Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Simply a Dusky

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In the Field

Simply a Dusky. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 16, 2023.

One of the surest signs of spring in my neck of the woods is the return of the hooters! Dusky Grouse are altitudinal migrants that spend their winters at high elevations, returning to lower elevation ridges in the spring to breed and raise their young. When breeding the males form territories that they defend against other males (but they definitely welcome females!). On these territories the males display and sing their "hoot song" - which is exactly what the male in this photo is doing. The hoot song usually has 5 syllables and is quite soft, often inaudible beyond 30 to 40m. According to the literature, the territory size of males seems to vary, but on our 20 hectare (50 acre) acreage (which is continuous good Dusky Grouse habitat) we normally have 5 males with territories.

A couple of things about this image may interest some. This is obviously a very simple image...which tends to be my style. It was captured before the sun rose over the mountains east of us and the light overhead clouds helped to produce very soft low contrast lighting. I knew under this lighting that feather detail would show very nicely if I went in for a tightly-frame shot (and that I wouldn't have over-powering contrast to deal with during post-processing). It seems catching one of these guys in this kind of light - and without long grasses in front of them is a very rare event!

I captured this image with what is becoming one of (in not my most) favourite lenses to go on "camera walks" with - the Z 400mm f4.5S. Not only is the lens light and quite compact (for a true super-telephoto), but it is also really, really sharp - even when shot wide open (as this shot was). And, it definitely produces high-quality out-of-focus zones that help your subject pop. During the "camera walk" that I captured this image on I was carrying the Z 400mm f4.5S in my hands (with a sling strap around my neck) and with a Z 800mm f6.3S in a small backpack (a MindShift 18L BackLight). I also had a Z-TC 1.4x in my pocket. So...I was walking around - feeling very unencumbered by excess weight - with 400mm, 560mm, and 800mm focal lengths that are capable of producing top-notch imagery at my disposal. That's pretty cool...

Here's a larger version (4800 pixel) of this hooter for your perusal:

Simply a Dusky: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 3.4 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

Simply a Dusky. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 16, 2023.

High Efficiency* Compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 3200.

Nikon Z 9 paired with Z Nikkor 400mm f4.5S. Hand-held. VR on in Sport mode. 3D-tracking AF area mode with subject detection on "Animal".

1/200s @ f4.5; No compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Simply a Dusky. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 16, 2023.

Initial noise reduction and sharpening on the .nef (raw) file using the DeepPRIME XD algorithm of DXO PhotoLab 6.5 Elite.

Subsequent adjustments to the adjusted linear DNG file (exported from PhotoLab 6) 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 only global adjustment was a tweak to the Levels (a contrast adjustment). Selective local adjustments performed using Capture One Pro's layers and masking tools. In this case selective adjustments were made on 5 separate layers and ALL were under the general umbrella of "exposure balancing", with one or more targeted selective tweaks to brightness (mid-tone exposure), clarity (mid-tone contrast), the highlights, blacks, and whites.

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


Simply a Dusky. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. April 16, 2023.

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