by Carlton Ward Jr. | August 26, 2019
Florida Wild: Heavy Catch
It was late afternoon in early November. I was with a film crew scouting for locations for a sunrise shoot on Buck Island Ranch, a 10,000-acre working cattle ranch and research center in Highlands County (south of Sebring) managed by the Archbold Biological Station. While our primary mission that evening was to see the pastures we would be navigating with our cowboys in the dark the following morning, we also had our long lenses ready for chance encounters with wildlife. I already had my 600mm superzoom lens in my hands because we’d just stopped to photograph a rabbit foraging among the grasses on the trail. When we resumed driving west, a red-shouldered hawk took flight from the low vegetation to our left, weighed down by a heavy catch that hung down like a dinosaur tail. When the hawk landed on a nearby fence post, the yard-long brown water snake was in clearer display. I held the heavy lens as steadily as I could and squeezed off half a dozen frames before the hawk took flight again, this time landing on a low branch in an old live oak—a sturdy dinner table. We watched and filmed the hawk enjoying its meal there, silhouetted by the setting sun.
Of the 40 or so photos I captured, this early pose on the post made for my favorite. The soft backlighting adding a glow to the hawk and sparkle to the barbed wire. The out-of-focus hammock of broomsedge and oak in the background. The fence post as a measuring stick for the snake. And most importantly, the sense of place. Without reading my words, you could tell this is a ranch, and this ranch is supporting more than just cattle (though the cattle roundup the next morning was also magical). The film we produced here is called Cowboys and Scientists. Check it out for a deeper look at a special place, where committed ranchers and researchers are measuring and proving that Florida cattle, wildlife and water can thrive together in balance.