Wichita Mountains Part 2 – Longhorn

My first day (afternoon really) at the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge started off with Texas Longhorns, something that you expect here in Texas, but not so much up north in Oklahoma.  According to the WMWR website:

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge’s objective for the Texas Longhorn Cattle is one of protecting and preserving a significant cultural and historical resource

I had a tip about pelicans migrating through the area at Lake Jed Johnson so I headed out there.  Immediately upon entering the trail that would lead me to the back side of the lake, I noticed a few longhorns trotting past me, off the trail in the woods.  Then I saw this young one coming up the trail towards me.  Looked harmless enough so I stopped to take a photograph.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

I figured it wasn’t going to hurt anyone with those horns.  It looked at me and left the trail to follow the others through the woods.  Continuing down the trail to the lake, I noticed several other longhorn hanging out in the area and I began to wonder just how aggressive these creatures are to people in their habitat.  Surely the rangers would have warned me if they were dangerous.

Sure enough, as I get to the water, a couple more longhorn are there, enjoying the water.

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I walk past, taking a wide arc around them and get my shots of the pelicans (which you will see in another post later).

I saw longhorn mostly all over the eastern part of the refuge.  I don’t know if it was just the time of year I was there, or if the animals have marked off their territory and stay somewhat segregated.  I did notice longhorn and bison integrated in several locations though.

In another area just west of this lake, I was able to get a few family portraits of the longhorns.  I’m assuming mother and child in the same field where the prairie dogs live.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

After getting shots of the pelicans, I began making my way back to my CR-V in the parking lot.  However, I found my path blocked a couple of times by what appeared to be a couple of angry-looking bull longhorns.  I would adjust my path accordingly and made it safely around them but when I got within eye-shot of my vehicle, the path was blocked by this one especially unfriendly looking bull who had his head down and was pawing at the ground.  Now, I’ve seen enough Bugs Bunny cartoons to know what comes next, so again, I adjust my course, leave the trail, and make a very wide circle to get around this guy.  By the time I get back to my vehicle, this guy is about 20 yards away, so I make my way to the driver’s side of the vehicle to make sure that I have something metal between us.  It was then I noticed another bull approaching.  Keeping the vehicle between us, I open the driver’s door and stand in the frame, shooting over the vehicle with the 100-400mm lens and capture the action as these two bulls go head-to-head right there in front of me.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

The Initial Strike!

 

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Locking Horns

After watching these two fight it out for a couple of minutes, it was all over.  My adrenaline was pumping from being so close to such a powerful encounter, and I was thankful for the vehicle that stood between us.  In any case, it was an exciting first day, but there were several more to follow!

More soon!

Photos taken with the Canon 5Dm2 – Canon 100-400mmL-IS lens and the Canon 7D – Canon 600mL-IS F/4 lens combinations.

 

Wichita Mountains Part 1 – Otters

I was fortunate to spend several days in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge a couple of weeks ago and thought I would share what I saw.  Since I saw so many diverse varieties of flora and fauna I’ll break them into separate posts.  This post will focus on the little furry creature known as the River Otter.

My first morning there I decided to head out to French Lake and capture the sunrise.  I was hoping for some clouds and a dynamic sky, but as the sun began rising, I realized that wasn’t going to happen.  Still though, the sunrise was magnificent and it did my soul good to see it.  And then I spotted something special.  In the reflection of the sun before me, there was something in the water.  I had read that there were otter in these waters, but I had no idea where on the lake or at what time to expect them to be out.  Sure enough, there were actually two of them swimming around and diving for their breakfast.  I sat in amazement of their swimming ability and agility for a few minutes, and then realized that I came equipped for a sunrise.  My big lens was still in the car!  So I jumped up and ran back to grab the other camera with the 600mm attached, praying that they would still be around and active when I returned.

I get back to my spot and slap the 7D with the 600mm f/4 attached onto my Acratech GP ball-head, hoping that it would live up to its reputation of being able to withstand the extra weight, and I must say that it performed beautifully.  I aimed and fired several frames in the direction of the otters and caught them both in the highlight of the sun’s watery reflection.  Step one accomplished.  I now have shots of river otters for my collection.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

I watch in amazement for a while longer, just watching them diving, coming to the surface to eat, and then diving again.  I keep firing as the opportunity presents itself.  Then I notice that one of them is making its way toward the shore not far from me.  Could it be that it would be gracious enough to climb out of the water onto that rock sticking out of the shore?  Sure enough, it pops up and stretches a few times, resting on a rock that is just under the surface of the water.  Long enough for me to capture a few more frames.

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From here, the otters returned to the water and swam away, leaving me with a few frames and some great memories to carry with me.

