I’ll risk being repetitious and post another picture of this beautiful hawk. Here, it’s watching the walkers who are about to ask me what I’m shooting. I knew someone or something was approaching before I heard them because the bird’s head swiveled abruptly in a different direction. While the hawk seemed to pay very little attention to me, it’s gaze stayed fixed on the pair until they walked out of sight.
I think one of the reasons I was able to drive home, get my gear and return to find this hawk still roosting was because it looks to me like it had recently fed. In some photos I can see a slight tinge of blood at the base of it’s beak and in other photos it looks like there’s a bit of blood on it’s feet. Which could explain why the hawk was so complacent. Many times I’ve tried to get close enough to photograph a hawk, but unless they’re settled in for a good roost they’re usually too wary to let people approach. Of all the pictures I’ve taken, the ones that have been the most successful have shown signs of a recent kill. (One other time I got some great shots of a one-eyed hawk that was perched on a limb that overlooks our pond. At the time I thought the hawk might actually have been hunting the pond, but it was impossible to tell.)
Either way, I’m very thankful that I had the opportunity to take so many good pictures of this hawk. Truly, this was a really big thrill for me!
That I somehow managed to capture several semi-decent shots of this hawk was a huge thrill for me! First, the circumstances were a bit unusual and second, it’s the first time I’ve shot any wildlife since my eye troubles began last March.
I was driving home from the grocery store and had just pulled onto my road when a large shadow passed over my car. As soon as I could safely pull over I peered upward and saw a very large hawk glide across the road and into the woods, where it landed gracefully on a low branch of a tree. My car idled as I sat and watched the bird, cursing my bad luck that I didn’t have my camera with me. I immediately began to calculate how long it would take to drive to my house, run inside and grab my gear (which would require a lens change) and drive back? Would the hawk stay put or fly off after I left? I could tell the bird was starting to settle into a roost, so I decided to try to make a go for it. I didn’t hurry or panic, I simply drove home, got my gear and drove back. Much to my surprise, the hawk was still perched comfortably on the same branch!
It’s always a bit of a chance when you try to shoot birds in the woods. Wind can cause tree branches to move, making the results blurry and limbs and leaves often cast shadows that obscure some (or all) of the desired target. I stood in the middle of the street with tripod in hand, trying decide how close the bird would let me approach before showing alarm or flying off. I inched forward a step at a time until my advance was blocked by a stone wall at the shoulder of the road. The bird watched me the entire time, but held it’s position. I decided not to chance scaling the stone wall since I didn’t think I could do it without rousing the bird from it’s roost. I set my tripod down, made some adjustments to my camera and started shooting.
At first the bird was partially obscured by the shade of an overhead branch. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try to reposition myself or just wait and see if the bird might shift slightly on it’s own. I chose to wait, and within a few minutes the bird changed it’s position just enough so that the shadows were slightly lessened. Unbeknown to me (because I was so focused on shooting the hawk) two people were walking toward us on the road. Talk about bad timing! On one hand, that turned out to be good because the hawk moved into the light more and swiveled it’s head around to follow the walker’s approach. But on the other hand, as the walkers got closer to me one of them spoke out. “Deer?”
OK, does that make any sense? You see a crazy lady standing by the road side, head glued to a big honking camera on a tripod and you TALK to them? I mean, what else would I be trying to shoot if not wildlife and if so, wouldn’t it make more sense to be quiet? I guess not. I didn’t reply, but the walkers continued by, chattering loudly the entire way. Fortunately, the hawk was comfortable and it didn’t decide to take off. I stayed and shot as many frames as I could, then decided I should try to move closer. I reasoned that if the hawk flew off I wouldn’t be going home empty-handed, but if I could obtain a better (or different) vantage point then why not try? I got about halfway over the stone wall before the hawk had had enough. It launched into the air, flapped it’s massive wings a few times, then glided off to a tree beyond the reach of my lens. Giddy with excitement, I drove home. I still had several bags of groceries to unload and put away before I could download my pictures and see what I had. Needless to say, I was pretty pleased!
I think it takes an enormous amount of skill and good luck to shoot wildlife with any real success. (And a big honking lens) I’ll never have that kind of skill or the equipment to be that good, but I’m tickled pink when the sun, moon and stars all align, and I get lucky!
It’s breeding season for hawks and they’re driving me crazy! I see about 6-8 hawks around my house and property daily and usually when I see them they’re in a great location to shoot. Unfortunately, their minds are so focused on finding a mate that they’re not content to sit in one spot for very long. For the better part of an hour I watched one male follow a female from tee to tree yesterday. I had my camera in hand, ready to grab a few frames if they roosted low and close by, but they stayed pretty much on the move. Ah well. Hopefully a pair will mate and build a nest nearby. A few years ago we had a pair raise their young almost directly across the street from our farm. That was thrilling, albeit noisy! I had tons of viewing and shooting opportunities, but back then I didn’t have a camera. The hawks seem to like our little corner of the neighborhood so perhaps if I’m lucky a pair will call it home again this year?
Yesterday I blogged about why I was disappointed with the photos I took of the hawk, and I kicked around a couple of ideas about why I thought I wasn’t getting crisp, clear pictures. Today I’ve posted two more pictures from that series and I’m happy to report that although I was discouraged by the quality of some of the photos, several were good enough that I think I’ve made a positive ID on the bird.
