Last Friday turned out to be a long day at work electrofishing catfish on the Missouri River. I picked up a colleague, Joe McMullen, at his office at Shaw Nature Reserve at 6:45 a.m. and I didn’t roll back into my driveway until 8:00 that evening. Against my better judgement, I set the alarm clock for 4:30 a.m. so I could head over to a spring branch on the Meramec River to try out my newly-repaired equipment. My plan was to hunt for otters and warblers. It seemed like my alarm went off seconds after my head hit the pillow and my brain felt locked up like a computer in need of a reboot. I finally crawled out from under the covers and looked out the window to find a thick fog over the entire farm. I knew it would be worse at the spring branch so I decided to abort my mission and try to catch up on some sleep.
As I tried to get back to sleep, my thoughts wandered toward all the images I was missing, like dew-soaked dragonflies and foggy landscapes. I finally drifted off and woke up at a more reasonable hour to start chores around the farm, including lawn mowing, weed eating, and other early-summer duties. By the time I finished, it was around 3:00 p.m. and I was drained. I cleaned up and took it easy around the house but by 5:00 p.m. I was ready for bed! At that point I realized that I hadn’t drunk anything but a couple of soft drinks while on the river all day Friday and I hadn’t fared much better on Saturday. I didn’t have to go to Web MD to ascertain that my exhaustion was due to dehydration. I spent the next hour or so trying to get some liquids in the ole body and I finally went to bed at around 7:00 p.m. with the intention of a 5:00 a.m. start on Sunday.
When the Korean National Anthem (that’s what Joyce and I have decided my cell phone alarm sounds like) went off on Sunday morning, I felt like my old self and conditions were perfect. I loaded my equipment and headed west down I-44 with my autopilot set to the first Egg Sausage McMuffin exit. After a hearty breakfast, I arrived at the spring branch at daylight, donned my chest waders, slung the ornery 18-pound rig I’d been missing so much over my shoulder and started walking up the middle of the stream. Minutes later, I stood face to face with a river otter, sitting on a rootwad chewing on a bleeding shiner. There wasn’t much light but I gave it my best shot by making several images, all at 1/25 second, before the otter caught my scent and melted into the vegetation along the stream. A quick check of my LCD revealed 15 images, all too blurry to share. Darn!
I spent a couple more hours on the spring branch but didn’t make any more wildlife images. I finally headed back to my truck and started home. On the way east, I noticed the late-morning light becoming quite beautiful under thickening clouds so I kept going past my house and on to Shaw Nature Reserve. Upon arrival, I began a walk around the trails on the west side of the area, looking for anything that moved. Along the way, I checked out a little pond and found several green frogs whiling the morning away atop the first lily pads of the year. The frogs would be a good test of my equipment as I’ve found that frog images are problematic. It is often difficult to get their eyes in focus and a higher than normal depth of field is required to bring their nose and eyes in focus together. I spent the next 15 minutes bothering the lazy frogs before I moved on down the trail.
After I left the frogs, I heard the raucous cry of a red-shouldered hawk. I didn’t see any movement so I continued down the trail for another 5o meters or so before I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Closer inspection revealed a red shoulder sitting on a hackberry branch with its leg extended, talon in a ball. I knew it was just stretching so I wouldn’t have long for a shot of the interesting behavior. Before I had time to think, my tripod was off my shoulder and splayed with all three locking knobs on my Wimberley head released! My reflexes were none the worse for wear after three weeks without my gear. My eye and the lighting fast autofocus of my Mark IV, now named Crash, simultaneously acquired the hawk with its leg still extended and a click of the shutter closed the deal!
As I finished up with the red-shouldered hawk the clouds began to break up and a summer-like morning unfolded. By the time I got back to my truck I was soaked with sweat and ready to go home. I had a little more work to do around the farm but I had my sights set on a leisurely Sunday afternoon that would culminate in some grill time. The meat in question would be pork steak, of course. But first I had some images to review and I was more anxious than eager because it was the first test of my equipment since the incident. As I pulled the frogs and hawks up on the screen, I smiled—Canon Factory Repair had done it again. The otter images, on the other hand, were a bust, but I’ll get them later this spring with a little help from Mother Nature.
Thanks for looking,
Note: Learn more about red-shouldered hawks in the June issue of “Missouri Conservationist” as I have featured the species in Plants and Animals, including another nice image from Shaw Nature Reserve.
Frog on a Lily Pad: Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with 1.4 TC III Extender; 1/160 @ f/6.3; RAW Capture; ISO 400; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II Head; Converted and Processed in Canon DPP
Red-shouldered Hawk: Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with 1.4 TC III Extender; 1/80 @ f/5.6; RAW Capture; ISO 400; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II Head; Converted and Processed in Canon DPP