Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eagle River Redux - Part I

If you've been a reader of the blog for awhile, you may remember a post from last March titled "The Eagle River Adventure".  Even then we knew we'd go back and we recently kept our promise with a return trip to Adventure Rental's "River Escape" vacation rental property.  The trip proved even more magical the second time around.

First, picture your dream getaway.  I know for many of you your thoughts may immediately turn to the island vacation for fun in the sun or the European trip to journey back through history.  While I certainly wouldn't turn down either opportunity, if I'm looking to relax, I mean really relax and recharge, put a camera in my hand and drop me someplace off the grid where it's just us and the wildlife.  Sitting on the end of the dock overlooking the Wisconsin River at River Escape was exactly what the doctor ordered.

This year we scheduled the trip a week later in the year in hopes that the ice would be off the river.  As it turned out, the unseasonal weather we'd experienced through most of March resulted in the ice being long gone.  We'd even considered taking our kayaks, but as luck would have it the "seasonal" weather returned just in time for our trip.  Less than a week before the temperature had been consistently flirting with the 80 degree mark.  On the first morning of our stay we awoke to a fresh layer of snow blanketing the ground.

Day 1

As mentioned in last year's post, one of the many reasons this is a great location to have a camera in hand is the fact that there is a bald eagle nest high in a pine right across the river.  If you can hold still long enough you're nearly guaranteed a view of these magnificent raptors.

Shooting with the Nikon D300s and a Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 gave me some additional reach to interact with our wildlife buddies, but the lighting was horrible all day.  I had my camera set to 1/1000th of a second and auto-ISO topping out at 3200 whenever I took my seat on the dock.  Pretty much all of the photos I took that day ended up being at 3200 ISO.  As they say, a grainy photo is better than a blurry one or no photo at all.

Two mallard ducks express their opinions on property rights.
Day 2

While it had warmed up enough to dispense with the snow, the thermometer was still struggling to break the 40 degree mark.  The temperature being what it was, my wife was resigned to do her relaxing indoors and offered me the use of her Sigma 150-500mm f/5-6.3 lens for the first time ever (and I say thank you)!  The challenge for the day was not only to hold up 5 pounds of lens (someone needs a monopod), but to find the subject in the viewfinder to focus on.  The longer reach also came at the price of a slower shutter speed, but at least it was a tad brighter than the day before.

Mr. and Mrs. H. Merganser (nice doo Mrs :-)
In between waiting for one of the eagles to return to or depart from the nest, the mallards and hooded mergansers kept me entertained.  Then from the corner of my eye I saw two newcomers to the scene.  A pair of river otters!  Did I mention that I simply parked my butt on the dock bench and all of these photo opportunities came right to me?  Truly unbelievable.  At first I only saw one otter poking it's head up and looking around before slipping back beneath the surface all the while continuing to close the distance between us.  And then....

...wait for it ........

Perch anyone?

Up comes an otter with a face full of fish looking right at me seeming to say, "So are you getting this? Nice catch, huh?".  After he was sure I had realized the photo op, he turned has back and began working on his prize.  He was still going at it as he start up the river once again.

These two still weren't done with me, but we'll save that for another post. :-).

Before I wrap up for today, I wanted to provide just a little more feedback on the experience with the Sigma 150-500.  Of course I've seen many, many images that my wife has taken with this lens and heard a lot of feedback from her on its performance (or sometimes the lack thereof).  It probably also comes as no surprise that I secretly covet a nice long reaching, fast piece of glass, what photographer doesn't. Those day dreams usually surface after looking at some of the wildlife images of Moose Peterson or others with their $10K Nikon 600mm lenses (Nikon, if you're reading, I'm now accepting sponsors ;-).  Even the most "practical" option I've pondered, a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 with a teleconverter would put you back in excess of $6,500.  More than likely that one's going to be contained to "dream land" for quite some time. 

That being said, if your options are shooting with a considerably less expensive 500mm lens or not shooting with a 500mm lens, then I'd pick the first option.  It's probably not going to be the fastest lens in your bag at f/6.3, but with my camera focus mode set to continuous servo and my shutter-release set to "Release + Focus" priority, I was reasonably happy with the results.   Most definitely there were some shots where I wished the focus had caught up with me a little faster, but I'm also reasonably confident that additional practice at getting and keeping the lens pointed in the right direction would improve the percentage of keepers.  Overall, it was a real treat to shoot at 500mm even if the light was less than desirable.

Keep your eyes on the blog as I'll continue to share more images taken with this lens as well as the stories behind them.  If you've read enough to be intrigued by the possibilities of the River Escape property, give Cassandra at Adventure Rentals a call.  River Escape is just one of the options they have available to you and we HIGHLY recommend them.

Until next time, keep click'n.


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