Photo of the Week

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One early winter afternoon, I decided to see if I could call in and photograph a coyote before the weather turned unfavorable. Once I settled in and started my sequence of coyote calls, I noticed the kind of black cloud lurking overhead that usually means rain, sleet or snow. I knew whatever weather was in store would be short lived (normally the case with Northwest weather), so I covered my camera equipment and waited for the storm to clear.

For about 15 minutes, it snowed so hard that I couldn’t see further out than 40 or 50 yards. Then, just as suddenly as it began, the storm was over. Once I got my equipment uncovered, I noticed a coyote had come in and was scanning the hillside in my direction. I tried every call in my arsenal to get him to move in closer, but he wouldn’t budge. After a few minutes, he turned and walked away. I knew the coyote hadn’t caught my scent and I was pretty sure he hadn’t figured out my position, so l was confused on why he left.

After I’ve successfully called in a coyote, I will usually continue to call for another few minutes to see if another coyote is lurking about. Convinced no other coyotes were going to respond, I packed up my gear to leave the area. While hiking back, I noticed tracks in the fresh snow where two coyotes had come within 10 yards directly behind my position and sat down. Mystery solved!  This is why the coyote I was photographing didn’t venture any further. Coyotes are territorial, and if one happens to stray onto another’s hunting ground, a fight will generally occur. This coyote evidently didn’t want to prove himself.

Photographing wild coyotes is a lot of fun and it seems like every time I venture out, I learn something new and unexpected.

 

A Winters Call

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First light in the dead of winter, with a little snow mixed in, can make for a special coyote photo opportunity

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After a night of searching for food, this wise ole coyote slipped into my predator call on his way to its favorite bedding area

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If you listen closely, you can often hear a coyote approach on crusted snow.  Good to know if one happens to come in from your blind side

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When a coyote feels it has come in close enough, it will usually stop and survey the area to try and catch sight of the source of the call

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If you’ve paid attention to the wind when setting up, a spooked coyote may not mean the end of your photo op

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A few subtle lip squeaks can often put enough doubt in their mind to avoid a permanent exit, and encourage them to consider a second look

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While you still have his attention, it’s a good time for some last minute photos before his suspicion arises and he moves on

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If you can, get out and enj0y God’s gift of the great outdoors.  It’s unbelievably fun

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Photographing Wild Coyotes Part 3

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I started out well before daylight on this December morning

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Once I got set up, I used a series of fool-proof mouth calls, and was able to attract the attention of this coyote from over the ridge. He made his first appearance 200 yards away

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Instinctively he was drawn in by the call, but held back at about 150 yards, where he sat down and wouldn’t move. This is not unusual, especially for a coyote that has been fooled by a call in the past

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I resorted to a combination of calls that imitate a couple of coyotes fighting over a would be prey. That will usually tempt a coyote to get off its haunches and charge in

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The coyote is now coming off the hill at a nice pace and is about to reach the bottom of a small ravine about 60 yards out

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My challenge now is to coax him through the sage brush to my position

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He’s actively searching for the source of the call

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He is beginning to zero in on my position

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Working his way above me and to my left, the coyote stuck his head up out of the brush at about 10 yards. At this moment he figured something wasn’t quite right and became spooked

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He ran back across the small ravine from which he came and briefly stopped to ponder the encounter

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He moved up the hill, but not in a panic as one might expect

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On his way to the summit, he stopped for one last look. This is common for a coyote that’s not quite sure of what just happened

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Calling coyotes is challenging, but also a lot of fun if you can fool one of the wiliest critters in the wild

Lost Lodge Pole on Lodgestick Bluff

I’ve always been fascinated with the history of the Northwest, especially the early fur trade and the Hudson’s Bay Company. Rivers and overland trails were used as travel routes for transporting supplies and furs to and from outlying trading posts. The Columbia River was one of the most important water ways connecting inland trading posts to the Pacific Ocean. Natural and unusual formations were used as landmarks to aid in river navigation, similar to today’s GPS coordinates and mile markers.

One of the referenced landmarks that was noted in diaries of various fur men and explorers was a petrified tree. This caught my interest and I wanted to see if it still existed.

George Simpson, the governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company Territories in America, made note of the tree as he traveled down the Columbia River on March 31, 1825.

“The country still dismally barren and the banks of the river bold: on the cliff of rock which forms the north bank of the river about 200 feet above the high water mark the trunk of a large tree is to be seen evidently left there by the stream…”

The Reverend Samuel Parker also wrote of the tree in his diary as he traveled down the Columbia River on June 2, 1836.

