Photographing wildlife and those magnificent animal events.
As photographers, we see things most people see only on television. We can all recount a story or two of scenes we’ve observed in the field that will stick with us forever. We caught images of most of them, while the others that we couldn’t photograph are etched in our minds. The photos we took might not be the best in the world, yet they evoke memories of moments in time when something special happened.
For example, while I was in the Tetons recently, leading a workshop, a unique sequence occurred. Three magnificent animal events happened one after the other, making all of us present look at each other in amazement. Witnessing any one of the animal events would have been great, but watching three animal events in succession was more than any photographer could ask for.
To begin our adventure, another photographer told me about predictable beaver activity he had discovered in the park and how to get there. The water flow from Jackson Lake Dam had been decreased quite a bit, leaving a beaver lodge on the shore high and dry. With winter approaching, the beavers scurried to build a new home that was accessible from the water. The location the beavers eventually chose was in an area that was great for photography, and whenever they were out, numerous photographers stood nearby, clicking away. The beavers stayed out of their shelter until about 9:45 each morning, working on the new lodge, and came out again about an hour before sunset to finish their day’s jobs. To build up their new home, they would swim out and return with their mouths and feet full of twigs and mud. Their activity went on only about ten to fifteen yards in front of us, so everyone took lots of photos. This front row seat on beaver life by itself would have been a treat any photographer would love.
In addition to the entertainment provided by the beavers, five trumpeter swans also frequented the area. While they were usually too far away for us to photograph them in the water, a couple of times they took off within range of our lenses. If we grew weary of watching the beavers and the swans, we could look off to the right, where a bull moose stood with a couple of cows and one young moose. They were also a little too far off for us to get good shots most of the time, but they were fun to watch, nonetheless.
One evening as we pulled up to visit the beavers, some people stopped us and told us a second bull moose was working its way through the woods towards the area where we were headed. We looked around and saw no sign of him, so it seemed safe for us to head to our beaver location, where another person was already setting up.
After awhile, the moose the people had described earlier appeared off to our left. He was far enough away that he wasn’t a worry for us, yet he was close enough to make a good subject for our cameras. People began stopping their cars and getting out to take pictures with their small cameras. We thought they might be moving in a bit too close, so we waited to see if the bull-moose might end up charging one of them.
However, the moose had other concerns on his mind. He spotted the other bull and cows and decided to make his way over there–possibly to challenge the other moose. The only problem was that we were right between the two bulls. We watched to see what the moose on the left was going to do. Luckily for us, he moved away, selecting another route to his competitor. After he had moved away into the water for a clear path to his foe, the moose on the right started to pay attention. From that point on, the moose on the right kept its gaze fixed on the challenger, who slowly made his way through the water. It took several minutes for him to reach the other side. The moose with the cows made no move to meet the challenger halfway.
As the challenger worked its way through the water, we could sense there was going to be a fight. Once both bulls were on the same ground, the cows started walking beside the moose that was already there as it inched its way closer to the challenger. After several seconds of this, the bulls turned and went at it. Although the fight lasted only a couple of seconds, the whole sequence seemed to last forever. Soon the challenger was defeated and ran away. The cows approached the first moose, seemingly to congratulate him.
Right after this short event, the trumpeter swans took flight from a spot nearby and flew overhead. We had to switch our focus to them in order to capture them in flight. After they made their way past, we realized we had the beavers out in front of us. They were still swimming around working on their winter quarters, oblivious to all that was going on around them.
It was then everyone just stared at each other in disbelief as to what had just happened. I told the workshop participants how lucky they were to have been able to see it all, even though their shots of the moose fight might not have been the greatest because of the distance from us. I told them it was the first time I had been fortunate enough to have this kind of beaver activity so close and easy to photograph and the first time I had seen two moose clash as the two bulls had. To have both events going on at the same time, in addition to swans flying overhead, was a special gift that should be remembered.
We, as photographers, should never take our opportunities to go to great places all over this and other countries for granted. We see more in one year than 99% of the people in this country see in a lifetime. Treat these times in the field as precious. Who knows when they’ll end? Take in the surroundings. Enjoy them. Let yourself become part of wherever you are, and your photos will show that you enjoy what you do. And always remember the special moments you encounter in the field.
By Andy Long