, we went out and nabbed this short eared owl. Still a magnificent specimen!)
Now for those who can’t handle this much excitement, there’s beauty dishes. (Hence, dish 2). 😆 For Christmas dad got a wee beauty dish. It’s actually an Opus mini reflector. It’s basically a miniaturized beauty dish that gives you a punchy, light that is one notch off of bare flash. It’s a really cool light for, yes, you guessed it, beauty and glam shots as it gives the light a very contrasty feel. I wanted to see how this little guy compared to my DIY beauty dish that I made. It’s basically the same design idea. Light comes from the flash and bounces into a surface in front of the light, then into a reflector dish and then out onto the subject. A little bit of ping pong action is involved and it makes the light slightly more diffused but still has loads of punch.
Automatically you notice the size difference. And with lighting, unlike other areas of life, size matters. 😉 The bigger the better. The small guy produces a much sharper/contrasty light while the bigger the light, the softer the light. It’s the same reason why natural light photographers want huge windows. Loads of big light nice and close to the subject = soft and glorious! Here’s an example of what each light produced on our subject Sven (he’s from IKEA). 😀
So, after a quick peak, you notice the difference. The little Opus dish is much smaller and makes a more focused, contrasty light. It also fits into a gear bag much more conveniently. The bigger DIY dish gives similar contrast and punch, but is more wrapping because it is much bigger. Could you replace the big one with the Opus? Perhaps, depending on the look you wanted. It sure would make hauling it around easier!
But then again, if beauty light isn’t your thing and you don’t care about f-stops & shutter speeds, you can always try Coyote hunting. It’s hours of fun and only about 1/3 the cost of photography! 😉
Real men like war-based action movies with lots of guns. Plain and simple. We also translate that into Photography. Go and watch The Battle of F/Stop Ridge to confirm my thesis.
So, when you’ve got a 500mm lens, you need to look and feel the part of a sniper. You can be back a loooooong way when you have 500mm to play with. It’s got über reach. The bokeh and compression with this bad boy are purely incredible. So, to put it to the test, we setup a blind in the backyard to see if Pa could nab any blue jay shots. For wildlife, the ultimate setup is the blind or “hide” as they are sometimes referred to. You setup and wait for the wildlife to come to you. In this case, we used the swing set and some hunting camouflage attached with zip ties. It’s quick and efficient and works really well. Dad also wore a full suit of camouflage to blend away into nothingness. The birds had no problems with the blind and came right in. The only issue was if he moved, then they took off. But other than that it worked really well and he got some awesome shots! All the bird images are copyright Bob Schultz of Sunwood Photography.
I love wildlife photography, but as of late I haven’t done as much as I would like. Mainly I’ve been busy but I also am more interested in doing lighting stuff. But why not add lighting to wildlife? Well, it’s not easy, which is why people don’t do it much. Animals are unpredictable as to where they are going to be at any given time. At least with birds you can feed them. We have a tremendous amount of birds of different species that fly through our yard. But, they all love black sunflower seed! So I put some out and waited. And, I used 3 speedlights to make sure that when they flew in, I’d get some light on them. I used TTL, which I don’t normally do, and it worked pretty good. Letting the camera drive every now and again isn’t so bad! 😉
Farms. They are a never ending source of life. Especially when it comes to kittens. All you need is one good Tom and a couple females and soon your whole farm will be over run. 😉
Yesterday 10,000 robins descended on my mountain ash tree to gobble up berries like they were going out of style. Not really a good sign. Usually means big crazy cold coming our way. Or, maybe they’re just hungry. 😉 Let’s hope it’s that one.
Last night after another magical slow cooked dinner we decided to have a fire. After we got the s’more pit going, I looked up and noticed a
gaggle pride flock band murder of crows. I know why they call them a murder.They make so much obscene noise you want to murder them all! It was a toss up between the camera and a gun on this “shoot”. 😉 My theory is that there was something dead nearby because they and two hawks kept swooping in and out of the trees behind our house. Anyways, it was golden light and everything was rich in colour. Love it! Can’t beat it ever! I grabbed the 70-300 and nabbed a few shots before the light slinked away behind the horizon. It’s gyp that the sunsets aren’t lasting as long as they did even a few weeks ago. All of these shots (except the fire pit) are with the 70-300. You can see how longer glass gives you added compression and photo num nums. The power/telephone poles show this in the pics of the family. Even at f/5.6 0r f/8, they look compressed and bokehlicious. 8) And the shots of the lone yellow clover blossoms have sweet sweet bokeh at 300mm. That’s the added benefits of compression in images. If you’ve ever wondered why the vast majority of portrait photographers use that magical 70-200 lens, this is why.
