Waiting for a Critter
I was passing through this area a couple of days ago on my way from point-b to point-c. I saw a few deer out in a grassy area below some small hills off to my left. I found a safe place to park, grabbed my camera gear and made my way in the general direction of where I saw the deer. Just as I summited a small rise I caught a glimpse of the deer moving through the thickets about 100 feet ahead. I altered my route to the left and picked up my pace with hopes of getting ahead of them and possibly getting the opportunity of photographing them. 10 minutes into my pursuit there was no sign of the deer, but I now stood on a well-used game trail that seemed to lead in the direction that I would expect to find the deer. This game trail offered a lot of useful information in the form of numerous sets of deer tracks (heading in both directions) and several piles of deer turds. Some on the trail, but most just off the trail on both sides. None of which struck me as being very fresh. I decided to back-off and abandon my stalk and return on another day.
Today was that day.
I parked in a better spot and sat in my vehicle drinking hot black coffee waiting for a little more light to better illuminate the landscape so that I did not have to use a headlamp to safely navigate the rugged terrain. Before heading out, I mounted my camera on my tripod and set my camera settings for low-light animal movement with autofocus enabled.
I was surprised how easily I found the game trail and was now moving slowly and as quietly as I could - moving farther away from the road and deeper into the wildness of this beautiful location with every step. The trail took me into a small aspen grove and less than 50 paces later I exited out the backside of the grove.
I now followed the game trail up a steep northeast facing hill covered in dense sage brush and randomly placed ancient conifers. The morning air was cold and damp. The trail was slippery in places which forced me to move with a little more caution. I came to a stop just below the summit. Listening as intently as I could. After a couple of minutes of listening (and catching my breath) I moved higher. Stopping just before the top of my head crossed the summit. Once again, I focused all my energy on listening, but the only thing I heard was the rapid beat of my own heart in my ears. Again, I climbed higher stopping this time right after my eyes had a view over the summit. Standing as still as possible and moving only my eyes I scanned all of the terrain that was currently in view in hopes of spotting any wildlife worth photographing. I have seen countless deer in this area and one black bear. I have also seen several coyotes and have heard many more than I have ever seen. That’s why I was making this effort. I really wanted to photograph any of the previously mentioned critters.
From my vantage point on top of the hill I looked down into a gorgeous stand of aspens all decked out in various shades of autumn. There appeared to be a small clearing in the middle of the stand. It felt like the kind of place a critter might use to feed, bed down or simply use as a passage way. I liked this. It felt right. I framed up this composition and worked out an exposure with a fast enough shutter to freeze the motion of a walking animal. Then I waited.
30 minutes into my wait I was totally craving a cup of coffee, but there was no way in hell that I was going to uncap my thermos and fill this little section of wilderness with a heavy scent of Costa Rican grown Arabica. No way!
45 minutes in and I was beginning to fight two things that were the direct result of standing in one place while moving as little as possible can cause. Boredom and cold. I was also fighting with the realization that a cup of coffee would definitely cure both.
1 hour in, a large crow or maybe and most likely it was a raven flew by without making a sound which I was grateful for. These birds love nothing more than to alert the entire forest of any creature (or photographer) that is trying to be stealthy. They are also known to enjoy perching above any critter (or photographer) that is trying to hide while squawking their skimpy brains out.
1 hour and 7 minutes into my wait and I was smiling from ear to ear as I cradled a mug of hot black Costa Rican grown coffee in my hands while savoring the first sip. The desired result was instant. Erasing both boredom and the lingering chill. Although I never saw a critter, I was glad that I made the attempt. Before heading back to the road and what would soon be the warmth of my SUV I took one last look through my cameras viewfinder and released the shutter.
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