Saturday, March 6, 2010

Be careful when photographing wildlife

It's been suggested that I don't tell enough "tales from the road" about the interesting things I've seen and done driving South Dakota's byways. So here's a story from 2008 demonstrating the hazards of wildlife photography.

The setting - Black Hills Playhouse Road in Custer State Park in southwestern South Dakota
The setup - a hen turkey and approximately 10 chicks cross the road in front of my van

Seeing the opportunity for some nice wildlife pictures, I pulled over in a convenient turnout and took my time attaching a longer zoom lens to my camera and making sure I was ready to shoot pictures.

After a few minutes I walked down the road to the spot where I thought the turkeys had crossed the road. I was standing on the road looking for the little ones when momma exploded out of the tall grass directly in front of me. Picture flapping wings and lots of squawking. I was so surprised and stunned that I back-pedaled as fast as I could, losing traction in some loose gravel on the pavement. I fell backwards, banging my elbow and hand on the asphalt, but keeping the camera from hitting the ground. At this point I thought she would be on top of me with those "deadly" claws, but as I rolled back to my feet I saw she was flopping in circles around me. I understood that I had approached her babies too closely without knowing it, so I headed for my van at a sprint. Believe it or not, turkeys can run faster than me! She got between me and the van and continued her flapping, squawking attack. I finally got in the van and she circled it a few more times before heading back to her family.

Breathing hard and with heart pumping in double time, I took this photo through the windshield to remember her by.

For a similar kind of tale, read the end of this earlier post about being charged by a buffalo a few years ago. The turkey incident was actually more scary.

Moral of the story - stay in the vehicle when photographing dangerous animals. It keeps you out of trouble and causes less stress to both the animal and you.

To momma turkey - I'm sorry, my intrusion on your chicks was unintentional. I was only hoping for a nice family portrait.

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