• Chris Sullivan

An Unexpected Experience

A few months ago I was walking with my camera gear on a wildlife viewing trail in a local state park when I noticed a Pileated Woodpecker flying from tree to tree. I decided that I would come back the next day and focus my efforts on capturing images of these and other woodpeckers in the area.

I had prior commitments in the morning so I wasn't able to make it back to the trail until mid afternoon. I figured this would give me enough time to find a good location and wait for the birds to come back through. I brought my Canon 7D and my Tamron 150-600 for this trip because I knew I would need the extra versatility and reach of the zoom lens. I also brought a backpack with camo netting and a 10x monocular.

Almost as soon as I stepped onto the trail, it seemed like there were woodpeckers in every tree. No pileated woodpeckers, but several of the smaller Red-Bellied variety. I leaned up against a tree, still in sight of my car, and started snapping away.

Still looking for a pileated woodpecker, I moved on further down the trail until I reached the place where I saw one the previous day. The location has a small patch of new growth pine trees and I sat just inside them and set up my tripod. I took out the camo netting and quickly draped it over myself to conceal my presence as best I could. Numerous small birds and squirrels scurried in the leaves around me, but I was determined to stay in position and wait for my target. Then came the telltale sounds of something large moving quickly through the underbrush to my right...

Turns out it wasn't something large, it was several large somethings. Further down the trail, a group of whitetail deer had been spooked and were barreling towards me. Once they reached the trail off to my right, they froze and began looking behind them for whatever scared them. Unfortunately for me, that was the worst position for the deer to approach due to the small trees hiding me. There was no way for me to reposition without drawing the attention of the herd and ruining this potential opportunity. All I could do was wait and pray that the deer would walk into my cameras field of view.

After sitting motionless for what seemed like forever, it happened. The group began grazing away happily and wandered right where I needed them to. They moved randomly back and forth while I sat hidden in my makeshift blind taking photo after photo.

They would occasionally look in my direction due to the shutter noise, but they didn't seem overly concerned and would go back to eating as soon as I stopped shooting.

Once they moved far enough away, I quietly packed up my gear and slipped away from them. They never knew I was there, and hopefully they will still be in the area when I return. Even though I didn't achieve my goal, I came away with an amazing experience and some photos that I'm happy with. I doubt the bird would have given me the same adrenaline rush as a group of stampeding deer anyways. I also learned that I shouldn’t limit myself to only one area of view, if possible. Sure, it worked out ok this time, but the deer could have easily walked further to the right and out of sight. You should always expect the unexpected in the outdoors. But at the end of the day, this trip reaffirmed my love for wildlife photography, and wildlife in general. And I'm never leaving home without that camo netting again.

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