“In the afternoon we passed a perpendicular section of rock, two hundred and fifty feet high; half way to the top of which, a petrified tree of considerable magnitude is suspended. Gentlemen of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and others who navigate this river, having mused themselves by shooting off pieces with their rifles, and they assured me it was wholly a petrifaction.”

First Lieutenant Thomas W. Symons of the Corps of Engineers in 1881 described the tree as he mapped the Columbia River from the Canadian border to the confluence of the Snake River.

“In one of these niches, a thousand feet above the river, there lies in an inclined position a stick of timber, barkless and white with age. My pilot, “Old Pierre”, and Indian pilot and voyageur of the old Hudson’s Bay Company, said that this log was a landmark in the days when this company transported their furs and merchandise up and down the river in bateaux.”

I must note Lieutenant Symons exaggerated the estimated height of the tree above the high water mark of the river. It’s closer to 250 feet.

Lieutenant Symons created a map of the river in 1881 and he indicated a bald faced ridge along the river not far from where I lived and called it Lodgestick Bluff. With out any trees currently growing in the vicinity, I had a hunch this might be the location of the petrified tree. At the time of my research, I had understood that the Washington State Historical Society tried to find the tree in the 1940’s without success and determined it no longer existed. This launched me on a two month search of my own to see if they were correct.

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It was about a three mile hike over broken basalt cliffs, sand and sage brush to get close to the river

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The closer I got to the river, I could see the barren ridge Lieutenant Symons referred to on his map as Lodgestick Bluff

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Once I made it to the river’s edge, the ridge was still three quarters of a mile away. I began to scan the bluff with a pair of 8 x 50 binoculars in hopes of finding the tree while the morning sunlight held out

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After about 45 minutes of looking, I was beginning to wonder if I was in the right place when I caught a glimmer of light about midway up the basalt face

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This was the tree, I was sure of it

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I put my telephoto lens on my camera and started to document the find

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My 400 mm telephoto lens wasn’t enough to get a good close-up, so later on I came up river in a boat to capture this last shot

I estimated the dimensions of the tree at around 25 feet in length and 15 to 18 inches in diameter. I can imagine muskets being fired at the base of the tree to satisfy bets on whether it was petrified or not.

I compiled a package of information and submitted it to the Washington Historical Society, which was well received. The tree is located on Washington State Property and hopefully will be preserved for future generations.

A Tale of the Whitetail’s Tail

The Bitterroot Mountains contain a large population of whitetail deer. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to observe their behavior. One of the whitetail’s social and defensive behavioral traits is the use of their tail.

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At rest, the tail is usually tucked neatly between their hind quarters

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Still at ease, and just prior to moving they will twitch the tail from side to side. I believe this has a calming or a confidence effect to other deer milling or feeding in the area

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When a deer becomes alarmed or unsure of a situation, they will slightly straiten the tail out away from the body

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When it’s time to flee, the tail goes straight up as a signal or warning for other deer of anticipated danger

 

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This deer sees something she doesn’t like and starts to posture for an escape

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The tail goes up as she looks for an escape route

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Then she bolts, signaling a full alarm as she goes

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Once a whitetail deer sends out an alarm, others will surely follow

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In the whitetail world, this behavioral trait of raising its tail is referred to as “flagging”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Photos For Fun

Can’t think of anything to photograph? Grab a camera and head to the nearest flower garden and have some fun.

First, you’ll need a few things. A tripod is a must. Generally you’ll be using a slow shutter speed and a small aperture opening, so the tripod will help eliminate any camera shake. A telephoto lens is great if you have one, and a trigger release is nice but not absolutely necessary. Also, a teloconverter or extension tube for extreme close ups in lieu of a micro lens is recommended.

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To get maximum focus, the cameras lens should be perpendicular to the subject

 

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I use a low ISO.   ISO 25, 1SO 50 or ISO 100.

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Don’t be afraid to experiment with composition

 

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Try various exposure settings;  a click or two over or under compensation

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A low f-stop will fade out the back-ground and make the subject pop

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A little splash of sunlight can add to the photograph

 

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A higher f-stop will bring more of the background into focus, but you’ll sacrifice shutter speed

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Insects can also be a second subject

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If direct sunlight is a problem, you can tone it down by putting a little artificial shade on the subject

I recommend experimenting with a polarizing lens. It can change the tone of a blue sky and eliminate reflection off of glass and water. The first photo below was taken of a bull frog on a pond without a polarizing lens. The second was taken with a polarizing lens, and you’ll see quite a difference.

