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.
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.
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.
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.