Monthly Archives: February 2013
I set out for my Saturday long run a little before 7 AM thinking I would get about 20 miles for the day. Since I was planning on going up Waterton Canyon, I brought the big camera along thinking there might be some bighorn photo opportunities. I got home 3.5 hours later after only covering 10 miles and never making it up the canyon…
I wanted a little extra mileage, so I decided to do an out-and-back through Chatfield before heading up the canyon. As I got to my turnaround spot near the corrals, I heard a burst of coyote howls in the distance. I veered off the trail and headed cross-country to where the sound had come from.
Once I spotted the coyote, I quickly shed my pack and started assembling my DSLR (I carry the body and lens separated because it rides better that way). I got a few shots, then tracked it and another one from a distance as they moved south through the park. This went on for 30-45 minutes and I covered about a half mile in the process. I was having a great time observing and taking pictures, thoughts of my run were far removed from my mind.
Once they got far enough away that photos were no longer possible, I packed up the camera and got ready to switch back into run mode. That was when I realized that my compact camera (Canon Elph) was missing from the pack pocket where I keep it. The pocket is on the shoulder strap and is great for easy access, but doesn’t hold the camera very securely.
I stared back at the vast expanse of ground I had covered and thought; crap.
Since I had been so focused on the coyotes, I hadn’t paid very good attention to the meandering path I had taken to get where I now was. I cursed under my breath as I started back the way I had came, staring at the ground looking wishfully for the needle in the haystack. The camera isn’t anything all that special and could be replaced fairly easily, but there were photos on it that I hadn’t offloaded and I was just generally ticked off at myself for losing it.
As the initial wave of anger passed, some more rational thinking started to filter into my head. I realized there had to be about a 90%+ chance that it had fallen out when I first shed my pack to get my big camera out. But where in the world was that?!?
I walked back to the area where I was pretty sure it had to be and spent a good 30-40 minutes walking back and forth, looking for a dull black object the size of a deck of cards laying somewhere in the weeds. I decided that if I ever found it, I was going to tie a 3 foot length of pink flagging to it…
Frustrated that it didn’t just magically appear at my feet, I finally had the thought to start looking through the pictures I had taken to see if there were any clues. Some of the later ones helped me rule certain areas out and be more confident in my direction, but there weren’t any earth-shattering discoveries. I stared at the first photo I had taken and tried to match the background with what I was seeing before me.
I zoomed in and around on the display, hoping to find some distinct characteristic I could latch on to. It was mostly a patchwork of bare branches with little to differentiate it from all the other patchworks of bare branches in the distance.
I could sort of make out the arc of a larger limb in the background, and that became my target. I searched until I found what I thought was the right tree, then a stroke of genius came out of somewhere as I had the thought to start taking new photos from my current location to see if that helped me dial in the correct spot. It took about a dozen tries, with lots of flipping back and forth between shots on the camera display, but I finally ended up with what looked like a really good match. Then I moved forward and backward, keeping the composition as close as I could to the original photo and got the distance just about right.
I dropped my pack, and even set a waypoint on my GPS running watch for future use if I ended up having to come back later. I started walking away from my pack in the pattern of an expanding spiral, finding the camera nestled in a clump of grass less than a minute later – about 12 feet from where I had taken the final photo from.
This shot was taken from where I found the camera, the starting point of my spiral was just beyond my shadow.
I was happy with that outcome!
Cold and drained from the search, and short on time, I slowly made my way back home.
I ran past this spot at sunrise a year ago on a training run with Joe, Jaime, and Woody. It was an amazing location, but we were cruising in the dark and I couldn’t gawk too much. I have always wanted to go back when I had some time to set up the camera and capture the brilliant sun breaking the horizon. This time I hit the trailhead well before dawn and packed in the gear. I got the tripod set up and tested the exposure several times before setting the camera to fire at one second intervals. Then all I had to do was wait for the sun and start running!
Sometimes it is easy for me to fall into the ‘grass is greener’ trap when shooting photos. I need to go to the mountains! I need to go to the canyons! The desert! Taking off to pursue exciting locations isn’t possible very often, especially in the middle of winter when I am ‘stuck’ close to home. Rather than pout, I decided to make the best of the situation and spend a good chunk of time in Chatfield State Park.
