Beast of Burden

Article and Images by Joni L. James

 

Beast of Burden - Joni L. James
© Joni L. James, Field Contributor
On a scouting trip to a favorite wetland, I watched a belted kingfisher return repeatedly to the same perch. It would explode from a branch that extended outward above the pond surface. The bird would fly in a loop to a point directly above the water, hover, then hurtle downward. The explosion of water would often be followed by it rising triumphantly with a fish in its bill. Once the meal was consumed, it would return to the point where it all began.

From knowing kingfisher behavior and observing this individual’s pattern of activity, I realized this was an excellent opportunity for photographing the kingfisher at this perch. I began planning that same day.

Beast of Burden - Joni L. James
© Joni L. James, Field Contributor
I would need to hike to this location during an afternoon (the angle of light at that time would be best for illuminating the subject) and position myself among the edge of cattails that bordered the north side of the pond. To capture the images of the kingfisher, I would need to conceal my presence.

The plan would require my Nikon DSLR, my tripod with Wimberley head, Tamron 200–500 mm lens, a second tripod for macro shots later, and my backpack with Nikon lenses for other photos. In addition, I would need my camouflage material and a towel for wiping mud from the equipment and myself since I would be sitting in mud and water.

One problem—how do I get all this equipment there?

I began brainstorming. A burro? I don’t have one. A little red wagon? Too noisy and unstable. A sled? Would not glide well without snow.

That evening I went shopping at a sporting goods store with my niece to purchase shoes. We had just entered the store and started down an aisle when I saw it. Believe in synchronicity? I do. Propped upright against a stack of boxes was the answer to my dilemma. A Jet Sled, Jr.®

Beast of Burden - Joni L. James
© Joni L. James, Field Contributor
The black sled is made of heavy duty polyethylene and has a rope handle. It is lightweight and marketed as an ice fishing sled by Shappell Corporation for under $25. There are several sizes available but the junior is the smallest at 20” W x 42” L x 8” D and just 6 pounds. It has a molded hull and runners for pulling it easily over any terrain. A larger model has an optional hitch for snowmobiles and ATVs.

The next afternoon I loaded the equipment I would need into the sled and headed to the wetland. Clipping the camouflage material to several cattails and then draping myself with the netting, I sat patiently waiting for the bird to return to the perch. Kingfishers are so wary of any change in their surroundings that I was beginning to think I would not capture any photos on this trip. Announcing its arrival with the typical rattling call, the bird landed on the perch. It was cautious, but stayed long enough for me to capture several photos. As planned, I was able to photograph the kingfisher. This would not have been possible without the sled. Since then, I have used it many times to transport equipment to sites to set up in camouflage. Recently I used it when photographing whitetail deer.

Beast of Burden - Joni L. James
© Joni L. James, Field Contributor
I highly recommend this product to photographers who need to transport more equipment than they can carry to a photographic site. The sled holds a substantial amount of equipment and glides effortlessly across the ground. The only drawback to its use is the noise produced as it is pulled across the ground. The only drawback to its use is the noise produced as it is pulled across the ground. I have also used the sled to sit in when needing a drier seat. An inexpensive foam pad placed in the bottom of the hull allows me to wait comfortably in concealment for hours. The sled slides easily into the back of my car, packed and ready to be pulled into the field. I’ve found my Jet Sled, Jr.® to be the perfect beast of burden.

Hey—it’s cheaper than a burro.
 
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