Tag Archives: Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve

Fox Kits: A Little Luck and a Bit of Field Craft

When I visit my favorite photography areas I usually do a bit of scouting after I’ve made the shots I planned for. Last winter I came across a fox den while scouting. I made some mental notes of the location with plans to revisit it in the spring. A few evenings ago I was photographing wild horses. The horses were being less than animated and, honestly, I already have thousands of images of wild horses with their heads down feeding. The clouds in the sky weren’t overly interesting and I didn’t see the prospect for good sunset shots being very high either. With those considerations in mind I decided to call it an evening and head back to my kayak. However, I thought I’d go a bit out of my way and see if there was any sign of activity around the fox den. Activity there was!

As I slowly and quietly moved into a position where I could get a peak at the fox den I noticed the outline of a hear with pointy little ears through the tall glass. Not only was it an active den the kits were outside! The problem was from my location I didn’t have a clear view of the den. The den was hidden behind tall grass. To make matters work the sun was directly behind the den. The only chance I’d have to get a shot would require repositioning myself for a view of the den. Now foxes have a reputation for being shy, evasive animals. In my experience it’s an accurate reputation. In order to get a shot I’d have to move into a position where there was no cover and do so without spooking the little foxes. I figured my odds were low but I just had to give it a try.

First I noted the wind direction and plotted a course that would keep me down wind of the den. I looked at the route and could see that I would be out of view of the foxes… unless they moved up on top of the dune above their den. I set a goal of the to of a small dune about 150 or 200 feet from the den that would give me a clear view of the foxes. Upon reaching the spot I was a bit surprised to see the foxes were still outside the den. One stared intently at me as I sat very, very still. After what seemed like a long, cold stare the little mammal went back to business. For the next forty-five minutes to an hour I’d take a few shots, push my tripod and camera a foot or so in front of me, scoot up behind it and take a few more shots. Slowly I inched closer and closer to the kits. I managed to work within about one-hundred feet of the little guys before that light became too dim to shoot.

I’m a little surprised that I was able to get that close to these wild animals. I wasn’t inside a blind nor was I wearing camo. My clothes were earth tones but foxes, like other canidae, are color blind. The two things I had working in my favor was wind direction and the fact that the sun was directly behind me. Try looking directly into a low, setting sun and you’ll understand how difficult that can make things. I’ll check these images up to a small dose of apply field skills and a big helping of luck.

Wild fox kit in front of its den.

Fox kit on the Outer Bands

Foxe kits on the North Carolina coast.

A pair of young foxes in front of their den along the NC coast.

Fox kts.

Wild foxes at the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve

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The Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve’s Newest Resident

Because of the need to manage the herd size new additions are always a very special event. The births of new foals are few and far between. Born a few months ago, this little horse took his first few breaths as Mother Nature shared cold, snow and ice with Coastal Carolina. What a shock it must’ve been to trade the warmth of his mother’s womb for that icy cold winter world. During my first few trips to the reserve with the hope of finding and photographing him I had no luck. His mother was doing a good job of keeping him secluded from my camera and lens. As spring began to reach the reserve the horses started falling back into their warm weather routines and that included moving this young foal into more obvious locations. While guiding a group of equine artists from Virginia we were treated with an afternoon and evening of foal watching. With no further introduction I give you “Skipper,” the reserve’s newest resident.

Young wild foal of the Carolina Coast.

A wild mare and her young colt feed along the Carolina Coast.

A young wild colt explores the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve near Beaufort, North Carolina

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Wild Horse at Sunset: Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve

