Category Archives: Trip Reports

Rocky Mountain Arsenal

mule-deer-monster

For the last couple of years, I have been on a quest for big mule deer bucks. Now, living in the West as I do, mule deer are absolutely everywhere. On every pasture, in every wheat field, along just about every dirt road through open lands, you will find Odocoileus hemionus. But thus far, monster sized mule deer have always alluded me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have been fortunate to have some incredible experiences chasing after this species each November. Crawling my way around the Wind River Range in four-wheel drive, hiking through the sagebrush of Grand Tetons National Park, or putting mile after mile under my tires cruising the endless labyrinth of dirt roads across Montana. There are still so many places left across Wyoming and Montana for me to search.

In the meantime, I found myself down in Denver picking up a 1991 fj80 Land Cruiser (AKA cool old truck) to bring back to Bozeman and decided to check out a place I have heard much fanfare about: Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Situated along the eastern edge of Denver and the northern edge of Aurora, this National Wildlife Refuge is, well, a bit more urban of an experience than I am used to. Now that is not to say that it is in the middle of the city, but let it suffice to say that the Denver skyline sits as the backdrop to the west, and a sprawling sports complex to the south.

Upon entering the refuge, I was immediately greeted with a black tailed prairie dog town, complete with chunky rodents running all over the place. Per the refuge biologist, this prairie dog town is also home to a couple of black footed ferrets – one of the most endangered species of mammals on the planet.

At first I was a bit disappointed. This IS a National Wildlife Refuge we are talking about. This means expansive protected and exquisitely managed land for maximum wildlife. And complete with little white signs everywhere stating Unauthorized Entry Prohibited. But then the deer began to appear.

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Shorebirds and Super Storms in Cape May

Growing up along the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, I have always had a fascination with shorebirds. Maybe it’s the difficulty that most birders have in identifying these little guys. It could of course be the hilarious behavior of some species like the sanderling that scurries up and down the beach with the ebb and flow of each wave. The biogeek inside of me is definitely fascinated with the migration of these little birds and how that so many nest along the Arctic plain only to winter as far south as Argentina. Then of course there is the amazing bio-mechanics of these little guys that allows them to nearly double their body weight in a matter of a couple weeks of hard feeding, jump into the wind, and fly nearly non-stop for a few thousand miles before needing to lay over and refuel again for a couple of weeks as they hop scotch their way along the lengths of entire continents. Whatever it is that draws me to these little puff balls of feathers and pure kinetic energy, also makes this race of birds one of my favorite to photograph.

I have been up at the Audubon’s Cape May Birding Festival this weekend – that is until I was forced to evacuate for super storm Sandy. Though I was in Cape May specifically to work the show, like everyone else working the event, I was also looking to get out into the field as much as possible to catch the epic number of birds that can be found here this time of year.

As it would turn out, much of our time was spent working one of the jetties where Lapland longspurs and purple sandpipers were held up. Along with these unique species, there were of course a number of shorebirds (other than the sandpiper) here as well such as ruddy turnstones, semipalmated plovers, and sanderlings. Naturally, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to photograph these highly habituated shorebirds while I was here!

There were quite a few photographers on the beach with me – naturally considering the event. Watching how others were photographing the birds out along the beach, I couldn’t help but to think how that so many of them were greatly limiting themselves in terms of what they could capture and communicate with their photographs due to their approach. So with this in mind, I want to share some of what I believe to be some very important concepts when it comes to photographing shorebirds like this.

 Shorebirds Primer

When photographing shorebirds, the first thing you need to keep in mind is that you absolutely must get low. This is a crucial part to photographing little birds like this. Sure, the same argument can be made for photographing any species of wildlife. However, the basic concept behind this is that you want to be at least eye level with your subject. Considering how small these shorebirds are then, that means that you will create your most pleasing photographs while lying flat on your belly.

This is a huge obstacle for many people. Most folks don’t want to get sandy. Most people don’t want to just plop down in the sand or on the rocks with the face inches away from the cold ground. I’m here to tell you though that as long as you are physically able to do it, get over your inhibition right now. Its only holding you back in many ways.

Now photographing from this position with a big lens means that you need a way to support your equipment while down low. Some photographers opt for laying their tripod in the sand and resting their lens on the legs. Others, such as myself, use tripods without a center column which therefore allows you to spread your tripod legs out and drop the entire tripod right down to the ground. Others prefer to use special ground pods – both purchased and homemade.

