Aug 112017

Well, we call them Jim Bob, the rest of the world calls them Willow Ptarmigan (the Alaska State Bird). When it’s mating season this largish bird simply turns stupid. While not the brightest bird in the flock to start with (some hunt them by simply throwing rocks at them), when there is sex in the air, all thought goes to one thing, attracting a mate. Many years ago we had one basically fly into the window of the van while in pursuit of another male it felt was trespassing on its territory. Every since that moment, we’ve affectionately called them Jim Bob.

What you see here is their plumage as it changes from their all white winter garb to the brown summer garb. As they molt out their winter white you get the variants you see here. It is amazing how well this chicken size bird can hide behind just one piece of grass even with their plumage not completely swapped out. And when there are females flying about looking for a mate, the males simply turn stupid which for the wildlife photographer is a golden opportunity!

With their concentration elsewhere, getting up close is just a matter of time. At first, when you approach, they are like many birds and move away. But once you wait them out, perhaps just five or ten minutes, you can slowly move in to get the photograph you desire. I was shooting with the D5 / 800mm which permitted me to eliminate unwanted elements in the background while containing those elements I wanted. The time it took to get from the image at the top to the one at the bottom was about twenty minutes of slowly moving up. There was four of us working this one bird and we took turns moving forward five to eight feet at a time until finally, I was at my MFD of 16 feet from this male (photo below). Once I got my photos, I moved away just as slowly and an hour after we started shooting Jim Bob, we all had moved back to the vehicle and he hadn’t moved a stitch. But them, that’s why we call him affectionately, Jim Bob.

Willow Ptarmigan – captured D5 / 800mm

Willow Ptarmigan captured D5 / 800mm

Willow Ptarmigan captured D5 / 800mm

Willow Ptarmigan captured D5 / 800mm


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Moose Peterson

Moose Peterson

Moose’s true passion has always been and remains photographing the life history of our endangered wildlife and wild places. Since 1981 he and his wife Sharon have dedicated their lives to this pursuit. Educating the public about our wild heritage is their hallmark. In recent years Moose has added aviation photography to his pursuits with the same goal of preserving our aviation heritage, pictorial and oral for future generations. Along the way Moose has been honored for his photographic passion: a Nikon Ambassador USA, Lexar Elite Photographer, recipient of the John Muir Conservation Award, Research Associate with the Endangered Species Recovery Program, just to name a few. He’s part of Epson’s Finish Strong ad campaign. Moose is creative producer/photographer of his acclaimed film: Warbirds and The Men Who Flew Them. He shares his knowledge through his writing, being published in over 143 magazines worldwide, author of 28 books including his latest, Photographic FUNdamentals, Taking Flight and best seller Captured. He lectures across the country to thousands upon thousands of photographers every year. One of the original Nikon shooters to receive the D1 in 1999, Moose embraced this new technology, becoming the only wildlife photographer in the world to shoot strictly digital in the early years. While a beta site for all the major hardware and software manufacturers, Moose continues being a creative innovator of new techniques both behind the camera and the computer, which is the driving force behind his photography and goals.

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