Natural Art: The Photography of Brad Hill

Dusky Grouse - Strutting His Stuff

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In the Field

Dusky Grouse - Strutting His Stuff. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. June 4, 2023.

In the spring of 2023 I was fortunate enough to be able to spend a lot of early mornings with breeding and displaying Dusky Grouse. Along the way I was able to learn a tremendous amount about these "chicken-like" birds and, as an added bonus, they gave me some great opportunities to test out some new camera gear.

One of the more fascinating things I learned about the Duskies was how unique each of their personalities are. I know most folks don't think of wild birds as having "personalities", but the four male Duskies that have territories on our acreage are completely different from one another. Two of them are virtually unapproachable and flush if you happen to wander within 25 meters of them. One of the other two is quite calm around humans and will sit, hoot and display if you stay about 5 meters back from him. And then there's THIS bird...which has apparently decided I am his absolute buddy and shows virtually no fear of me. He doesn't ignore I walk up to him he'll turn his head and watch what I'm doing and then, within seconds, will return to doing whatever he was previously doing. If he decides to move, he doesn't care if he walks over my feet or, if I'm laying on the ground, he'll literally jump on me and walk right over me. On one recent morning he actually hopped on my knee while I sat cross-legged on the ground and proceeded to hoot for females from the "knee perch"! These four different birds are exposed to humans (meaning my partner and I) in equal amounts - why two are unapproachable, one is quite calm, and the fourth is my buddy is beyond me...

When you look at this image (and especially at the soft background) it would be easy to think this image was captured with a medium or long focal length super-telephoto lens. But it was captured with the Z 85mm f1.2S lens connected to a Nikon Z 8. And while this lens is almost never thought of as a wildlife lens, I personally love using it with wildlife. Of course, it's not often that I'll have a subject that lets me work with it from 1-2 meters away (which is about how far the grouse was from me in this shot), but even with more distant subjects it's amazing how well you can isolate the subject from its background when you shoot this lens in the f1.2 to f1.4 range. In this shot I actually stopped down a little from wide open to have enough DoF to keep the critical bits in sharp focus (including the eye, bill, throat pouch, and much of its flank).

There's no risk that my Z 85mm f1.2S is going to displace my Z 400mm f2.8S as my favourite wildlife lens. But when it's practical I love to bring my Z 85mm along with me on wildlife projects to get some very different - and often very unique - perspectives on my subject.

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

Dusky Grouse - Strutting His Stuff: Download 4800 pixel image (JPEG: 3.7 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

Dusky Grouse - Strutting His Stuff. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. June 4, 2023.

High Efficiency* Compressed RAW (NEF) format; ISO 180.

Nikon Z 8 paired with Z Nikkor 85mm f1.2S. Hand-held. Hand-held. VR on in Sport mode. 3D-tracking AF area mode with subject detection on "Auto".

1/250s @ f1.4; -0.3 stop compensation from matrix-metered exposure setting.

At the Computer

Dusky Grouse - Strutting His Stuff. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. June 4, 2023.

RAW Conversion to 16-bit TIFF file (and JPEG files for web use), including all global and selective adjustments, using Phase One's Capture One Pro 23. In the case of this image the only global adjustment was an overall contrast (i.e., levels) 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 most were under the general umbrella of "exposure balancing",with one or more highly targeted and selective tweaks to brightness (mid-tone exposure), clarity (mid-tone contrast), the highlights, blacks, and whites. I also tweaked the color balance of the grouse slightly (pulling down magentas on the grouse and adding a little warming to it).

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


Dusky Grouse - Strutting His Stuff. Findlay Creek, BC, Canada. June 4, 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