Like I mentioned above, I use a tripod without a center column specifically so I can use it to get really low to the ground. With that said though, I also use ground pods in certain situations – especially those that I can plan for. Ground pods are great because you can literally slide the entire contraption around on the ground to stay in place with your subject. 

I use a homemade ground pod that is nothing more than a Frisbee with a 2×4 cut to fit laying inside of it with a bolt for my tripod head to screw onto. You can obviously make this yourself pretty easily. Or of course you can pay $200 for one also. Regardless of what you do, these are a great tool to have in this situation. This particular morning, I just simply dropped my tripod to the ground.

Getting low like this of course does put you right at eye level with your subject. It also allows you to control the background with these little guys. Background is key in wildlife photography and is just as important as light and subject matter. Getting low like this allows you to include, exclude, completely blur out, or keep your background in focus. Its your choice when you get down low like this and that’s what its all about: CONTROL.

The other thing you want to keep in mind when working shorebirds is simply patience. Shorebirds flitter around. They will jump with a wave, fly 50 feet away, and then often come back again. They move around. They are about as frenetic of a species as there is. The key is to find an area that several different species are all working. This usually means that there is a large and diverse food source here – which of course is a good thing since all animals in the world are driven by just two things: food and sex.

Once this location is located, which with this bird was a section of the jetty that wasn’t being consistently bombarded with waves, I set up my camera, lay down, and wait. As the birds acclimate to you, they will go about their feeding seemingly oblivious to you. You will know it when you have been accepted as you might have birds just 3 feet from your lens. This happened several times while photographing on the jetty this morning. Sometimes it is of course necessary to move with the birds. But more often than not, you will find that if you chose an appropriate location, the birds will consistently come right back to you.

The images I chose to accompany this post about photographing shorebirds is of a ruddy turnstone practicing its morning yoga on the Second Avenue Jetty in Cape May, a close up portrait of another turnstone, and a very plump little semipalmated plover. 

Also posted in Wildlife Photography

Wild Horses of the Crystal Coast Trip Report

 

I’m sitting here at a desk in a condo overlooking the Beaufort NC waterfront. The sun will be setting soon, that rich golden light is beginning to dance upon the water, and across Taylor’s Creek I can see two horses lazily making their way along the beach toward the complex of salt marsh and exposed oyster beds that these two particular horses seem to favor. I have taken to calling them Romeo and Juliet. While the rest of the herd functions as one coherent group, making their way in unison around these islands, Romeo and Juliet seem to operate with a certain degree of self-imposed ostracism from the group. Yeah, I’ve come to know these horses pretty well over the years.

Yesterday we finished up this year’s October installment of my Crystal Coast trip and I wanted to give folks something of a trip report.

This year’s trip was a bit different than those in the past. With a new moon working its magic on the tides overhead, several days of north winds prior to the workshop, and an approaching cold front the tides this week have been truly outrageous here. A new moon creates what we call a Spring tide, which is the highest of astronomical tides throughout the month. A north wind along the Outer Banks, while draining the back island sounds of water further north, in turn flood the sounds and surrounding islands along the Crystal Coast. An approaching cold front only adds to the phenomenon by sweeping in strong northwest winds and further flooding the landscape. The result? Areas where we normally photograph horses were sitting several feet underwater!

Despite this small set back however, we still had an incredible week of photographing “Down East.” Some of the unique highlights that were non-horse related from the trip came in on the first and last mornings. The first morning was filled with a beautiful sunrise on the water that we experienced and photographed from the boat, followed by a session at the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (accessible only be boat!). Horses of course entered the lineup, as did a great session at Bird Shoal photographing the brown pelican rookery with a Birds in Flight 101 lesson for everybody. On our way back in, we were detained for half an hour by a massive pod of coastal bottlenose dolphins.

The last morning of the workshop, the cold front had finally blown into the area and temperatures had dropped nearly 20 degrees with a stout 20+ mph wind to boot. We worked the complex of islands known collectively as the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve that morning. As to be expected with a big front like this, the horses were tucked away deep inside of the maritime forest, while mind bending numbers of birds had descended upon the area over night with the front. We had the opportunity to photograph the largest group of black skimmers I have ever seen in my life! We estimated that there were between 3 and 5 hundred on one little shoal. After our bout with the skimmers we changed gears completely and headed into the Croatan National Forest where we photographed the carnivorous Venus Flytrap, Yellow Pitcher Plant, two different species of Sundews, and several different orchids that were blooming in the longleaf pine savannas. The Venus Flytrap only grows within an 80 mile radius of the city of Wilmington and nowhere else on Earth. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for folks to see and photograph something like this in the wild.