The next time I saw an otter was on my last morning in the refuge.  This time I was at Buford Lake.  It was already past sunrise and I was going prepared for birds since this lake was surrounded by a forested area.  I had already spotted some red-headed ducks when sure enough, there was the otter, swimming across the surface of the small lake.  Still in the “golden hour”, the warm hues of the sun made for a nice capture.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

At one point, the otter climbed up on the bank directly across from me and rolled around in the dead grass, as if using it for a towel to dry off.  It popped up on its front legs and looked at me as if to try and figure out what the big piece of glass was in front of my face.  I was able to make eye contact and –captured!  After drying off, the little otter walked into the tall grass and I thought I had seen the last of it.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

But a few minutes later, it came out, slipped back into the water and began swimming directly at me.  Between my excitement and the limited minimum focus distance of the 600 f/4, I only have this blurry, very closeup look at its face, as it swam to within a few feet of me, probably checking out the reflection of the glass, before turning to resume its hunting.  I share this photo only because of the excitement it generated in me while I was simultaneously trying to focus both mentally, and manually with the lens while the otter was advancing directly towards me!  Add this one to my collection of “if only” shots.  So close and yet fail.

Finally, as the otter continued its morning ritual of hunting and feeding, the thought went through my head that “sometimes you’re the otter, and sometimes you’re the fish”.  This day, I was the otter!

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

If you have the chance, stop by and check out the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.  It is in southwestern Oklahoma, right outside of Lawton.  It is only about a 3 hour drive from the Dallas/Ft Worth metroplex (depending on which side you begin from), and it is well worth the drive.  In the coming days, as time permits, I’ll update with some of the other creatures I was lucky enough to spend time with in this wonderful place!

If you enjoyed this post, share it with friends.  After all, it’s free.  And that’s a pretty good deal!

All photographs captured with the Canon 7D and the Canon 600mm F/4IS lens.

Interview & New Pics Soon!

I was recently asked to be interviewed for an on-line news site about my wildlife photography.  After thinking about it, I decided “why not”, and now that interview in live.  If you would like read the interview, you can read it at this link…

http://www.squidoo.com/sharing-Gods-creation-one-photo-at-a-time

I am also heading out to do some new shooting next week.  That means I’ll have more new photos to share soon!  Next week is shaping up to be a action-packed week of photography for me!  I’m looking forward to it and can’t wait!  It all starts this Saturday with another trip to Fossil Rim in Glen Rose with Karen!  Then four days in a “wilderness” about 3 hours from DFW.

Check back soon for new stories and photos!  Spring time is right around the corner and photography season has begun!

Until then, here is another from one of my favorite “wilderness” locations-Yellowstone!

Elk

On the Hunt

Recently I was asked, or rather challenged, by a friend at a local wildlife refuge to try and get a photo of a new critter that they suspect has been hanging out there.  So I agree and take a day off my “real job” to sit in the weeds and stare at dirt.  It’s not as bad as it sounds.  A day out in nature will almost always beat a day stuck in a cube.

I headed out early on Friday morning, parked my vehicle, and began the mile hike to my spot.  It is early November, but did I get a nice cool day?  No!  As with the rest of the weather the past couple of years, we are pushing a record high for this day in November in North Texas.  I believe it got up to 89 degrees, and the sun was in my face all day.  On the other hand, I got a nice tan on my face as I was seated facing south from sun up to sun down.  I headed back out for a second try on Saturday and was able to stay until after sundown in hopes that the critter would come out then, but again no luck.  But does that mean I shot no pictures?  Of course not.

I caught this Great Egret on Friday morning while sitting there enjoying the early morning sun.  It flew past me over the marsh with the sun highlighting the wings and illuminating the feathers from behind.  A beautiful sight to see.

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Several time that day I could hear and see a kingfisher flying over the marsh looking for a meal.  It was great watching it hover over the water and then diving down to catch a small fish.  Hard to catch it doing that with a big lens though.  That little thing is fast!  I was finally able to catch a shot of this Belted Kingfisher when it landed and tossed the fish into the air to swallow it whole!

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And as I was leaving the area, I shared the trail with an armadillo.  It was walking right towards me.  Of course, they are mostly blind and rely on their sense of smell to warn them of other creatures.  I guess I didn’t have much of an odor because it walked almost right up to me.  I was able to lower myself to get a decent shot as it raised up on its hind legs as if to scare me away.  I remained calm and it went on its way without incident.

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So, even if I wasn’t able to get a shot of the new critter, there will be other days.  New trails are being built now and I can’t wait to get out there and see what kind of critters I can spot!