Chatfield is a nice enough place, with a lot of land surrounding a large (by CO standards) reservoir. There are some dense wooded areas, a lot of open prarie, wetlands, rivers, and the lake itself. It’s heavily geared towards boating, camping, model airplane flying, road cycling, and horseback riding. It is maybe not as well known for wildlife and activities like hiking compared to the very scenic and quiet Roxborough State Park a few miles south.
I decided to make a project out of photographing as much wildlife as I could in one week’s time. It was a great experience, and a real eye opener at the many natural treasures right in my own back yard. I came away with some shots I am really happy with, and a lot of great memories. Crawling on my hands and knees to get close to a Meadowlark while having a hyper Corgi on a leash clipped to my belt was a fun one.
I grew to love the feeling of heading out without any idea what I was going to see, feeling like the place was dead because it was so quiet, then gradually peeling away the layers to reveal a whole world of activity and life.
I made 6 visits on 5 days over the course of the week. Katie (the dog) was my trusty companion for most of them, and quickly learned to sit quietly as soon as I brought the camera to my face. In that small span of time, I saw sunrises, sunsets, cloudy days, sunny days, cold snow, and beautiful blue skies.
These photos are special to me because of their context and I will always remember this week fondly. I hope you enjoy them, too!
There was a JET powered model airplane flying around doing some cool stunts. It sounded like the real deal, only just a little quieter.
This was slightly after sunset on a very overcast day. I was experimenting with using a flash after watching a video by a well known wildlife photographer. He described using flash for some of his shots and I had never really considered it before in the wildlife context. I’m not sure if I’m totally on board with the idea, but will keep toying around with it. Luckily this guy didn’t just blink and fall over after getting zapped.
This horse pasture borders the park, and the light was too good to pass up.
A snow squall settled in to the east behind me, and the sunset lit it up like an orange curtain. It was awesome!
A walk through the woods near the shoreline was a total dud until we came upon this guy. Luckily it was nice enough to pose for a minute before flying off. I’m used to the smaller woodpeckers that are black and white, and had to look this one up. It is a Red-shafted Flicker.
I had the camera set to single-point focus which was key in getting this shot of a bald eagle. I had about one second to react when I saw it out of the corner of my eye. Had the camera been set to multi-point focus, it would have locked onto the branches in the foreground.
A very furry squirrel in some nice afternoon light.
This was a cool sequence of events. We were only about two minutes from getting back to the car and being done for the day. I saw some movement in the air and spotted this Northern Harrier diving to the ground behind a small ridge.
We headed in that direction, but it flew away before we even got close enough to see it. Just as we were turning around, I saw three mule deer bucks heading along the ridge across the small gully from us. The wind was in our favor, so we pulled back out of sight behind our ridge and hustled about a quarter of a mile to get in position for a shot when they would appear at the head of gully.
The light was great and our plan worked out perfectly. We got close enough that I didn’t even have to crop the shot. This buck was huge. Notice how thick the antlers are and how they start to curve back in at the top. The other two were 4 points that looked tiny in comparison, with antlers that looked like little twigs.
On the walk back to the car after finishing with the deer, I noticed a pair of Western Meadowlarks and tried to get close for a shot but they were easily spooked and flew off. I saw where one landed and proceeded to move very slowly in that direction. After a while, I was able to get a shrub in the line of sight between us and crawl until I was next to the shrub about 20 feet from the bird. Katie was all excited, wanting to learn the rules to this new game we were playing! Luckily, we stayed out of sight well enough and I was able to get several good shots in some more great light.
My assistant, Katie (who generally hates having her picture taken).
I love the look this hawk is giving us (probably sizing up Katie for lunch). It really shows off how large those eyeballs are.
I have a good story for this one that I will tell in another post. This shot is from mile 5 of my Saturday run.
I took Katie back to the park later that afternoon and we spotted a few hawks as well as our first Belted Kingfisher, which was a very cool bird to watch. Tough one to get close to, though.
The Kingfisher wingtips just barely tap the surface of the water as they fly. I wonder if they use that as a way to keep a consistent height above the water?
Our last visit was colder and overcast, without a lot going on. We did get a great view of 14,255′ Longs Peak, which is 60 miles away. The way it was lit up, combined with how the zoom lens compresses the landscape, made for an impressive sight.