All in all this was an awesome trip that was punctuated with some great diversity in photographic subjects! 

Jackson Hole – Day 5

After getting my fill of landscapes the day before, it was time to go hunting for moose again! As moose tend to prefer wetlands, here in Jackson Hole the riparian habitats (river bottoms) are the key areas to search for moose. The snake river offers photographers some amazing opportunities to photograph moose. However, working this river requires some big logistics as this stretch of the valley is big, long, and difficult to access. The rewards however are scenes and backgrounds that you will not find elsewhere in the valley when it comes to moose. Unfortunately, time was not on my side for making this happen this trip (on workshops we do a float trip down the snake for this very reason).

Since the Snake was out of the question, the obvious substitute was the Gros Ventre river (pronounced grow-vant). This river is a classic braided river in which sediment loads are so large that gravel bars form across the river bottom which effectively divides the main flow into multiple channels. Along many of these old bars grow thick stands of willow which in this region stand as one of the preferred foods of moose. With a large number of bulls and cows living along the Gros Ventre, and the ease of access for photographers, this river is a hot spot for moose photography. Most photographers never venture more than 50 yards from their vehicles and therefore miss out out much of the action. If you are willing to get your feet wet and do a little hiking around, you can quickly leave the crowds behind here – much like the Snake.

In this image, I followed the bull on the right for nearly 2 miles. From his behavior it was quite obvious that he had no interest in food. With head held high and soft grunts that reminded me of the cooing that tundra swans make when they are all clustered together while pair bonding, and a steady pace above the bank of the river through the sagebrush, it was obvious that he had something else on his mind. Really the only time that he would stop was to toss his head back into the air and roll back his upper lip in what is known as the flehmen response. Ungulates, or hoofed mammals, have a vomeronasal organ (also known as the Jacobson’s organ) in the roof of their mouths which is basically a chemoreceptor that picks up pheromones in the air. In behaving this way, my bull was basically trying to taste the air for cows or potential threats from other nearby bulls.

Working with animals that are on a mission is next to impossible. Moose are big and dangerous, especially when in the rut like this. Trying to jockey in front of the bull to capture some head on images proved almost futile and therefore the best thing to do was to just keep up.

Dropping back down into the river bottom, his pace began to slow. Twenty yards from a dense stand of willow growing along the edge of the river, he stopped cold. He stood motionless for a minute and it was then that I realized he had stopped his strange grunting noise. It was obvious that he was fixated on something unseen by me. Suddenly, his ears lowered to the side and protruded horizontally from his head. With this most subtle of body language, I knew that there was another bull approaching, though still out of site to me.

I heard a rustle come from the willows and suddenly another bull, quite larger than the one I had been following, materialized from the vegetation. Both stood broadside to each other, displaying their size in hopes to intimidate the opponent. In what seemed like a perfectly choreographed action, both bulls began rolling their heads and antlers in exaggerated fashion from side to side in perfect synchronicity. This was the ritualized dance that bulls partake in with each other leading up to battle royal. To read about this is one thing. To be knelt down 30 feet away and watch this with your own eyes and something completely different. There is much poetry involved in this ritualized behavior. The dance is beautiful to watch – both bulls walking parallel to each other, antlers swaying in unison, slowly closing the gap until turning to face each other nose to nose. Such elegance, yet potentially so deadly for those who choose to partake in this dance.

It was obvious who was the dominant bull today. Nearly a foot taller at the shoulders the defending bull would hold his ground and his cows today, as the invading bull glanced away after several very suspenseful seconds  that felt like an eternity to me as an onlooker. With that avoided glance, he showed that he recognized the authority of the defending bull and his claim to the cows that stood watching down below. With the grace of the greatest of kings, the dominant bull allowed the other to walk away from the challenge without aggression. That’s how you know who was the real bad ass here!

Jackson Hole Day 4

Ok, so I know that this blog entry is skipping a day. Lets just say that while in Jackson, I stay pretty busy! As a disclaimer to this series of Wyoming posts I should note that I was working around the schedule of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival as well as other business related necessities. Snow had fallen in the valley for nearly 24 hours straight. I was told that this was an early season dusting. To me however, I was looking at between 3 and 8 inches of snow depending upon which end of the valley (north or south) that I was at. Along the coast of North Carolina, this sort of snow accumulation closes schools and businesses. They have probably considered air lifting in food for less than that on the Outer Banks!

