Backyard Wildlife

By Noppadol Paothong | July 2, 2009
From Missouri Conservationist: Jul 2009

Early in the morning, as the sun started to rise, I dressed in camouflage clothing and sat next to a tree, waiting in anticipation. An hour passed without success. I decided to play a trick I’d learned while photographing coyotes out west. I played the sound of a rabbit in distress. All of a sudden, I caught a glimpse of a small mammal peeking through the thick cedar trees and bushes.

It was a handsome grey fox, standing no more than 25 feet away. It was one of the most beautiful foxes I had seen in years. My senses told me that it had probably been watching me for some time.

I snapped a few frames with my camera. The sound of the shutter startled the fox, but it must have decided that I wasn’t a threat. I couldn’t believe how close he approached as he tried to make me out and locate the sound (I was more like a bush than a human at that point). Several times he even barked at me while circling.

The whole scene lasted less than 20 minutes, but it felt a lot longer. The experience was especially terrific because it happened in my own backyard!

Most people picture a wildlife photographer as someone who tracks and stalks wildlife in distant and remote areas, hoping to get a once-in-a-lifetime shot. That is often true. I do spend numerous hours searching for wildlife in a variety of places. Yet, as much as I enjoy traveling to remote areas to document wildlife, I also have discovered that many opportunities exist in the very near vicinity, such as parks, nearby ponds or my backyard. One summer, I discovered a field of native prairie flowers not too far from my house. I spent many mornings photographing seasonal flowers and insects, such as dragonflies and beetles.

If you look around, you might find photographic opportunities close at hand.

Those who have a garden can observe various species of butterflies, insects and songbirds. Wild turkeys or deer can easily be observed in the parks or in your backyard. Because there is usually no hunting in these areas, and the animals are more accustomed to humans, your subjects may be less wary of your presence. They seem to be more relaxed, which gives you a better chance to capture good images.

The fox has since long gone, but the drama of that spring morning still replays in my head. In fact, some of my very best wildlife photographs are taken in my own backyard. The opportunity to observe wild animals is always an exciting experience, and to have a chance to photograph them in your backyard can be even more rewarding.

So next time you’re relaxing in your backyard, carry your camera and pay close attention to your surroundings, because you never know what kind of photographic opportunities you’ll discover.

Grey Fox

A grey fox surveyed my backyard momentarily in the early spring morning. Due to their secretive nature, it is not easy to capture grey foxes in close range, even with a long telephoto lens. When feeling threatened or suspicious, these house-cat-size animals can quickly disappear into the woods or up to a nearby tree. Considering all these characteristics, it was a very rare and exciting moment.

500mm telephoto lens • f/4.0 • 1/400 sec

Grey Squirrel

While waiting inside a photo blind to photograph a coyote, I heard a noise and discovered that a grey squirrel was foraging for food right in front of my blind. Whether it’s a close-up image or a shot with their environment, getting the subject’s eyes in focus is crucial in making good images.

500mm telephoto lens • f/4.0 • 1/80 sec

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar waxwings are regular visitors to Missouri during the spring migration. I discovered a flock of them near my office in late March. It is usually easier to approach and photograph birds when they are feeding, as long as you pay attention to their body language and make slow movements.

500mm telephoto lens • f/8.0 • 1/160 sec


One morning while driving to my office, I caught a glimpse of a small creature at the edge of a parking lot. It was a young raccoon. I scrambled for my camera and set up a tripod as quickly as I could. By the time I was set up, two young raccoons were up in a tree. Having my camera ready enabled me to capture a few shots before they disappeared into the woods.

500mm telephoto lens • f/4.0 • 1/60 sec

Carolina Mantis

One of my favorite things to do in summer evenings is to search for good insect images at a nearby nature center. One evening, I found this Carolina mantis catching a bumblebee. A macro lens that magnifies often plays a crucial role in photographing small subjects.

100mm lens • f/2.8 • 1/200 sec

American Robin

Mid-summer I discovered a robin’s nest in my backyard tree. Both parent birds continued to feed the chicks throughout the day, which gave me many opportunities to capture this image. A long telephoto lens is a must to photograph nesting birds without causing much stress.

500mm telephoto lens • f/5.7 • 1/250 sec

Tufted Titmouse

Springtime offers great opportunities to observe and photograph songbirds in your own backyard. This male tufted titmouse was a regular visitor to my backyard bird feeder. I set up a photo blind near the feeder and waited for the bird to perch in the good position.

500mm telephoto lens • f/8.0 • 1/500 sec

Blue Bell Dragonfly

A field filled with wildflowers often attracts a variety of insects such as this blue bell dragonfly. I captured this dragonfly while its wings were still covered with dew. I carefully looked for a darker background to make the subject stand out. Using a flashlight above the subject is one trick I use to bring out details, such as the dragonfly's wings with water dew.

180mm lens • f/3.5 • 1/13 sec

Salt Marsh Caterpillar

A caterpillar is a slow moving subject, which makes it easier to photograph with a macro lens. When photographing small-size animals, shooting at their eye level often creates good images. Another tip for photographing subjects with lighter color is to find the darker background to make the subject stand out.

180mm lens • f/3.6 • 1/80 sec

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

With their graceful flying and beautiful wings, butterflies make an interesting subject to photograph. This swallowtail was sipping nectar from a flower in the evening. When photographing butterflies, look for colorful surroundings to add more elements.

180mm lens • f/5.0 • 1/800 sec

Cottontail Rabbit

Early morning and evening are the time when wildlife are most active. Early morning at a nearby park, I spotted this cottontail rabbit feeding along the road.

500mm telephoto lens • f/5.7 • 1/100 sec

Also In This Issue

Photo of students at national archery in the schools tournament.
National Archery in the Schools Program teaches students how to shoot for success.
Conservation Department experts teach you how to make every shot count.

This Issue's Staff

Editor In Chief - Ara Clark
Managing Editor - Nichole LeClair
Art Director - Cliff White
Writer/Editor - Tom Cwynar
Staff Writer - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Circulation - Laura Scheuler