Where the wild things are

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My parents spend winters in Florida and summers at my childhood home in the Adirondacks. At the end of April, my 76-year-old dad planned to drive their car north, playing golf along the way. Worried about my dad on the road by himself, my mother recruited me to accompany him on the multi-day road trip. There was only one problem: I’m not a golfer. I would much rather take photos of a tiny black mole than finesse a white ball into a small numbered hole.
Any top wildlife photographer will tell you that in order to get publishable images, you have to study your subject. If you know its habitat and its habits, you can get in position at the ideal moment to capture the photograph you want. You might also need a blind or another way to camouflage yourself depending on the species. I agree, but I don’t always have that luxury nor do I need it.
On the trip with my dad, I had no idea where we would be stopping along the way and thus no clue what animals I might see through my lens. I also had little control over the time of day I would be able to take pictures. At that point, most pros would put their cameras away, but I considered it a valuable opportunity to photograph a few creatures that I would normally never see.
But where to find the wild things?
Go to water, any water. All birds and animals need water to survive. They live in it, above it, and beside it; or they visit it.
The species I see on my unplanned visits to a body of water might not be exotic or rare. They might be undesirable invasive species like European starlings or house sparrows, but they all have a place in my stock file. Once in awhile, I snap the shutter on something unusual. In truth, the invasives and common creatures sell better.
On my trip north with my father, our first stop during daylight hours was golf mecca Myrtle Beach, N.C. On the map, I noticed a sizable public green space called Huntington Beach State Park on the southern end of the 50-mile Grand Strand beach resorts. A quick Google search revealed the state park was a well-known birding spot. Bingo!
Huntington Beach State Park was a photographer’s bonanza. I found boardwalks into a classic saltwater marsh, a series of nature trails through lush coastal woodlands, and a swath of wild dunes along a sandy beach — three different habitats in one spot.
Though my dad’s golf schedule allowed only an hour there at high noon, I was able to take nice images of several American alligators (which I desperately needed because I get requests for alligator photos at least twice per year). I also photographed great egrets; male and female boat-tailed grackles, which only exist along the southeastern Atlantic coast and the Gulf of Mexico; a painted bunting; and a black-faced tern diving for its lunch.
The next day, while my dad made shots toward colored pins in the middle of manicured greens, I shot impromptu images of turtles beside a greenish pond behind our hotel.
I’ve had similar experiences in other parts of the country. Last summer, while my sweetheart was on an assignment near the Upper Henry’s Fork River in Idaho, I took our canoe and floated a stretch of it. The river was filled with tourists on rafts, but I still got some impressive photos of gulls, a couple of duck species, a beaver, osprey nesting and in flight, and cormorants drying themselves, flying and on the water. A cormorant image is now on a calendar, I sold some of the osprey shots to two magazines, and both birds provided fodder for my blog on AudubonGuides.com.
One March, during a spur-of-the-moment drive into Yellowstone National Park, I stopped by the Lamar River. Large patches of snow covered the rocky banks and exposed sections of riverbed, but a flight of mountain bluebirds merrily hopped across the snow and on the smooth rocks. Totally unplanned, I got my favorite bluebird shot that day. It has since appeared in the photo issue of Colorado Outdoors and on a calendar.
On a canal near my parent’s condo in Florida, I’ve shot ibis, huge iguanas, tiny lizards, invasive starlings, and baby ducklings. I’ve sold each of their photos at one time or another.
Last summer in the Adirondacks, while canoe-camping with my family, I discovered a loon with two newborn chicks near our campsite.
What luck! Not really. I knew there would be wildlife because of the water. Water is where the wild things are.♦
OWAA board member and photo section chair Lisa Densmore is an award-winning photographer from Hanover, N.H., who contributes words and images to more than 30 publications each year. See more wildlife images at www.Densmore Designs.com and read her blog at www.AudubonGuides.com.

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