F8 and Not There
January 15, 1999
day the frustration began. It snowed. The first significant snow Westchester
had seen in two years. The first flakes found me working my way up a
steep ravine. The going was rough. I was dressed in full camouflage,
wearing a utility belt / fanny pack weighing almost twenty pounds plus
a fifteen pound knapsack. Over my left shoulder I carried my Olympus
OM4Ti fitted with an Olympus f2.8 / 350mm lens and a 1.4x matched teleconverter,
all mounted on a Bogen 3221 tripod with a huge Bogen ballhead. My plan
was to sneak up on a large white tailed buck bedded down in a dense
woodlot at the top of the ravine. He still had a magnificent set of
antlers and I guessed this might be my last chance for a good portrait
movement above me. Through my fogged up glasses, I was amazed to see
the buck leaping over rocks and coming down the ravine towards me at
full speed. I had to step aside to avoid being run over. What on earth
would make a buck flee for his life, downhill in a confined space, towards
a well armed, huffing and puffing photographer? Confused, I kissed my
photo opportunity goodbye, climbed the ravine, saw nothing and went
home through the falling snow.
night four inches of snow had fallen. I returned to the area to search
for the buck. The snow had the perfect consistency for tracks. I crisscrossed
the nearby meadows and searched the hilltops finding tracks for seven
deer. Most of the tracks were does. The rear tracks were wider than
the front tracks. In one set, the rear tracks were narrower than the
front indicating a buck. On a hillside next to a meadow, I found a set
of large cat tracks. Round track, four toes, no claw points, tracks
were registered (back paw is placed exactly in the print of the front
paw), has to be a member of the cat family. But these were very large
paw prints. My first thought was bobcat. The only other two choices
are lynx and cougar. The nearest lynx are in southern Canada and maybe
the northern Adironacks and, of course, there is officially no such
thing as an eastern cougar.
the paw prints across a hillside meadow and into the deep woods on the
hilltop near the ravine where I had seen the buck the day before. In
the deep woods the cat had come across a set of deer tracks, turned
and followed the doe through the woods into the open. The cat even jumped
up and sat on a boulder at the top of the meadow before walking diagonally
across the meadow. I lost the trail in a swamp beyond the meadow.
next day I went back with a ruler, a tape measure and Tom Brown's book
on animal tracking. I carefully measured the length and width of dozens
of tracks. I also measured the stride (the distance from the tip of
the left track to the tip of the right track) and the straddle (the
distance from the outside of the left track to the outside of the right
track). The data was a perfect fit for a cougar. A cougar in Westchester!
A cougar forty miles north of Manhattan! I reported my findings to the
local game warden, local naturalists and fellow hikers where they were
received with as much believability as a UFO landing in Brooklyn. The
game warden wanted a dead animal or at least a great photo. More frustration.
snow cover melted in a few days and didn't reappear for the next two
winters so more tracks were out of the question. I'm in the woods a
couple of hours a day. The odds of my seeing and photographing a cougar
are equivalent to winning Lotto. I've seen one bobcat for a total of
about two seconds in 35 years of roaming the local woods. My only hope
for a cougar sighting was to install a remote camera on a deer trail
and wait for my alter ego to photograph a cougar sauntering by.
the words of my remote. Yeah,
he's used me on and off for several years. I started my life as a simple
TrailTimer Game Monitor. Life was comfortable. I spent a summer tied
to trees on the edge of a meadow enjoying the fresh air and the peaceful
woods. My passive infrared sensors can detect sudden changes in temperature
at a distance of sixty feet away. The big guy has used me to log in
the times that deer pass on the game trails. He checked me every few
days. If I hadn't recorded much activity he would move me all around
the hilltop passes and in and out of three swamps. I got to sleep most
of the day and much of the night. Dawn and dusk were my active periods.
Life was good until winter came. Then the deer were even more active,
keeping me up at all hours of the day and night. And the cold. He left
me out in the woods all through the winter until I froze my batteries
he gave up and used me only from April to November. I was very happy
until this damn cougar came along. Now the big guy's obsessed. He gave
me an optical eye by connecting me to a TrailTimer Camera System. When
I detect a hot object (normally a deer) moving through my sensor field,
I send a signal to a solenoid switch which pushes the shutter button
on one of his cameras taking a photo. My first camera was a disaster.
