5:50 am I stood starring out the kitchen room window of my fiancée’s parent’s house as the calm waters on the bay enticed me. My plans were to head out to the barrens in hopes of relocating the Woodland Caribou I spotted the night before; thanks to the information shared to me by my brother in-law. Time ticked by and as appealing as it looked to be out in boat photographing Bald Eagles I made the decision to following my gut and head out towards the barrens in search of the Caribou…and boy was I glad I did.
As photographers we are always searching for that magical light of the early morning or late evenings. As I crested the hill overlooking the barrens the red hot sun of the first minutes of sunrise forced its way through the thick fog. My mind raced and hopes of spotting a caribou in such magical conditions seemed almost too much to wish for..but there..standing just off the main road a beautiful Stag.
Like a kid in a candy store with only mins before closing time I scrambled to get out of my vehicle to grab my camera bag and switch lens. I knew I had to include the sun in my shot so I switched over to my 70-200mm lens. With my Nikon D850 and 70-200mm in hand I slowly moved up the right side of my vehicle. I then made a few steps out into barrens..composited my shot..and released the trigger.
He only gave me 4 frames before turning and beginning his journey out over the land.
I quickly made my way back to the vehicle to grab my 500mm lens and a mouth full of water as I knew our journey was about to begin.
As I mentioned above we as photographers are always in search of magical light and by far for me the most amazing light conditions I have ever experienced was on days like this. With low lying fog and clear skies above the suns intensity was muted and seemed to burn fiery red for much longer. This provided a much greater and long lasting opportunity for magical light.
With my gear in hand I made the decision to not follow the caribou out over the open barrens in fear of scaring him off but instead I took a nearby ATV trail part of the way out into the barrens. Racing down the trail my view of the caribou was obscured and I had to make an estimated guess of its location. My hopes would be that cutting through the woods I would come out in its general vicinity and continue to make use of this gorgeous light. My prediction was correct and in moments I found myself stealth fully moving over the open tundra to captures this wider shot (taken at 130mm)
I have spent many years now photographing caribou on these barrens and unlike the moose that inhabit our province, caribou are generally easy to approach if done properly. Your movements have to be timed properly(I pick moments when they are feeding) and its best to be down wind of them so they don’t catch wind of you; also stay low to the ground to keep your movements less obvious.
Excited to see the caribou feeding along the edge of some small ponds I used the above techniques to move into position to capture some full frame images using my 500mm lens. The sun was still providing that amazing early morning glow which reflected nicely off the water.
After a short feed he was on the move again and so was I. He travelled a short distance to a ridge and by now the caribou was fully aware of my presence and comfortable with me. I sat on an adjacent ridge in the open capturing images as it feed on lichen which is its main food source. In this image you can see some hanging from its mouth.
While observing this Stag I took notice it was very focused on the nearby lake which I assumed it was contemplating crossing but then I heard the distant sounds of splashing water. I stood to my knees hoping to see what it was but unfortunately I could not..then again a splash. This time I noticed movement on the far end of the lake; there two females and a calf walked along the edge of the lake. It was obvious by now that this male was keeping tabs on these three. Below is an image of the females and calf crossing over another section of the lake.
For another 15mins or so I followed this large stag down the lake and watched as he slowly made his way around the edge feeding until he was out of sight.
As if waking up from a dream the rest of my senses seemed to return to normal. The aches and pains of the awkward movements in an attempt to be stealthy over the past hour had set in and dire need of water was evident. Yet the smile on my face, the excitement of what I just captured and witnessed made it all worth it. I headed back over the barrens to retrieve my 70-200mm lens which I ditched in hopes of relieving some weight off my tired arms(keep in mind I rarely use a tripod or monopod so carrying two lens was not easy and taxing on my muscles). Thinking my morning session was over I picked up my 70-200mm lens, wiped off the morning dew from it and made two steps up over a small ridge when I stopped dead in my tracks….
There..starring back at me was a female caribou and she was not alone…maybe my morning wasn’t finished after all.....To be continued…