Wilson's Snipe – Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Montana: When I arrived at the Lee Metcalf NWR just outside of Stevensville, Montana there was only a half hour of light before the sun would set behind the Bitterroot Mountains. I immediately went about finding a subject to shoot with those last few minutes of light, but had little success. During that time I scoped the area and found spots I need to be the following morning for the best light.
As I drove out of the refuge onto a county access road I saw this Wilson's snipe perched atop a fence post. I have often seen snipe, but usually at the edge of muddy wetland that usually provide the worst of shooting condition. They are so well camouflaged that once found and photographed they are hard to seen in the image. They are also very shy and easily spooked, making photography even more difficult.
As I passed this snipe I slowed the van and a cautiously backed up within a hundred feet of the bird. The sun had set, and I knew I had to work from a tripod if I wanted to obtain sharp images. With nothing to lose, thinking that the bird would fly as soon as it saw me, I got out of the van in plain view and, set-up my camera gear. Still thinking that all was for naught, I began a slow approach toward the snipe. To my great joy the snipe seemed unconcerned with me. At thirty feet I began to shoot images and slowly worked to about eighteen to twenty feet. With the sun far set, I had to shoot very slow shutter speeds, but at the same time I wanted to maintain a sharp image from the front of the fence post the snip was perched through the bird itself. Fortunately the bird did not move, except to turn its head every now and then, which gave me the opportunity to use the slow shutter speed and maintain depth-of-field.
As I continued to shoot, the only sound heard was the hum of my shutter snapping. Then in the silence between the shutter snaps I heard a faint buzzing. The buzzing osculated as if it was moving closer, then farther away. Immediately I recognized the sound and why my snipe was so patient with me. Her focus was not on me, but on a males buzzing nuptial flight display occurring above our heads. After a few more shots, I backed off and let the dance continue. I was a very happy camper!
I had thought I had lost the chance to shoot after the sun sat that evening, but as always, the unexpected delighted me with some wonderful images.
Top Image: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f4, 1/30 sec. @ f9, Tripod
Middle Image: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f4, 1/30 sec. @ f9, TripodBottom Image: Nikon D7000, Nikkor 500mm f4, 1/30 sec. @ f9, Tripod