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Without a polarizing lens

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Bull frog with a polarizing lens

 

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A polarizing lens can enhance contrast and saturation

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This lily was the queen of the garden

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Discover the beauty up close

 

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You can almost smell the fragrance of the tulip

Most of all have some fun!

Photographing Wild Coyotes Part 2

Early this morning I chose a spot high above a large apple orchard in hopes of luring a coyote within range of my camera. The wind was in my favor and the sun was high enough to allow for a fast shutter speed.

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I usually stay at a location for a half hour, and if nothing shows I move to another location. If a coyote is close, it will generally respond to the call right away. Other times the coyote may make me wait the full half hour. Many times I’ve been in the process of packing up my equipment to leave a spot and noticed a coyote watching me. I should have stayed longer, but 30 minutes is the rule of thumb. For a bobcat I would give it a full hour.

Each calling sequence is from 20 to 30 seconds in duration. I then scan the area to see if anything is moving. Coyotes are fast and can be in and out in a split second, so you have to be on the ball at all times.

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Out of nowhere a coyote shows up

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With a little coaxing, I got him to move closer without being detected

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When I have a coyote this close I’ll let him search for me.  Any movement will give me away

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They will move back and forth trying to pick up any scent of the “animal” making the sound

 

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The challenge is to keep him coming closer. As you can see, his eyes, ears and nose are locked on to my location

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He is constantly looking around and checking the wind. Another coyote may be coming in as well

 

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Reassured everything is alright, he continues to move closer

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As he moves closer, he decides to move downwind

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Not finding any scent, he stops again to reassess the situation

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The coyote now moves in. At this point the coyote’s focus is on a decoy I have set up, and this takes his attention away from me and the camera

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He’s now within about 10 yards. My goal is to get as many photos as I can, as close as I can

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Oops, he got a nose full of my scent and he’s out of here

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And in a split second he’s gone and much wiser

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Being out in the wild and learning about nature is great fun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rubs

If you have ever hiked in the woods during the fall, you’ve probably come across a rub. A rub is a small tree, sapling or brush where some of the bark has been rubbed off by an antlered animal such as a deer, elk or moose.

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An example of a rub

Deer, elk and moose will start to rub saplings and brush in an attempt to remove the velvet from their antlers in the first part of September. These rubs are referred to as velvet rubs.

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Another example of a rub

As the days get shorter and the first morning frost sets in during September, elk will become more agitated as their rut or breeding season nears. The bulls will start to rub more often, and usually it will be at the expense of a larger tree or sapling. These are called rut rubs, where the animal is taking its aggression out on an unfortunate tree. This is in preparation for the real fighting to come where the pecking order is being established.

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The sap from pines like this will turn the elk’s antlers a dark color

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Rubbing the bark off trees such as this will eventually kill the tree

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A bull elk really worked this young tree over to the point of being up-rooted

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When you see this, there is no mistaking that a bull is in the area

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This moose rub isn’t much different than an elk rub

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A moose attacked this young pine

It’s difficult to make a distinction between an elk and a moose rub, unless you actually catch the animal in the act. The elk and the moose are tall critters when compared to a deer, and their rubs tend to reach higher up on a tree .

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This elk rub happened to be on a tamarack sapling; notice its height

A whitetail buck, in addition to velvet and rut rubs, also use the rub as a sign post on a travel route. If you carefully observe which side of the tree the rub is on, you can determine the buck’s direction of travel, usually to or from a bedding or feeding area.

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Whitetail rub–you can easily see the tine marks in the adjacent tree

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Notice the bark shavings on this whitetail rub

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A whitetail buck in the act of making a rub can be quite a violent spectacle

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Another example of a mature whitetail buck in the area

In an area where you find a lot of whitetail rubs, usually in the month of October, be on the lookout for a scrape.

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A scrape is a disturbed patch of earth anywhere from a foot to five feet in diameter

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An average small scrape under an overhanging branch

Early in the rutting season, a whitetail buck will scrape the ground with a fore hoof–usually under a low hanging limb of a tree or bush, where the buck can deposit scent from the Preorbita gland onto a twig. The buck will also urinate in the freshly disturbed soil and deposit scent from its Intergigita gland. If a doe is in esturas, she will find the scrape and also urinate on it to alert the buck she is ready to be bred. The next time the buck checks his scrape, he will know a doe is nearby.  During the peak of the rut, the buck will abandon the scrapes and start scouring the forest for females until the rut is over.

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Notice the deep gouges from the bucks tines on this whitetail rub

There is a lot going on in the woods if you take the time to learn what to look for.