Last summer a friend and I were riding our bikes on the Airline Trail and had just passed a very large Blue Heron standing stock-still on a semi-submerged log less than 200 yards from a man taking pictures of something just off the bank of the trail. Now it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see this man was serious about his photography …. he had his camera mounted on a tripod and a lens attached to the camera that was big enough to rival the Hubble. So we slowed as we approached and stopped to ask him what he was shooting. I forget what he said, but it was some tiny pair of breeding birds that lived in the swampy habitat that spanned both sides of the trail. I excitedly told him about the big Blue Heron we’d just passed and was shocked when he didn’t immediately pack up his gear and head off in that direction. I mean, the bird was HUGE and it was barely a stone’s throw from the bank of trail! The man didn’t seem too impressed. After chatting for a few minutes my friend and I left to continue our ride.
Upon our return we saw the photographer had indeed moved and was situated right where we’d told him the Heron could be seen. Again we slowed our approach and stopped to see if he’d had any luck capturing the bird. He showed us the pictures and I have to say his results were stunning. We chatted a bit more about photography and birds and it was during that conversation that I mentioned I’d had a nesting pair of Cooper’s Hawks near my farm. I told him the hawks had become so accustomed to my presence that they would roost on a very low branch that overlooked my paddock and didn’t seem the least bit bothered by my coming and going. I admitted that I hoped to get some photographs of them in the near future.
The man questioned me about the hawks, then proceeded to tell me it was highly unlikely this was a pair of Cooper’s Hawks because they are quite rare in our area. Now I was pretty darn sure these were Cooper’s Hawks … I’d done a good bit of research on them and I’d seen them often and clearly enough to have made several comparisons to the pictures I’d found online. He again insisted that it was very rare to see that type of hawk around here and he was pretty certain that I’d mis-identified the birds. I wasn’t going to argue with the man. After all, he said he’d been photographing birds for several years and for all I knew, perhaps I was wrong. Since that was his favorite subject to shoot I just assumed he knew more about birds than I did. We talked a bit more, I said I hoped to see his Heron photo on the cover of Natioal Geographic, then my friend and I shoved off toward home.
Last night I looked at my hawk photos more carefully. I googled hawks, then more specifically, Cooper’s Hawks. Fortunately, I had taken several pictures of my hawk from three or four different angles and I was able to see not just the front or side, but the underside and the back, too. I poured over my pictures and compared them to the descriptions and photos online and I think I can say with 99.9% assurance that this is indeed a young Cooper’s Hawk.
So there! 😉
No, it’s not Michelle Pfeiffer or Rutger Hauer. It’s birds of prey and the husband/wife team who handle them. Unfortunately, the woman seemed play more to the audience on the opposite side of the arena. I considered moving, but that would have me shooting directly into a very bright 2 PM sun. So I settled for what I could get from the spot I picked. Which wasn’t bad, but wasn’t exactly great either.
The husband actually seemed (IMO) to have a better rapport with the birds. Or maybe his approach was just “different”? For one, he was QUIET while the wife never shut up. (I can hear the “whoosh” of all the male heads nodding …) She was wired for sound, but her voice bounced off the surrounding trees and outbuildings and just echoed around the arena. Nobody understand a word she said. But she rambled on. I understand wanting to educate the public. Heck, I wanted to know more myself! But I found her monologue enormously distracting, then irritating as I strained to hear what she said she was going to do next. Having that information might have helped capture better pictures, but her voice was so muffled that all I could do was guess.
Yes, she looked a “tad” nutty, but her garb was actually very functional! Her bait bag looks like she’s feeding Godzilla!
At this point she stood near the center of the riding ring and her husband stood at the end. She held one bird, he held the other, then released it. They did this several times. In the picture above and below, the bird had just flown to her and landed.
I was very impressed with how beautifully these birds worked with both handlers. It’s obvious they put an enormous amount of time and energy into the care and training of them. The woman did tell the ages of each bird and although I don’t recall the specifics, I do remember her saying they ranged in age from young (a year or so old) to their mid “teens.”
A redtail hawk! I was pretty wowed by this bird which unfortunately, at this point of my learning curve, meant that I struggled between watching and paying attention to what I was shooting. I’m finding that I take much better pictures when I can “divorce” myself from what I’m shooting. If I’m trying to photograph something I’m really interested in seeing, I don’t get as many quality pictures. If I’m shooting something I’m already familiar with or not involved in the outcome, the pictures turn out much better. This makes me wonder how parents take pictures of their kids playing high contact sports?
I didn’t get as many “keeper” photos of this bird as I hoped and what I did get could have been better. Why is it that we fumble so when something we REALLY want to photograph comes along? Ug!
So regal and wise!
When they moved to the free flight part of the program, the woman warned spectators that the birds might decided to land very close, either on the fence railing or some other spot. She warned us not to move suddenly or try to touch them. I watched them fly off into nearby trees and one landed on the roof of the small announcer’s booth that I was standing next to. Each time a bird took off, I quickly lost sight of it. Again, I cursed my location. Suddenly, one of the hawks swooped over and landed right on the desk of the announcement booth! In two quick steps and I was up the stairs and into the booth, and only a few feet away from the inquisitive bird!
I apologize for the quality of these photos, but this happened so suddenly! There were several young children and adults standing in the booth when the hawk few in. I had a huge zoom lens on my camera and the camera was set for bright outdoor lighting. When I went into the booth it was very dark and the children were a bit startled. I had all I could do to find a spot to shoot through as I frantically worked to refocus my lens. This all took place in a matter of seconds, and I only managed to get a few shots. Not an ideal situation, but it was quite thrilling for me!
In the blink of an eye, she was off and back to her handler.
I have more photos of the different birds they brought, but I think that’s enough for today!
(Note: If you click on the pictures it might enlarge them. It does for me … I don’t know if it will for you!)