Turkey Vulture

My First Wildlife Photographs

Turkey Vulture in Feather River Country

During a recent drive through the Feather River Canyon and into the rolling hills near Oroville, CA, I sped past a tree with bare branches at the top and what looked like a couple large birds perched up top. As I drove by, I thought they might be eagles or maybe Red-tailed Hawk, which are fairly common where I live. But they looked bigger. I was to learn they were Turkey Vultures. My immediate destination was to a VA clinic in The Bay Area, so I hoped they might be around on my trip home a few days later.

Turkey Vulture   Turkey Vulture

And they were. It started as a committee of 2 Turkey Vultures and they didn’t seem to be disturbed at all by the freeway traffic. I pulled over some distance from them, grabbed some pictures, then moved closer, then again, more pictures. I did this 3 or 4 times until I was practically across the highway from them.

I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my wildlife photography ability. This was my first real attempt. My oxygen tank ran empty while I was waiting for that perfect shot of a Turkey Vulture: a wing spread or dramatic flight. I was afraid to switch out the tank for fear I would lose the shot, but I finally had to. Those birds didn’t seem to care what I did. A big rig drove by and blasted his air horns and that didn’t faze them.

Finally, after about an hour or so, one large bird bounded off its perch and flew away. I tried to get the shot, but got only one very blurry picture. So, one turkey vulture left and I was still hopeful I could get something interesting from him.

Soon, almost as if in slow motion, he lifted off his perch and glided to the branch previously occupied by his fellow hunter. I shot feverishly – I don’t know why I didn’t think to set my D5300 on continuous shutter release. I’d previously set my camera to bracketing 1-stop over and under, so every series I shot was at ISO 400, f/11 and 0, 1 and -1 eV. Such a foolish n00b.

From more than one hundred shots, I think these 2 came out the best. I cloned out some distracting branches and used a few other developing tools in Lightroom, including cropping to a square format, which I thought was the best for these particular images. My lens was a Nikkor 70.0-300.0 mm f/4.5-5.6 FX at 300mm. The first was shot at 1/800 sec. the other at 1/1600, but I was able to give them the same exposure value with Adobe Lightroom (5.6).

It might have been more interesting with clouds or one or 2 of the other small birds that were flying around. The time was decent – 8:45 am – but the sun was almost straight over my shoulder. The 2 pictures of the Turkey Vulture above gave me more confidence that will encourage me to look for more wildlife opportunities.

UPDATE: November 2017

Sitting at my desk last week, lamenting the fact that I haven’t been well enough to go out to shoot, I thought of this outing once again. I thought maybe I’ve earned a few more skills and improved my style over the last 3 years since these photos were made. So, I made a second attempt at developing one of the photos above and came up with this.

Turkey Vulture

3 thoughts on “Turkey Vulture”

  1. Love the vulture shots Jim! And, I appreciate your comments about the challenges in wildlife photography! I shoot with a Nikon D7200 and use the exact same Nikkor 70-300 lense on this camera effectively giving me a ~105-450 range, which is barely enough for many of my favorite raptors.

    It was calving season in Carson Valley where I grew up and raptors were plentiful. Got some great bald eagle and red-tailed hawk shots. Funny that I had similar bracketing and shutter defaults stuff going on in my first year with this camera, but for this year’s session I had learned and setup the User1 and User2 custom settings and got some great poses and action shots. I need to delve into this a lot more before I get my new D850 later this year. By the way My license expired on my Abobe 3.0 suite and I don’t really like Lightroom that much, so I started using NIKON’s free Capture NXD for processing RAW photography and it does everything I care to do in editing at this time!

    Coming back to Indian Valley this spring/early summer for Sand Crane and wildflower shots in Indian Valley and Genesee… I’ll let you know when…

    Sure do love your photography! Gets me going… 🙂

    Dan W.

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