Moving up in elevation however, the snow fall continued to pile up over the course of two days. The clouds stayed low, and completely enveloped the Grand Tetons. Photography over this course of time fluctuated back and forth between wildlife and intimate landscapes in the valley while I patiently waited for the storm to break over the mountains.

Waking up to a pre-dawn alarm I looked out the window and say one single solitary star shining in the west – the direction of the Tetons range. This was all I needed. Dashing out the door with equipment in hand I hopped into the rental and headed north to Oxbow Bend on the Snake river. In doing so, I knew very well that I would be passing up grizzly 399 and her two cubs feeding on an elk carcass behind Signal Mountain. I knew that I would passing up some incredible images of bull moose in the snow covered sage brush down along the Gross Ventre river. I also knew that this was a complete gamble. One star in the sky over the southern end of the valley does not by any means guarantee anything up north!

For me though, I knew there was a possibility to photograph the often photographed oxbow reflections with a slightly different twist than is typically seen from that location. The potential for fresh snow, aspens on fire, and a parting storm, though a complete gamble, was too much for me to pass up. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling on where to be in the morning. Like any gamble though you will find mixed results. For me though, I am a firm believer that chance favors the prepared mind!

You have to remember, the Tetons are very photogenic! This means that they receive a whole lot of attention from photographers nearly everyday of the year. Luckily though, the vast majority of these photographers shoot from the same spots and typically try to imitate what has already been done a ten million times before. With this in mind, you just need to approach locations like these with a different vision, and be willing to explore the landscape.

Jackson Hole – day 2

As forecasted, temperatures continued to fall throughout the night, and precipitation moved into the region in the form of snow. As to be expected, wildlife activity really jumped into gear with this new weather pattern.

Like a kid stuck in school, I set staring out the window all morning long as we hashed out details and logistics for this upcoming winter’s Yellowstone photography workshops by snowmobile. All day I watched as the snow continued to pile up and those romantic big fat flakes blanketed the world in white. Finally, with all the details set into stone, I was able to rush out of the cabin for a late afternoon shoot.

One of the classic images of this time of year are the golden leaves of aspens juxtoposed against snow capped mountains as fall snow storms in the higher elevations are a common occurrence. With the snow still coming down however, the mountains were socked with and sweeping landscapes were out of the question. Wildlife was abundant, and moose were out in force, but I had aspens on the brain and therefore bypassed several really great locations in order to head up into the Gross Ventre range for some intimate landscapes.

Aspens really must be one of the most beautiful trees in North America. There is just something about those stark white stems with contrasting black eyes and speckles that has always fascinated me. Couple this with the way that these trees often grow in dense groves, and you have a recipe for some really unique opportunities that allow for your creativity to run wild!

Jackson Hole – Day 1

Ever wonder why in Yellowstone and Jackson Hole that the only animals you typically see during most of the day in the summer are bison and pronghorn? This is due to the these animals ability to thermoregulate. Thermoregulation is basicaly your ability to control your body temerpature. Sure, this is one of the distinct characteristics that all mammals have in contrast to, say, reptiles (except for the leatherback sea turtle). Though mammals can control their body temperatures, some are more adapted at surviving the head and direct effect of the sun than others. Much of this has to do with animals ability to cool their brains, and how long that such animals have been exposed to such environments throughout their evolutionary history.

Cervids, or the deer family, are one of those groups of animals that cannot tolerate high temperatures and are what we call crepuscular in nature. Meaning, they are active at dusk and dawn primarily for this reason. This is why in Yellowstone and Jackson hole elk, moose, dear are few and far between except for at dawn and dusk. Its the same thing with bears as well. Many animals respond to the warming temperatures by either hiding on day beds (moose) or otherwise moving up in elevation to where they can follow the Spring up above tree line (grizzly).

As I began to plan for this years trip to Jackson Hole for the fall rut, temperature was therefore heavy on my mind. An unseasonably warm spell had settled over the region and temps had climbed as high as 80 the day before I arrived in town. Speaking with other photographers that were in Yellowstone, my fears had been confirmed that wildlife was few and far between. Luckily however, my first full day in the valley was forcasted to see a major change in weather patterns as temps were to begin dropping.

