Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Whack-A-Mole and the Big Splash

B & W Hummer, Processed for Texture
Yeah, I fell out of my kayak.  I learned a couple of interesting things.  It is possible to be embarrassed when you’re alone, for one.  Also, when landing a kayak on a rocky lake shore (as opposed to a boat ramp) its best to keep your paddle with you until you’ve climbed out.  I put mine on shore, drifted back out as I started to climb out, and then learned how quickly the lake deepened.  Points for having my phone (in my PFD pocket) in a Ziplock, anyway, and no real harm done.

Trout Pond, South Fork Ranch (Near our cabin)
Lisa, Kim, and I cooked this trip up after my October workshop with Scott Baxter at X-Diamond Ranch in the White Mountains of Eastern Arizona.  They teach hummingbird photography workshops together, and I thought the Ranch might be a nice place to do those in the summer.  When they talked about a scouting mission this year, I naturally invited myself along.  I’ve never photographed the little buggers with flash set-ups before, so I jumped at the chance to learn from the experts.  They were very generous about teaching and also have the gear.  I’m so very grateful for both.

G - Forces

The first day we had mostly single birds at our feeders, which was just as well for me since I was learning the ropes. I tried different settings and backgrounds (though I quickly found that I preferred plain white.)  We interspersed a visit to Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area.  There were indeed lots of hummers there but we were a bit frustrated that they weren’t interested in our feeders, painstakingly set up with backgrounds, cameras, and flashes.  They had their usual feeders on the visitor Center porch and weren’t going to leave.  Experiments shooting them on the porch were (ahem) interesting but not productive.


Thwarted, we returned to the Ranch and found a dozen or so birds zipping around one of the back porch feeders we’d left. We shared that spot that evening and the next morning for a very fruitful time.  It’s here that the process started to feel like Whack-A Mole. I was trying to hit the remote trigger to photograph two or more birds, separated in space (not overlapping) and in the same focal plane (so they’d all be in focus.)  These guys move fast. Typical of wildlife photography the ratio of images made to keepers is very high; upwards of 100:1. Still the process was fun, and in the end I felt that I’d learned quite a bit.  I was glad to have had the single-bird practice before the degree of difficulty increased with multiple birds.

"Bird Butt"
Here's an example of an outtake, of a "bird butt" photo as I was calling them.  I don't want to give the impression that I'd mastered this craft...

Lisa is a brand ambassador for Tamron.  She’d been praising their 150-600mm G2 lens for some time, so I rented one to try out with the birds.  It’s about half the weight and much smaller than my standard telephoto zoom lens (and about 85% less expensive), but these “super zooms” always present a trade-off in image quality and in that they gather less light.   The lens was shockingly sharp.  I’m tempted to pick one up for an upcoming international trip.

After a couple of nights at X-Diamond, Lurch and I struck out on our own and I took the Kayak out on a couple of lakes.  I’d never been to Fool Hollow (AZ) State Park before.  It’s an unfortunately busy place, even on weekdays, but a lovely lake.  I got out at dawn on the second day and saw a beaver, osprey fishing, and all manner of other birds.  Oddly there was no one else out at 5:00 AM.

Smoky Sunset at Fool Hollow Lake

I grabbed a few landscape shots there as well.

The last night I was at a familiar and favorite spot; Rock Crossing Campground, near Blue Ridge Reservoir in the Coconino National Forest.  For the third time I was there for the first significant rainfall of the year (late this year) and enjoyed watching the temperature drop 20 degrees and smelling the wet forest.  My last paddle at BRR was last September.  The lake was really low then, but is up 50 feet from that level now.  I laughed when after I launched, I spied a “No Parking” sign just above the water line and 30 feet out the submerged ramp from where I put in.  I also enjoyed getting much further upstream than I had before.

New stuff, failed and successful experiments, Whack-A-Mole, and time with friends.  It’s good to be back on the road again.

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