When those unfamiliar with Arizona imagine the state, they probably see a tumbleweed rolling in front of a lonely saguaro. Nothing could be further from the truth. Arizona teems with wildlife, from its deserts to its pine forests. You never know when you may encounter a javelina, coyote or quick-footed deer. Often you’ll be caught by surprise. Or you may have a camera in hand, waiting patiently for the perfect moment. Here are photo tips from Arizona Republic photographer Mark Henle and travel tips from editor Jill Cassidy.
Best time to shoot
I photographed this California condor, the largest flying land bird in North America, soaring over the Colorado River in 2010 for a series on Arizona’s native wildlife. The condor was once wiped out in Arizona, but 78 condors now nest near the Grand Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs in northern Arizona.
Late winter and early spring are the best times to view condors at Navajo Bridge, which crosses the Colorado River in Marble Canyon on the Arizona Strip. The condors generally roost on or near the bridge.
For wildlife in general, you’ll have your best luck seeing and photographing animals in the mornings and evenings. Condors fly when it’s windy and you might not see them then.
Photo tips for the SLR expert
I made my condor photograph with a Canon EOS-1D Mark IV and a 500mm f/4 lens with a 1.4 teleconverter, or the equivalent of a 700mm lens.
Patience is huge. If the critter you set out to photograph isn’t cooperating, enjoy your time outdoors. Look for other subjects, like insects or plants. Notice changes in light; look for patterns; photograph what you see at sunrise and sunset.
Gear is important. For the best results, you need a telephoto lens — the longer the focal length, the better. You also need lens support. If you don’t want to carry a tripod, a tree branch or fence post will suffice.
Your vehicle is one of the best blinds possible. If you get out and the animal doesn’t run or fly, move very slowly to get closer.
Tips for the point-and-shoot amateur
Shooting wildlife without the proper equipment is difficult. Buy apps or cameras with telephoto or close-up lenses.
Be happy simply shooting scenic shots if your phone can’t quite capture an image of the animal.
Common mistakes to avoid
Condors have no fear of humans. If one lands close, keep a reasonable distance.
Never feed wildlife.
You generally have to get off the highway to photograph wildlife. Be sure to carry maps if you’re heading into an unfamiliar area. Your phone or GPS may not work once you’re off the beaten path.
Where to photograph wildlife
The North Rim of Grand Canyon is the best place to photograph bison. Hundreds live along State Route 67, the road that leads from Jacob Lake to the park. Keep an eye out for a herd in one of the meadows that line SR 67. Pull safely off the road and get out of your car carefully. Do not approach the herd. Shoot from a distance.
Pronghorns, elk and deer are commonly seen in the meadows north and south of State Route 260 in the White Mountains. Late afternoon is your best chance to find them. Try SR 273, which leads to Sunrise Park Resort, or SR 261, which leads to Big Lake.
Southern Arizona is a birder’s heaven. Quail, hummingbirds, woodpeckers and other common species are abundant, and you might be lucky enough to spot a colorful elegant trogon. In January, birders from around the world go to Willcox to see the migration of thousands of sandhill cranes. Other reliable locations to spot birds include Ramsey Canyon and the Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve.
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