The camera went into its sleep mode for several hours and then needed
to be mechanically turned back on. In frustration, the big guy threw
away the camera and replaced it with his Olympus OM2N with an attached
135mm f2.8 lens. He leaves the camera turned off and the motor drive
turned on. When I activate the shutter button, the camera instantly
comes to life, turns on its automatic mode and take a photo in aperture
priority mode. The camera works great in daylight and low light but
it needs an external flash at night.
leaving the flash on kills the camera's batteries in about six hours.
The big guy has not been happy. Twice animals have chewed through the
connecting phone cord, A spider set up housekeeping in the hood of the
lens. Ticks find their way into every crevice in the system. Solar chargers
don't get enough sunlight in the woods to charge the batteries. I have
been detecting an animal walking down the trail around 2 AM about once
every two weeks. The big guy tells me it not a deer. I just laugh and
say prove it.
two seasons of equipment failures due mostly to weak batteries, flashes
that fail to fire and motor drive problems, the big guy finally replaced
the OM2N with a $40 Canon Sure Shot Owl, a point and shoot camera. Optically,
it's a piece of junk. It rips the film on rewinding, The date stamping
on the negative only works intermittently. However, it's one of the
few cameras left on earth that can wake itself out of a two week sleep
mode and take an auto exposure, auto focus with fill flash, the instant
the shutter is depressed. The camera batteries last a month in below
only weak link left in the system is the firing of the solenoid switch.
After sitting several hours in cold weather, the solenoid fires too
weakly to trigger the camera. From a minute to four hours later the
solenoid triggers the camera successfully. The big guy constantly threatens
to rewire me directly to the camera to get rid of the solenoid switch.
of my photos are just snaps of the big guy walking down the trail to
check out the equipment. Sometimes, I sense a heat source but nothing
shows up in the photo. One time the big guy moved me to a beautiful
location where a deer trail ran along the edge of a cliff. I took four
photos every day around noon for five days. The big guy was excited
until he discovered that I was detecting sunlight being bounced off
a nearby cliff. I've also had my mishaps. A kid, collecting dead wood
to build a shelter, unknowingly tripped over and ripped out the phone
cord connecting me to the camera. A raccoon yanked me off my tree and
carried me up a nearby tree. You should have seen the look on the big
guy's face when realize he had to climb up the tree to retrieve me.
for five years I've been taking fuzzy, poorly composed photos of blurred
animals walking down a trial. Have I seen anything to excite me? Well,
I won my bet with the big guy. On October 27, 2002 at 2:08 AM, I photographed
two young bucks sparing right in front of my lens. Hey, it's not great
art but it's great action. So the film tore on rewinding and the film
was light struck when the big guy opened the camera back. At least,
he had the good sense or desperation to process the film anyway. Most
people would have just tossed out the ruined film.
for that cougar. It's frustrating. I still don't have a photo for the
big guy. However, since spotting the tracks in Jan, 1999, he's been
finding deer carcases in this area. A herd of nearly forty deer in 1999
has been reduced to six deer in Jan, 2003 and the winters have been
mild. Several of the carcases were found with the back of their skulls
crushed in. Dogs and coyotes kill by grabbing a leg and going for the
intestines. Only large cats kill deer by going for the back of the neck.
Does the big guy know what is killing all these deer? Well, he certainly
knows it can't possibly be an extinct eastern cougar. Not unless UFOs
have landed in Brooklyn.
A nature photographer by avocation, trained
as a research scientist, Dick operates Dick Budnik Photography in Mt.
Kisco, NY where he offers a range of custom photographic, digital imaging
and consulting services. He offers fine art prints, custom digital printing,
computer imaging and retouching services, commercial and industrial
photography and computer consulting. His photographic services and stock
photos have been utilized by a variety of clients from major corporations
to small businesses, nature publications, nature centers and individual
artists. His photographs have appeared in nature publications, calendars,
text books, posters, newsletters and numerous web sites. Dick has exhibited
in group and individual shows in the greater New York area. He is a
frequent camera club judge and lecturer at schools, libraries, clubs,
nature centers and state parks in the area. Dick has taught Wildlife
Photography at the Westchester Art Workshop. He privately tutors in
PhotoShop, web page design, and computer basics. He has been very active
in the Westchester Photographic Society as a Salon competitor, Board
Chairman, President, Corporate Secretary, Executive VP and its current
Webmaster. He is also a Board Member and the Webmaster for the Central
Westchester Audubon Society.
Dedicated to the observation of wildlife
in its natural environment, Dick is usually found in his element stalking
the swamps, meadows and forests of wild Westchester.