When it comes to Jackson Hole and Grand Tetons National Park, the first thing I think of in terms of wildlife photography is moose. Its the name of one of the towns in the valley and even the symbol of this national park. Thus, when I come to Jackson for photography, moose are usually first on my list to search for. Unfortunately though, the Jackson Hole population has begun to crash over the last 10 years with a population size diminishing from nearly 3,000 individuals to 970.

A lot of speculation has circulated in regards to what has caused this sort of rapid and alarming decline and much of it falls on to the shoulders of a rising population of predators in the valley. Wolves and grizzly bears are a hot topic in the northern Rockies and many are looking to place blame on these animals making their living in the area. Studies done by both the state of Wyoming and Minnesota (which lost an entire population of 4,000 in the northwestern corner of the state) however are pointing towards a general trend in moose decline which has nothing to do with predation.

One of the key factors now being studied in these declines is in fact a general warming trend in temperatures throughout the moose states. Moose are a species of the north, there is no doubt about that. With the long hollow hairs and thick insulating undercoat that these animals carry around, even calves do not begin to feel the effects of cold until temps drop to negative 22 degrees. On the other hand, at 57 degrees adults begin to show signs of heat stress and at 68 degrees they have to begin panting to cool themselves down. With summer time temperatures in places like Jackson Hole now inching their way up the 90s at times during the summer months, could this be making the moose more susceptible to disease or having lower birth rates? As of right now, we do not have an answer to that question. What we do know however, is that based upon calf and cow survival rates, predation can be ruled out as a factor tipping the scales.

With the drop in temperatures down to the mid 50s as a high my first day in the park, this proved to be the spark that was needed to ignite the action all through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Moose, elk, black bears, grizzly bears, etc. . . all responded as predictably.

This bull moose came up out of the willow thickets down along the Gros Ventre river with his harem of three cows just before dawn and spent the majority of the morning feeding on rabit brush. Though I had scouted a larger bull that day, this one had the seclusion to allow me to work for hours on end without crowds. In terms of the experience, it doesn’t get better than that!

 

Crystal Coast Wild Horse Photography Workshop

Its been a busy couple of weeks. Went down to South Carolina to photograph waterfowl for a few days, returned home and unpacked only to repack the following day and leave out on a 3 day workshop down along the Crystal Coast. Despite the face that it is Feburary, we had some absolutely amazing weather. The first day was spent on the boat working with the horses of Shackleford Banks. Not only did we have horses feeding out on the marsh islands but we had LOADS of bottle nosed dolphins with us seemingly the entire time. We first stopped to photograph the dolphins in what we call channel leading out of the inlet. These guys were feeding pretty heavily along the edge of what we call The Drain over the shoals. Afterwords when we headed out into the ocean to shoot horses walking along the beach, we were greeted by probably another 20 that put on a show for us all around the boat.

The following day was spent over at Carrot Island photographing horses in the tidal flats and along the edge of Bird Shoal where we had a fantastic day. Quite surprisingly the was a new born foal on the island which we spent quite a bit of time following around. Interestingly there was also a foal over on Shackleford as well. This is completely different behavior that what we see up my way on Carova Beach with the wild horses. Our foaling season really doesn’t begin until May, though we will see some foals as early as April. Here it is mid February and these little guys were already about a month old! What a difference the climate makes when you drop south of Cape Hatteras along these islands.

Shenandoah Scouting Trip

A lot of people overlook Shenandoah National Park when it comes to photographing fall foliage and whitetails in the Southern Appalachians. Most make a headway right down (or over) to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and completely miss out on this place. As a wildlife photographer, I often times think first in terms of what the available wildlife is to photograph and the setting in which I can photograph them in. Shenandoah is one of those areas however that I think of landscapes first, and wildlife second.

Now don’t get me wrong. The wildlife is most certainly there. You are likely to find whitetail pretty much anywhere in this park. One place in particular that you need not overlook is Big Meadows. This place takes on an almost Yellowstone in the fall or arctic tundra in August sort of feel. Big Meadows is filled with a low growing blueberry bushes that form a tussock like habitat. These blueberry bushes are either stunted by the growing conditions or more likely, they are kept cut back by the constant browsing of the whitetail deer in this area. Either way, this time of the year the meadow turns a beautiful crimson red and gold. The red of the blueberry bushes in the fall spreads out across Big Meadows like Autumns fingers reaching out to grasp the landscape. And for this reason, photographing whitetail in Shenandoah gives you an opportunity that cannot be found in Cades Cove down in the far more popular Smokys.

