Up Oxbow Meadows - November 15, 2010

Howdy, Folks!

Well, I had sort of an interesting afternoon yesterday. I was able to get off work early (thanks to having worked a few hours on Sunday) and went down to Oxbow Meadows for the first time in quite a while. It was a glorious day... perfect weather, gentle breeze, nice clouds. And thanks to the time change, the sun was already low enough at 3pm to provide some warm raking light. After hiking thru the woods to one of the more 'out of the way' ponds, I found a nice spot on a knoll about three feet wide between a large tree and a narrow cut in the bank (deer, beaver and other critters use this little trough to access the pond). The knoll offered little cover but a good view... at that point I was not too worried about scaring any birds away, they heard me coming long before I got there (I flushed three egrets, a blue heron, a few anhingas and a dozen wood ducks... no matter how quiet you are, most of them hear you coming quite a ways off). The only guy who didn't leave was a kingfisher... these birds are not afraid of you, in fact they take their blue uniforms quite seriously, acting as woodland cops who sound the intruder alarm for everyone else. In the past I have actually had them follow me as I circled the pond, screeching loudly to announce my location to all. But today I think this one was more intent on catching dinner.

I sat down on the knoll and lowered the tripod and spread out the legs so that I could keep a low profile. I had all my camo duds on so the plan was to remain still, enjoy the day and hope that the birds came back. While waiting, I watched the kingfisher ... he repeatedly dove to the water to catch a fish, then retired to one of three favorite perches to eat. Unfortunately, these are not large birds so I wasn't able to get any good photos... my lens just isn't long enough. I did grab a few shots, but all that came up on the LCD was a vague blue birdish shape holding an elongated something or other in its beak. Maybe after some cropping in Photoshop an actual bird might show up, but I wasn't optimistic.

Then the egrets came back, all three of them. Not interested in fishing, they took to the treetops to dry their feathers. Finally, a lone wood duck arrived... he swam in from the other end of the pond, oblivious to my presence... probably not one of the birds I spooked on the way in. He was a pretty good distance away so I wasn't able to get a detailed shot of him, but given the trouble I've had stalking these shy and wary birds in the past, I feel lucky to have at least gotten close enough to see his plumage and distinctive red eyes.

At one point I heard something in the woods behind me. The deer usually come to drink in the late afternoon so I turned my attention to a small spit of land to my left which is where I've seen them exit the woods on previous occasions. Suddenly, a deer appeared... not on the spit, but crashing down the back side of the hill and taking a u-turn in the water and coming back up the little cut in the bank. Because of the height of that hill to my left, the deer couldn't actually see me until she was in the water and heading for the cut. She looked at me and stopped for a few seconds, waving her head back and forth with indecision, unable to decide if she should go back or just go ahead up the cut (which, no joke, would have put her within arm's reach). Finally, she came up the bank. I had squeezed off a couple of shots when she was in the water and coming toward me but as she got up in the cut, the camera wouldn't lock focus. I realized that my telephoto was still zoomed out and the minimum focus distance was about 6 feet... and she was closer than that! As she disappeared in the woods behind me, I heard more noise down on the water and turned in time to see a buck charging up the bank. This time I decided to forget about taking pictures and just get out of the way ... a doe was one thing, but pointy antlers just seemed like a bit too much of a risk, especially during mating season. Unfortunately, I was not sitting in a crouch, or even cross-legged... I was flat on my butt with my legs out in front of me under the tripod... no way I could get up in time, nothing to do but just sit there and hope to hell that the buck decided that chasing the doe was more important than defending his territory from a harmless photographer. Sitting down I was about a foot and a half shorter than him so perhaps he decided that I was not much of a threat... he ran past me up the cut and went on his way.

Once they returned to the woods behind me, they probably decided that being on the same side of the pond with an intruder was not such a good idea so they circled around, came down on the spit, and crossed the pond (I never realized that it was so shallow there... makes sense tho, I guess the spit just extends underwater to the other side). By that time I'd regained my composure enough to follow them across and squeeze off another dozen shots.

I almost went home at that point since the deer had pretty much scared off all the birds. But I hung around a while anyway, and pretty soon the kingfisher and egrets came back... even the wood duck came back. We all relaxed and enjoyed the peace and quiet until the light was gone.



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