I had the pleasure of introducing a few members of the Virginia Equine Artists Association (VEAA) to the wild horses of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve yesterday. As sunset neared most of the herd had moved out onto Bird Shoal. While many of the horses had moved a hundred or so yards out onto a sand flats area, a few stayed back near some low dunes. I decided to stay back with the smaller group of animals while most of the group photographed the larger group of horses. I hang back in part to stay out of the way of the people I was guiding, but also because there was an image I’ve had in my mind for quite some time that I hoped might develop. As it were, this was the evening that opportunity was going to happen. I watched as the sun sank lower in the sky, resting just above the top of a small sand dune. In my mind I was urging the horse nearest that dune to walk on top of it. “Please go up there” I thought. “Ease up on top of that dune, please!” Then, just as if this beautiful animal could read my mind, up the dune it went. Stopping between my lens and the setting sun. A few clicks of the camera and then the horse moved over the crest of the dune and out of sight of my camera. It is the moments like these that make time spent in the field worth the effort. I hope the folks from VEAA enjoyed their visit. If you like to learn more about their organization visit the Virgina Equine Artists Association website. Also I’d like to give a quick thank you to Captain Monty of Seavisions Charters and Ecotours for another perfect experience on the water.

A wild horse feeds atop a sand dune at sunset along the North Carolina coast.

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Wild Horses In a Rare Crystal Coast Snow

Depending upon one’s point of view the Crystal Coast was blessed or damned with a winter storm recently. Getting enough snow to cover the ground is really a fairly rare occurrence here. For a few years now I’ve been hoping to get the chance to photograph the wild horses of the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve in snow. Now my preference would be to be there as snow was falling but that didn’t happen this time. I was able, however, to get some shots of the mustangs with snow on the ground and ice covering much of the marsh grass.

To reach the reserve I had to put my kayak in the water. I’m sure a few of the fine people of Beaufort were wondering what was up with the crazy man was doing putting a kayak in the water on a day like this. But if you think about it, the kayak was invented by native people living in places like Alaska and Canada. These little boats were basically designed for cold weather use.

I really expected to find the horses in one of the wooded hammock areas, trying to stay out of the cold. I found a few, however, feeding not far from the main watering hole area. During the winter the herd certainly spreads out about the entire reserve. I rarely find a large number of them together this time of the year. Below are a few of my favorite shots from the trip.

Wild Horse of NC

Wild horse drinks from a watering hole along the NC coast.

Frozen food for a wild horse.

A Wild Horse in a rare Crystal Coast snow.

Wild mustang on a barrier island in NOrth Carolina.

Wild stallion feeding on marsh grass.

Wild horse in North Carolina.

Wild horses feeding along on snow covered marsh grass.

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They Grow-up So Fast

I still remember the excitement of that day. I had heard there was a new foal living in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve and was on my second trip to try to get some photos of her. There she was, standing next to her mother. Seemingly so small and fragile, yet elegant and beautiful at the same time. That was in August of last year. I also remember how thrilled the participants of my wild horse workshop were to get to see and photographer last April & May. She was still small, impish and cute. Last week I was photographing a lovely little filly. It took a few minutes before I realized it was this same little youngster. She’s not exactly all grown-up yet, but she’s certainly anything but small, fragile and delicate. What they say is so true. They grow up so fast. Here are a few photos of the youngest wild horse living in the Rachel Carson Estuarine Reserve. I hope you enjoy them.

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Wild Horse of the Carolina coast.

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Yellow Rumped Warbler, AKA Butter Butt

I have a friend that moderates the Wildlife South photo forums. Jim is a retired photo editor that used to work for National Geographic. He has a love for photographing small birds and the Yellow Rumped Warbler, a little bird he’s nick named the “Butter Butt,” seems to be one of his favorites. Naturally when I get the chance I have to snap a few photos of these little birds to share with him. I had braved the cold the other morning, scraped the frost off of my windows, loaded the kayak and headed over to the reserve to photograph the wild horses. After spending some time with the horses I decided to head back to the kayak, make the paddle across Taylor’s Creek and go enjoy the warmth and comfort of home. On the hike back I noticed several of these handsome little birds and decided to make a few photos.

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

Yellow Rumped Warbler

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Tangled Mane: Portraits of a Wild Horse

Life and weather have conspired to keep me from getting out to do any shooting this week. I did, however, find some time to go through my files from my last outing and to work up a few photos. While portraits lack the dynamic energy found in the fight sequences I recently posted, it is interesting to get a close look at these beautiful wild horses. In this series I showcase a pretty mare with a severely tangled mane. I think the tangle adds a bit of character and helps with impart the feeling of “wild” to the viewer. See what you think.

