One Week in Chatfield

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!

Day One


There was a JET powered model airplane flying around doing some cool stunts. It sounded like the real deal, only just a little quieter.


American Kestrel



Day Two

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.


Canada Geese


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!


Day Three


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.


Day Four

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?


Day Five

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.




Posted on February 6, 2013, in photo shoot, photography. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Awesome pics bro!!
    Love the site.

  2. bernieboettcher


  3. Thanks, Steve and Bernie! It was a fun project and I got a lot of good practice out of it.

  4. I’m thinking you should lend your skills to The Nature Conservancy!

  5. Wow. Beautiful pics!

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