Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Extraordinary wildlife photo opportunities exist on the expansive ranches of Texas and northeastern Mexico
Warblers, painted buntings, beautiful songbirds and numerous waterfowl species migrate through the area from mid-April to early May. Baby birds and mammals also appear in May. As baby mammals get bigger, parents may bring them to water holes where blinds are set up. There are hundreds of butterfly species with peak activity in late fall. November through January are prime months for white-tailed deer. Many ranches in the Rio Grande Valley and the Hill Country have trophy-sized bucks. If a ranch allows hunting, go before the season starts. Avoid July through September because heat and humidity are high, and migration and breeding activity are over.
Weather changes rapidly in Texas so you may need to dress in layers. You don’t do much walking on the ranches, but I recommend good, tall boots because animals, including rattlesnakes, sometimes visit blinds. Ranchers help you set up, but always check your blind before entering. In April and May, wear clothing that breathes, and take a lightweight rain parka, plenty of water and snacks into your blind. Put food in a sealed container to keep out the six-legged wildlife. Bring a towel to wipe off perspiration, and wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants to protect your arms and legs.
A long lens is an absolute must. I bring my 500mm lens and my 200-400mm zoom lens, a 1.4x teleconverter, two camera bodies, a flash unit with a turbocharger and Fresnel lens, and a tripod into the blind. I use the long lens with a teleconverter for small birds and the zoom lens for mammals and composition flexibility. A zoom lens in the 100-400mm range or a 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens with a teleconverter also works well. Most blinds are set up with a minimum focusing distance from camera to subject of 10 to 50 feet. The longer distances are at water holes that mammals frequent. I’ve photographed deer, javelina, squirrels, songbirds, insects and snakes all from the same blind using the 500mm and 200-400mm zoom lenses.
Bring a flash unit adjustable for daylight fill-flash. Wildlife may show up in the middle of the day, and fill-flash reduces harsh contrast and poor color. In bright, midday light, start with a fill-flash setting of -1½ to -2. Check exposure using your histogram or spot meter. Bring a spare camera battery and several memory cards, a basic tool kit and good-quality lens wipes and brushes. Clean your equipment and recharge your batteries every night.
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