Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Taking to the Valley

No religious extremist has ever been as fanatical about a concept as quail are over the posting of sentries.  In covey society, forgetting to have someone stand guard is like wearing an argyle sweater vest - it's the unthinkable.  Spanish Inquisitors took Christianity far less seriously, and appear slapdash in comparison to the diligence of these feathered lookouts.

Gambel's Quail - Rural - Old Fence

Where I live, quail are somewhat of a dichotomy because they adapt well to urban settings.  In residential areas birds are semi-tame as they move from feeder to feeder, pausing only to avoid the occasional obese house cat crossing their path.  As subjects of photography, these city dwellers are far from ideal.  Photos of game birds perched on a Prius or crossing a well-manicured lawn don't represent the proper wild, upland heritage.

Unfortunately for me, quail living in a rural setting are more paranoid than a methamphetamine addict that's just downed a double espresso and Red Bull frappĂ©.  Constantly contending with numerous raptors, coyotes, bobcats, skunks, racoons, snakes, and other predators - the wild variety invariably appear to be on the verge of a psychotic break.

Upon seeing a hominid in the distant atmospheric shimmer, a rural quail's eyes will protrude slightly out of the head and cause a jolt of adrenaline to surge to the wings. Any attempt to approach to within 100 yards will result in the wholesale evacuation of the premises.

Last year I scouted a really nice farm that had both a healthy quail covey and some classic upland habitat including some fences made of nicely weathered wood.  My hope was to get a few shots of these birds in an iconic setting, but despite making 4 separate attempts, the covey never let me get closer than a football field.  Even with a long lens, my operating distance on a subject this size is about 25 feet.  I wasn't even in the ballpark.

Last weekend I visited the location again.  It's a 2-hour round trip, so I had now driven a total of about 10 hours and this was my 5th day in what had so far been a fruitless attempt to stalk this group of quail.  I was immediately excited as I glassed an area and saw my quarry disappearing behind a 4-foot-high fence.  This was the obstacle I needed to screen my approach from the watchful eyes of the 20 covey members.  In full camo and in max stealth mode I performed what I thought was a flawless stalk and got into position.  Somehow they busted me yet again!  I can only surmise they heard me, but upon peeking around the fence all the birds were in the air 200 yards away heading for an immense field of cattails...

Except one.  The sentry male had taken up the rear guard position, perched on a section of broken fence.  In a fleeting moment of opportunity I made a digital copy of him from about 25 feet away.  I was glad to finally glimpse this this well-dressed gentleman through the viewfinder.

Gambel's Quail - Rural - Barnwood

Monday, November 28, 2011


Preen - transitive verb
  1. To dress or smooth oneself - to primp.
  2. To groom
  3. A tactic used by the female in a dating arrangement to grievously delay commencement of an evening's planned activities - to lag.
OK, so #3 isn't verbatim from the dictionary - but it falls within the bounds of literary license.

I couldn't help but notice in the process of capturing this image of a preening mallard hen that a rather impatient-looking drake was paddling back and forth a short distance away.  In the land of ducks, he was essentially in the formal entry checking his watch every 30 seconds because his reservations at the corn field clear across town were in 10 minutes.  Of course he had shown up half an hour earlier at the agreed upon time, but had failed to take into account that preening can only begin upon his arrival.  Few things, after all, are more deflating to a lady than a stale preen job.

Preening Hen

I was fortunate to have this hen swim very near to me during a window of wonderful light on Saturday.  The distance to her from the end of my camera lens was perhaps 6 feet.  Shooting at 8x optical magnification, what you see here filled the frame.

After she was all primped:

Hen Mallard

Sunday, November 27, 2011

To Flush or not to Flush

...that is the question.

Shooting through foliage is usually not ideal, but chukar partridge are fiendish birds with a natural inclination toward sneakiness.  It is not uncommon for a photographer to make loud, rattling sounds with the throat that carry at least as far as alpine yodels after being very close to a large covey and getting no shots whatsoever.

