Story and photographs by Jim Clark
Expect the unexpected. All nature photographers, regardless of skill level, have had moments when the unexpected happens. Nature provides no script beforehand or studio that we can set up the way we want. What happens is not announced ahead of time. We know from experience that unforeseen and special moments will occur, so we improvise and use what we have to make the best of the situation.
Through our knowledge of the natural world and our willingness to endure whatever challenge is placed before us, nature photographers make it work. We know that going directly from point A to point B rarely happens in nature, and we are blessed for it.
I had planned to photograph a northern harrier frequenting the marshes of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore in Virginia this past winter. For days, I watched this raptor as it swooped and glided over the salt marsh. Yet, I was never able to get set up in time to photograph it.
One picture-perfect morning I hiked along the bay side of the seashore determined that some feathered creature would not defeat me! My only challenge was that I had to be at a friend’s house for lunch at noon, and he would not appreciate my being late. The day held the promise of fun exploring this side of the coastal barrier island. Then, something unexpected happened.
A quarter of a mile into my hike, I looked behind me to see a flock of snow geese winging their way toward me. The flock did not fly by me, but instead started circling just above where I stood. Then the geese landed on the beach right in front of me.
More unexpected magic ensued as cloud after glorious feathered cloud of snow geese circled and landed. I was surrounded by thousands of snow geese, and no other photographers were in sight.
What’s a nature photographer who wants to photograph a northern harrier to do?
The answer was simple—I changed plans and spent the morning photographing snow geese. I reveled in the moment as thousands of them honked, glided, splashed and snoozed in front of me.
Before I knew it, noon arrived. I was already late for lunch with a friend who doesn’t like his guests to be late. But the geese blocked the path to my car. (Good excuse, right?) I called to tell him I’d be a bit late, and since he is a nature lover himself, he understood that I couldn’t let the moment pass.
Nature photographers grab time as it passes by. We understand the dynamic, fleeting and fickle “nature” of nature. We celebrate these unanticipated flashes of life. I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to experience the next unexpected moment. Maybe it will be a northern harrier.
A past NANPA President, Jim is the nature photography instructor for the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, Wallops Island, Virginia, and is a contributing editor for Outdoor Photographer magazine. He currently serves as photographer-in-residence at the Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve near his home in Leesburg, Virginia. The author/photographer of six books, Jim is particularly proud of two children’s books he did with his son, Carson. Jim was also a major contributor to the book, Coal Country. Visit Jim’s website at www.jimclarknature.com, blog at www.jimclarknature.wordpress.com or like him on Facebook.