I’m on holidays right now! YEE HAW! It’s great to get away. I’ve been busy on the ol’ picture mill too. After being in Grenfell for a few days taking in all the centennial activities as well as family fun, I’ve got 4 full memory cards, 8GB each – all RAW. That’s 24 GB of pics to wade through! I can’t wait. But today, while taking it easy, I got to play with my Dad’s (*ahem*) awesome Canon wildlife setup. 1D Mark III & a 500mm f/4. Does it get any better?! (If you said a D3 with a 600mm f/4 you’d be right) 😉 Mom’s garden is chock full of flowers and birds so I setup the big guns and nabbed some hummingbirds when they came in!
For the last shot, I setup Dad’s 580EXii on a stand with his Pocket Wizards. Super rad to light up these little hummers. They really shine! Not too bad a day, even if I had to use Canon stuff…. 😉
Quick post as I’m on the run today. Woke up and looked out the window, tree was full of cedar waxwings. Ran through the house, grabbed the camera, got back upstairs and . . . they were all gone. 😦 But, I waited 5 minutes and one came back. Bang-a-rang baby, ya! Really nice golden light saturated the colors and, as an added perk, the wind picked up and gave me the Don King high-fashion look. Sweet! 🙂
And as an added bonus, this little yellow guy came on the scene for one frame only. I can’t identify this bird, so if you know what it is please leave a comment. Thanks!
The tree swallows are back again this year and have been fighting like crazy over who gets to live on Moir Dr. We had baby birds in this house last year and they want to do the same thing again. But it’s wild because all the birds want to live in there and several pairs fly in to try to steal it away from the dominant couple. They attack each other and high flying hi jinx results! It’s one wild acrobatic show! I shot these suckers at ISO 1000 and shutter speeds of 1/800 and it still wasn’t enough to stop them. It’s crazy how fast these little guys are. Jet fighter pilots could learn from them! 😉
For the last week or so, there’s been a Red Tailed Hawk screeching at me in the back pasture. He’s been hanging out in the ravine and cruising on the air currents and thermals that rise up out of the valley. It’s been a nice addition to have some extra wildlife actually hanging around. I have noticed at times two of them, so I thought they might be nesting. Tonight, well after golden light had settled in, I grabbed my camera and my trusty 70-300, the dog and we hit the trail running. I wanted to nab shots of this hawk while the golden light was low on the horizon and would illuminate him while he surfed the currents. It worked out! He got lit up like a
Dutch brothel! non-ethnically specified house of ill repute! 😉 Just kiddin’! It was just lots of glorious evening light that highlighted him perfectly and was still high enough to creep into the east side of the ravine.
As I sprinted across the pasture, I was pleased to see he was still hanging around. He even let me get close. And as I crested the top of the hill, I found out why he’d been there: dead deer carcass. It was just ribs and spine, presumably a coyote kill, hopefully not a cougar (but possible). I’m fairly certain this hawk had been hanging around to take part in the bonanza. Soon though, the clouds bunched up and stole my light away. No more hawk pics. But, my attention turned from raptors to landscapes – well, cloudscapes. I ran down the big ravine to get back up the other side, stopping only to take the oak leaf shot at the bottom of coulee. It was raining far off and the light was coming in very rich and warm. It was burning through the clouds so brightly I could barely believe it! Shapes and even faces emerged in the clouds, even a wee rainbow if you look close. It was all very cool! As I stopped to snap the cloud shots, I barely even noticed the horde of wood ticks that had since covered my pants and started crawling up under my shirt. Anything for a picture right? 😉 Finally, I watched as the sun sunk into the horizon and burned the sky before saying nighty night!
I got up today and looked out and behold, there were tons of turkeys, struttin’ their stuff. I grabbed my camera, some camo and went belly crawling for a half mile or so. Last year, they were more tolerant of me and let me get a wee bit closer than they did this year. But it was warmer then than it is now. uggg, this weather is getting depressing. While I was out, it started to snow which was throwing off the autofocus of my 70-300. I missed some shots because of that and for that reason I’m selling a kidney on the black market to get a 300mm f/2.8 hehehehe.. 😉 Anyways, it’s true, in low light, that lens hunts for focus like Rita McNeil looking for prime rib in a buffet line. 🙂 But what can you do? I did do some manual focusing to try and nab the shots I was missing. Here’s the shots of the day. It’s funny how from 330 shots, I get 32 good ones. Roughly 10%
EDIT! Here’s a video of me gobbling! I’m the turkey whisperer.
Last night the deer were making a steady stream through our backyard from the field and into the ravine next to our house. I grabbed my 70-300 and made a few shots.