In only one of these photographs can you see the blueberry that I am talking about in the foreground. The colors were just beginning to pop out. This trip to Shenandoah was not exactly a planned one and therefore it did not time with the key fall colors and peak of the deer rut. Instead, I was out that way photographing a wedding and just couldn’t justify NOT driving up the mountain to scout things out for the end of the month when I return. One day in this park just does not cut it.

Also posted in Wildlife Photography

Wild Horses, Workshops, and Wind

Friday was perfect. Calm winds, blue skies, comfortable temperatures, and a general sense of euphoria prevailed. Standing upon the bow of the boat I watched as thousands of dogfish (smallish sharks) swam into the estuary to breed. Even a loggerhead sea turtle made its seasonal debut to the region right beside our boat. Thus far from what I could gather back in town, this was the first one to be seen this season. The object of our interests this day however were wild horses.

With each workshop that I conduct, especially those off the Outer Banks or ones that require logistical planning such as boats or pilots, I will typically spend a couple of days scouting out the area ahead of time so that way when the customers arrive I have a solid two days worth of personal knowledge of the exact locations and conditions that we will be photographing. This of course saves time, and allows me to put folks right where they need to be in order the get the most out of such trips.

Despite photographing the Shackleford Banks horses numerous times before, I make it a policy to scout before hand. This workshop was no different. After a 30 minute boat ride across Back Sound and up through the notoriously treacherous shoals of The Drain, the horses where exactly where I expected them to be. With the immense strength of the tides around this area, shoals and channels have a tendency to change on a regular basis, and you can pretty much go to the bank on the fact that the winter storms will have dramatically reshaped some aspect of these inlets and the surrounding areas.

Witch a check of the tides and a slow cautious approach we throttled up in between several shoals that were now exposed about 3 feet above the waters edge. Hundreds of horseshoe crabs had stranded themselves upon the shoal to keep from washing out with the tides, and had begun to bury themselves in the sand to save themselves from baking to death in the relentless heat of the sun. Horses stood on one of the islands gorging themselves with the fresh spring growth of the spartina while other bands could be seen throughout the area following suite.

Upon beaching the boat and throwing out the anchor onto dry sand, we preceded to make our way along of the shoals across from the horses. The better part of the day was spent chest deep in the water, lenses and cameras on tripods, photographing horses walking the precarious banks of oysters and browsing their way two and from the waters edge. At last, what had been waiting so patiently for, and what these horses are so notorious for, the harem began the arduous swim across the swift moving channels to greener pastures.

As luck would have it however, over night everything changed dramatically. Winds that were blowing out of the Northeast switched around to the Southwest and came barreling down on us with 20-30mph and gusts up to 40. NOAA issued a small craft advisory for the area and the pilot of the boat that we were using made decided to err on the side of caution and informed us that it was just too windy to accomplish our goals for Saturday. Well the last thing I wanted was for my customers to have to sit around for an entire day with nothing to do and pay for an extra nights hotel room. Thus, we switched plans to photograph a different population of wild horses in vicinity. Just a short hop by boat from Beaufort we were put off onto Carrot Island which is part of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Preserve and home to around 50 or so horses. Though these horses have a completely different linage, history, ancestry, etc, from the Shackleford horses, they are quite the stunning and regal in physique.

The situation to change locations proved to be fantastic. I have explored Carrot Island both by foot and by kayak before and therefore had a pretty good idea of where some of the better locations for find horses would be. A short hike of about a mile down the beach led us right to a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. In the interior tidal flats we found roughly 40 or so horses grazing in one spot. As wild horses making a living on islands, harems generally consist of only one stallion and 2-4 mares. Thus, we were looking at probably 7 – 10 separate bands. This of course being spring time and therefore breeding season, the air was electric with the nervous energy and tension between the stallions being in such close proximity with each other. Action was an inevitability.

Here are a couple environmental portraits from the days shoot at Carrot. The beauty of the day in my opinion though actually turned out to be the wind – the very thing that threatened to kill the day for us. Without the wind, we would have bypassed this great situation all together. Most of all, the wind added a whole new dimension to the photographs that just weren’t there before – that is manes, tails, sand, and water all a drift in the near gale force winds. This extra dimension adds a more dramatic touch to the photographs. Though I created quite a few great action shots of horses fighting and intermingling, I am posting these due to the fact that they captured the essence of the wind, which of course, is indeed the grand orchestrator of life for all of us who choose to live by the edge of the sea.

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