The unpredictability of wild subjects will at times preclude the ability to move and recompose.  In these cases, foreground foliage can be used as an element to draw the viewer to an area of crisp focus.  When using this technique, it's critical to achieve a high amount of detail in the area of interest.  Catch light in the eye and sharpness throughout the bird's mask and head grab attention, while also leaving something to the imagination.

Despite spending the morning in the general proximity of around 40 birds, this was the only opportunity that panned out.  I'll be chasing them again.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nothing but Net

For about the last quarter century Wachter has been cranking out hand-made fly fishing nets down in St. Paul, Texas.  About 2 years ago I was poking around online looking for a combination of features that I hadn't found locally.
  • I wanted a mid-length handle.  It needed to be longer than all the typical trout nets made to hang neatly from the back of a fishing vest, but not as long as the usual boat style.
  • My goal was to find a slightly over sized hoop without infringing on portability.
  • The bag needed to be tangle-free, hook resistant, and difficult for a fish to twist while netted.
  • An individual look rather than a sterile, manufactured appearance - but without being too expensive.
  • Made in the USA.
I happened upon Wachter and found a model called the Magnum Pontoon that was exactly what the doctor ordered.  On top of the fundamentals I was nosing around for, they had one in stock with a beautiful curly maple handle...

Wachter Nets - Magnum Pontoon Net

This has turned out to be my all-time favorite net.  The proportions were ideal - perfect for extra reach on the pontoon, but short enough that it easily holsters in a wading belt without getting in the way.  The PVC net bag is sufficiently rigid to avoid twisting, and it's easy on the fish.  Wachter also has a new MRB (Molded Rubber Bag) option in addition to their injection-molded PVC that's lighter and more flexible.

Actually I don't even get to fish with my Magnum Pontoon about half the time, because anglers are an unscrupulous lot who think nothing of snatching up a companion's net and darting off at speeds that risk a groin pull.

Since my initial purchase, I've since added a couple more of these beautiful nets to the gear bag.  Plenty of custom woods and options are available.


Wachter Nets - Custom Engraving


Wachter Nets - Custom Scrimshaw

Measuring dots every 2-inches on the longer handles:

Wachter Nets - Measure Dots

A variety of woods like this maple burl:

Wachter Nets - Brace - Myrtle Burl

UV-protected, 6-step marine-grade finish:

Wachter Nets - Handle - Myrtle Burl

Net prices start at $60 for the Outfitter series, and both Guide and Master grades are offered.  You can order a completely custom net, or take a look at models which are available for purchase immediately here:

In Stock Wachter Nets

If you get one, choose your fishing buddies carefully.

Friday, November 11, 2011


At one time in my younger days I hunted upland birds without a dog, and consequently went about life largely unfulfilled.  Part of this may have been due to the fact that my father, in response to vehement requests for a sporting breed, obtained a beagle/fox terrier mix.  In the field this dog's primary talent was turning into a linear motion blur and racing off until he was concealed by the curvature of the Earth.

One can only speculate as to why Dad chose to deprive his posterity of gun dogs, when he himself was raised with a brace of Brittany Spaniels.  My theory is that it had something to do with excessive intake of maple nut ice cream - a bastardized confection he purchased with reckless abandon during my childhood.  Essentially the frozen dairy equivalent of fruitcake, maple nut should ideally be re-gifted during the holiday season and never consumed.  Yet eat it my father did, and in so doing caused irreparable damage to the petulla oblongata, or pet-selecting portion of the brain.

Regardless, I soon reached an age when I could apply the guillotine choke when parental objections were raised and immediately set about the procurement of a proper canine companion.  Dogs in the field have since become the element of upland hunting I enjoy the most.


It was great to be out on a sunny, Fall day.  Thanks to the pups a few wily phez found their way into the vests along with a limit of chukars.  It doesn't get much better than putting boot to cover with a 4-legged friend leading the way and a well-balanced over/under in hand.  11-11-11 worked out nicely.

Wild Ringneck & Beretta 686 Onyx O/U