Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Early Spring Hooter

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In the Field

Early Spring Hooter. Findlay Creek, British Columbia, Canada. April 10, 2024.

One of the surest signs of spring in my neck of the woods is the return of the Hooters (AKA Dusky Grouse). In my region Dusky Grouse are altitudinal migrants that spend their winters high in the mountains and in spring they gradually descend down to lower elevation ridges to breed. I happen to live on one of these lower elevation ridges and every year we have three to five Dusky males that set up territories on our property. This image is of a male Dusky in full breeding display as it sings (or hoots) to attract a female. While I can't be 100% sure, I think this particular male has returned and claimed the same territory for the last 4 years (at least). Not only has the territory been in the exact same area for the last 4 years, but for some reason this male differs quite dramatically in behaviour from the others Duskies in our area - for some unknown reason this particular Dusky is super tolerant of me and it allows me to approach within a meter or less of it without any noticeable change in its behaviour. On one occasion this Dusky apparently mistook my knee (as I was sitting on the ground) as a tree stump and hopped onto it and started a hooting session (I had to sit still for a LONG time before the Dusky decided to head off and hoot elsewhere). The other Duskies around our home spook at a good 10 meters and require at least a 400mm lens to photograph them. This image (which is about 95% of full-frame) was captured with a 135mm f1.8S Plena on a Z 9.

I look very forward every spring to the return of the hooters...and this year I was even more excited than in past years. Why? Well...this year I have the Plena to use when shooting the Duskies! As mentioned above, this image was captured with the Plena and it is giving me some very new ways to approach photographing these photogenic birds. In this case, I loved how the hooter was perched on a fallen log that contained virtually identical colours to the bird itself. But...when I initially approached it with my Z 600mm f6.3S and then my Z 400mm f4.5S I couldn't get the busy background (which contained a number of trees with sunlight peeking through them) tamed down to my satisfaction. So, I pulled out the bokeh-master (the Plena) and slowly moved in really tight to the bird. And, I shot almost wide-open - at f2. As I hoped, the Plena allows me to pretty much "neutralize" the distractions in the background - and I still had enough DoF to ensure all the critical bits on the bird were in focus.

Two final comments that are relevant to this image. First, one has to be extremely careful approaching wildlife as close as I did here. As I slowly crawled in on this guy I made sure I wasn't interfering with his behaviour. In this case I judged it by his rate of hooting, which was unchanged during the entire time I was with him (including during my approach). After I had captured the shots I wanted, I withdrew from the bird equally as carefully, and again his rate of hooting never changed. Once I was about 10 meters away from him I slowly stood up and carefully walked away...and he was still hooting up a storm. I love it when I have a successful encounter like this and can leave the subject with no indication that my presence bothered it or impacted on it in any way.

Second, while few folks would think of the Plena as a wildlife lens, I am really quite excited about using it on wildlife in the years to come. Of course, there are some species and/or situations where it would be of little to no use simply because of its short focal length. But in situations where the focal length is sufficient (think animalscapes or subjects that do allow close approach without negative consequences to the subject) it is capable of producing some very unique images. As an example, I am super excited about going into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary this June with my Plena. Can't wait!

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of this "happy hooter":

Early Spring Hooter: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 4.1 MB)


1. These images - in all resolutions - are protected by copyright. I'm fine with personal uses of them (including use as desktop backgrounds or screensavers on your own computer), but unauthorized commercial use of the image is prohibited by law. Thanks in advance for respecting my copyright!

2. Like all photographs on this website, these images were captured following the strict ethical guidelines described in The Wildlife FIRST! Principles of Photographer Conduct. I encourage all wildlife photographers to always put the welfare of their subjects above the value of their photographs.

Behind the Camera

Early Spring Hooter. Findlay Creek, British Columbia, Canada. April 10, 2024.

High Efficiency* Compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 320.

Nikon Z 9 paired with Z Nikkor 135mm f1.8S Plena. Hand-held. VR on in Sport mode. Single-point AF area mode.

1/400s @ f2; -0.3 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Early Spring Hooter. Findlay Creek, British Columbia, Canada. April 10, 2024.

Initial noise reduction and capture sharpening on the .nef (raw) file using the DeepPRIME XD algorithm of DXO PhotoLab 7.5 Elite (using the appropriate lens/camera optical module).

Subsequent adjustments to the adjusted linear DNG file (exported from PhotoLab 7) and conversion to 16-bit TIFF file (and JPEG files for web use) - including all global and selective adjustments - made using Phase One's Capture One Pro 23. In the case of this image the global adjustments included a tweak to the overall contrast (a Levels adjustment), a slight reduction in brightness (i.e., midtone exposure), and a tweak to the highlights. Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case numerous small adjustments and tweaks were made on 5 separate layers, with most of the tweaks being associated with "exposure balancing" and contrast adjustments (such as adjustments to clarity, highlights, shadows, etc.).

Photoshop modifications were limited to the insertion of the watermark and/or text.


Early Spring Hooter. Findlay Creek, British Columbia, Canada. April 10, 2024.

Species Status in Canada*: This species is not designated as at risk.

Until recently the Blue Grouse (Dendragapus obscurus) was considered a single species with at least two sub-species. However, mitochondrial DNA sequence data, combined with older behavioural and distributional data, has resulted in the decision to split the species into two species - Sooty Grouse (coastal), and Dusky Grouse (found in the interior).

Dusky and Sooty Grouse are endemic to mountainous regions of western North America and both have geographic ranges restricted to moderate to high altitude regions. Many populations undergo an altitudinal migration, spending winters in conifer forests at higher elevations and then descending to lower elevations and more open terrain to breed in the spring. During breeding the males perform a dramatic dance and produce repetitive low-frequency vocalizations (hoots) to attract females to their breeding territories.

*as determined by COSEWIC: The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada