The Snowy Egret gets Honored plus the Greatest Cougar Shot Ever
Remember the Snowy Egret shot from the Save The Nature Photographer Fund blog? Well, I entered it in the Arizona Highways Online Photo Contest. A couple weeks ago I learned it was a finalist, and today found out it earned an Honorable Mention as one of the top eight photos out of the thousands that were entered. Big props to my model:
"Hello fishies. That blinding white glow of gorgeousness hovering above you will be the last thing you see before the inside of my throat."
Alas, I can hear the ghost of my father speaking right now, "Top eight out of thousands? Why that only puts you in the 99.8th percentile. That won't do for a Sherman." Granted, Grand Prize went to a fine Grand Canyon shot, so next year I might have to pull out all the stops and go Grand Canyon plus wildlife action photo. And you know, I think I have just the shot.
It was a crisp fall day at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon - gold and yellow aspen leaves fluttering down through an azure sky, stags bounding through the forest, eagles fornicating in midair above. Pretty standard stuff - the shit pros like Dykinga, Muench, and Verm wouldn't bother taking the lens cap off for. Then out of the corner of my ear I heard a bloodcurdling sound - half hiss, half snarl, all menace. The hairs on the back of my head and between my eyebrows stood up. There was no mistaking the call of a female cougar in heat.
I followed the sound through the woods, disguising my presence by smacking my camera bodies together to mimic the sounds of two bull elk clashing in the rut. That might fool the cougar for a little bit, but I could tell from the rustling of the leaves near the canyon rim that when I got a bit closer the breeze would shift and I'd be approaching from upwind. I'd been free soloing temples all morning, photographing rock falls in real time, and knew I smelled worse than an MMA locker room. My stench would either scare off the cougar or knock it out. Either way, not in keeping with my style of photography.
Fortunately there was a stray cow frozen in panic in the clearing ahead of me. Like a nervous raptor about to leave its perch, this cow could barely contain her bowels. I seized the chance, sprinted toward the fear-struck cow and threw myself to ground between its legs like a quarterback sliding for the first down marker. This shock tactic had the desired effect, and I was quickly coated in Eau de Heifer, obliterating any human scent. I gave the cow a slap on the ass with my non-shooting hand, then started crawling toward the siren's call. Pine needles clinging to my Calvin Slime tuxedo, I edged right up to the cliff edge.
I could hear the desperate cougar caterwauling from a ledge just below the rim. I double checked my white balance and exposure settings. All good. Judging from the sound, the cat would be about 25 feet away. I manually pre-focused to give my AF a head start. I knew I'd only have one chance. It would either be a slam dunk prize-winning shot or I'd be attacked and mauled. It was go time.
Now that's a winner.
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