Pheasant photography not easy

My toes felt like icicles, and my arms were starting to ache from holding a heavy camera and big telephoto lens out from my body, cocked at a funny angle, for what seemed like an hour, but was probably an honest minute or so. A rooster pheasant five yards away had heard the tiniest scratch of the lens against the side of the pop-up blind and was on full alert.

A rooster pheasant is on full-alert after hearing the hum of a camera's auto-focus.

A rooster pheasant is on full-alert after hearing the hum of a camera’s auto-focus.

He left the scene, tail arrogantly cocked in the air leaving me vowing to be even quieter the next time.

Tuesday afternoon I spent three or four frigid hours in a blind near a deer feeder in western Harvey County. Both were set in an overgrown pasture of hedge trees and cedars. The feeder is intended for deer, but pheasants and a variety of songbirds eat the yellow grain. I’d also poured some sunflower seeds next to a nearby cedar to sweeten the deal.

An assortment of cardinals and Harris sparrows flushed when I walked on to the scene, and most were back by the time I was in the blind, and had my cameras turned on and ready to go. Piece of cake, I thought, when the pheasants showed up I’d fill a few hundred frames of the brilliant plumage glowing the in the late afternoon light, standing in strict contrast to the thick, white snow.

Boy was I ever wrong. I’ve had days when it’s been a lot easier to shoot them with a shotgun, compared to the photography challenges on Tuesday.

Problems included the blind being too close to the feed, which was largely because the pasture is so thick I couldn’t get more than about eight yards away.

The wind had also totally died, which gave the pheasants super-sensitive hearing every advantage. ¬†Also because of the cold, the blind’s fabric was stiff and incredibly noisy.

A rooster pheasant that finally sneaked from beneath a cedar tree, to grab some food in the open.

A rooster pheasant that finally sneaked from beneath a cedar tree, to grab some food in the open.

The first pheasant to walk in heard the hum of the camera’s auto-focus, then went into some fast high-stepping when the shutter started firing and was gone in seconds.

The snow-coated pop-up blind was stiff and noisy Tuesday afternoon, when used as a photography blind.

The snow-coated pop-up blind was stiff and noisy Tuesday afternoon, when used as a photography blind.

At least six different roosters came to the feed, and all stuck to cover as best they could. They, and several hens, liked to stay under a huge cedar where some food had been scattered. Occasionally one would sneak out, peck a few kernels of corn then retreat back under the boughs.

More than half of the roosters spooked before I even got them in the viewfinder. Three or four frames is the most I got of any one bird, and my camera fires at about eight frames per second.

I’ll be out for a few hours early Wednesday morning, in another blind that’s further from a feeder and where the birds and the blind should be in warming sunshine. No matter, I’m danged sure wearing heavier boots ¬†this time.