I’m introducing a new feature to The PhotoNaturalist site…Shooting with Sparky. These will be short 5-minute videos taken “on location” during a wildlife or landscape shoot. I’ll keep them together in a sidebar link called “Shooting with Sparky.”

Every April, the lengthening days triggers something in the brains of male Sharp-tailed Grouse causing them to start dancing…They return to their leks—a term for the dancing grounds of grouse species. With hormones raging, they do their best and most dramatic display for the females lurking around the edges, pretending not to watch. Males fight other males in dramatic flurries, but more often than not, confrontation ends in “Mexican standoffs,” birds just facing off and staring at one another until one splits.

I’m in the blind 45 minutes before sunrise as the full moon sets to the west. It’s April 7th and a bit chilly…35 degrees? The grouse really rev up about 15 minutes before the sun peaks above the hayfield horizon. Their strictly-for-show purple air sacs inflate, their yellow “eyebrows” erect, and then they spread their wings and perform their foot-stampin’ dance. I’ve been to a fair number of Ojibwa/Anishinabe powwows, and some of their dances are similar. I’m sure the Ojibwa learned much from their feathered dancing friends…and ate quite a few too!

At one point, a Northern Harrier swoops in for a look…She’s not interested in grouse for a meal—too big for her rodent-sized appetite—but the sharptails hunker down anyway, and a few take flight. Then, surprisingly, a crow pops in for a look. He seems curious. It almost seems like he’d like to join in! But after a brief visit, the crow takes off. The Eastern Meadowlarks are back, singing loudly around the blind. One lands only feet from me, but I’m too slow to get any video. By about 9:00a.m. most of the sharptail’s energy is spent, and they drift off to the cover of the nearby willow brush.




For these motion/panning blurs, I wanted LOTS of blur…So I put the camera on Shutter Priority (Tv setting) and set the speed to 1/20 second and auto ISO. Then I waited for some action. At these shutter speeds, you are going to get very few keepers, very few that are even somewhat sharp (“low-percentage shooting”), BUT when you do get one, the image can be very satisfying because the background is so blurred that it becomes just a wash of color. [REMEMBER: you can always click on a photo to make it larger]

All shot at 1/20 of a second with a Canon 400mm and STACKED teleconverters (a 2x and 1.4x) with Canon 7D on tripod

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