Perfect Light

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Published on: Dec. 2, 1995

Last revision: Oct. 20, 2010

a striking picture that runs away before he gets there. "It hurts badly," he jokes, "but I get over it."

The increasing daylight reveals silvery green and russet grasses. At a low spot, Rathert spies another quarry, a swamp sparrow about 50 feet away, needed for an upcoming article. He switches to the 500mm and uses a "Shw-shw-shw" sound to attract the bird's attention. Swamp sparrows are tough, he explains, always moving, and he wants to capture a view that shows the faint eye ring, as well as the rusty wing.

Around 10 a.m., Rathert drives to a privately owned wetland near a highway between Squaw Creek and Mound City. A lone coot near the water's edge proves cooperative, swimming around within camera range, and it's nicely reflected in the water. Rathert waits for a profile, a catch-light in the bird's eye and the bird's proximity to the reflection of a utility pole, all at once.

Other photos get away - basking turtles dive in, and a great blue heron, typically spooky, flies as Rathert sneaks up on him.

Following his own rule, "the more habitats you cover, the greater the diversity of photos you'll get," Rathert moves on to Bob Brown Conservation Area, a managed wetland, in the afternoon. A Harlan's red-tailed hawk, soaring in circles and working toward the road, causes him to jump out of the car and hand-hold the camera, aiming upward as the hawk nears.

At 1:30 p.m., there's an unexpected opportunity, a button buck munching clover near the road. Rathert stops, thumps the side of the car to get the deer to look at him.

Though Rathert prefers mobility, he sometimes uses a blind that sets up in about 30 seconds. The camouflage fabric has "snoots," like short elephant trunks, to hide a protruding long lens. A blind works when you have an attraction such as food, a nest or water.

When you set up a blind in view of a snag in water, the perch is a "bird magnet," he says. In an open marsh, he has pushed a stick into the water and photographed kingfishers that landed there. Also, skittish turtles will return to a log or the top of a muskrat den to sun themselves once you're concealed in a blind. A homemade blind could be made of PVC pipe sections and a tarp.

On leaving the Bob Brown area, Rathert brakes on the gravel road and jumps out

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