A wild horse feeding on marsh grass sports a tangled mane.

Portrait of a wild horse with a tangled mane.

Wild horse of the Carolina coast.

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Wild Horses Clash: Drama on the Tidal Flats

When most people think of a wild horse fight they visualize the horses standing on there rear legs, hooves flailing and teeth gnashing… (kind of like in the post below this one). But in reality it doesn’t always work that way. They can clash with all four feet planted firmly, well semi-planted, on the ground. The photos below show a clash between two dominate stallions on the tidal flats. During this scrimmage neither horse ever reared up. Still the action was intense with mud and water flying in the air.

During the editing process I quickly recognized that I wanted to use a contrasty black and white treatment for the first image. I desaturated the image in “Adobe Camera Raw,” then opened it with Photo Shop. Next I applied some “smart sharpening” then used the NIK “define” plugin to tame down the noise a bit. Next I used the “detail extractor” in the NIK Color Efex Pro 4. I then zoomed in to do some dodging and burning by hand to create the look I wanted. The final step was to create a duplicate layer in “soft light” mode to add some “pop,” then adjust the opacity of that layer to taste. I then decided I wanted to do a series, selected the next two images and used the same workflow to maintain a consistent look between the three photos.

Wild horses clash in a vicious battle on the tidal flats along the North Carolina coast

Fighitng wild stallions, North Carolina Outer Banks

Wild horses of the Outer Banks

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Wild Horse Fight Sequence

To those not familiar with horse behavior it seems to happen in a flash. Teeth gnash, sharp, hard hooves flail, thousands of pounds of muscle, bone and hide explode in a vicious battle over dominance and breeding rights. It’s a scene that’s played out for as long as life has walked the planet. For those that witness one of these epic clashes it is clear why Federal, State and Local laws set boundaries on how close humans can approach wild animals. You really wouldn’t want to be caught between a pair of these battling animals.

Those of us that pay our dues and spend hour after hour observing and photographing these magnificent animals, such dramatic events rarely just happen instantaneously. We’re able to read the pre-fight behavior, the posturing and taunting that takes place before the action begins. It’s that kind of intimate knowledge that allows us to be ready to capture these duels as stills and videos. This is a simple truth that applies to all wildlife photography; knowledge of your subject substantially improves the odds of capturing interesting, compelling images. To improve ones success to failure ratio one needs to do their homework and pay their dues.

So how does one gain knowledge and pay their dues if they don’t live near their intended subject or cannot commit the hours of observation? There are really three choices: Take your chances, go it on your own and hope to get lucky. Hire an experience guide to help get you in the right place at the right time. Sign-up for a photography workshop dealing with the subject you’re interested in photographing. Of course doing a little homework doesn’t hurt either. Read a few books and articles, watch some video, follow some blogs… in short gather some information to give you a head start in your quest to make exciting photos of wild animals in their natural environments.

The following is a sequence of images from a recent wild horse fight I witnessed.

A clash of titans - a pair of wild stallions fight on the tidal flats near Beaufort, North Carolina

Wild horses battling over the right to breed on North Carolina's Outer Banks

Wild mustang fight near Beaufort, NC

Wild horses in combat along the Outer Banks of North Carolina

Dueling wild mustangs along the Crystal Coast of North Carolina

The wild horse fight ends

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Another Wild Horse With Texture Applied

I had so much fun adding textures to images that I decided to try it again. First I needed to choose a base image to work with. I don’t believe textures work with every image, though that may be more a matter of taste than science. I settled on a favorite shot from last winter to play with. After selecting a subject the next trick is choosing an appropriate texture to overlay. This choice can make or break the final product. Once settling on which images to work with the process is the same as I previously described. Here’s the step by step process I use in Photo Shop CS6 (you could use Gimp, Elements, Paint Shop Pro, etc.):

Open subject image in Photo Shop, open texture image, select and copy texture image, paste over subject image, adjust opacity to taste, use eraser tool at a low opacity and flow to clean texture off of subjects face, flatten image, create duplicate layer in soft light mode, adjust to taste, flatten image, apply vignette, flatten, and save.

Wild horse stallion with texture applied.

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