Thursday, August 1, 2013

Robin the Vigilante

A family of red shouldered hawks has lived in my neighborhood for many years.   They are excellent hunters and take advantage of the woods and pond nearby.   I have photographed them calling to each other high up in tall oak trees, eating three foot water snakes and dive bombing me as I stood in my backyard, because they were nesting in the neighboring lot.  


This week I made one of my favorite images of the red shouldered hawks.   I happened to notice one of them perched on a pine tree in my backyard.   I got my camera and ran to my bathroom, which has a nice second floor view of my yard.   This put me at nearly eye level with the hawk.   I opened the window quickly and conveniently sat upon my throne.   Using the window sill and a towel as an improvised camera support, I was able to make some very nice portrait images of the hawk.


Then a brave robin arrived, alerting the entire neighborhood to the hawk's presence.  It was raising a racket and dive bombing the much larger predator.   Keeping both eyes open, I was able to focus on the hawk, while keeping an eye on the robin in a nearby tree.   Seeing the robin start its flight towards the hawk allowed me to know exactly when to start making images with the camera.   Without this technique, I would not have made a single successful photograph.


Hawks and other large birds of prey are often attacked by much smaller birds.  Smaller birds will fight much larger birds, because they want to drive them away from their territory.   This protects themselves and their young.   The smaller birds are more maneuverable and can easily avoid a hawk on the wing; so long as they are aware of their presence.  


A primary tactic of many hunters is stealth.   This red shouldered hawk was patiently scanning my backyard for an easy meal, hoping to go unnoticed.   Unfortunately for the hawk, the robin served as the neighborhood watch and chased it away.


As I photographed this scene, my wife was quite surprised to see my improvised set up. Although, when it comes to photography, nothing seems to surprise her anymore.  I must admit that it was one of the most comfortable blinds that I have ever used!


This month’s tip:   Improvised blinds are often the best way to make great wildlife images.  From your car, crouching behind a tree, or from your bathroom window, staying hidden from view makes a huge difference.   The animals will stay calm and often ignore your presence, allowing you to observe them and make great images!

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