Sunday, August 10, 2008

Photographing the Red-Tail Hawk: Getting Close

Stumble It!

Red-Tail Hawks are not easy subjects. If you have a long lens, your chances are better at getting good shots. But if you do not have a long lens, you have to learn how to get close.

Steps in getting close to Red-Tail Hawks:

1. Know your subject. Learn what a hawk call sounds like. Be able to spot a Red-Tail Hawk from its silhouette. Keep your eyes open when you walk or drive.

2. Hawks like a variety of settings. In the mountains, think like a hawk - where would they get the best vantage point to spot prey? - and look there. Look for the position of the sun and how it shines down the mountain sides. Trees above these areas are favorite spots for Red-Tail Hawk perches. On paths, look on branches of tall dead trees. They like the unobstructed views when limbs are bare. Look at the top of telephone poles for the same reason.

3. Listen for birds having a commotion. Other birds, especially crows and mockingbirds, will cause quite a fuss when a Red-Tail is in their territorial area. If you hear a big commotion, chances are they are harassing a Red-Tail.

4. When you see a Red-Tail in flight, watch where it goes. Chances are they did not go far and you can reach the spot they flew to with a short walk.

5. Red-Tail Hawks are really not afraid of you. More so they are just bothered by your close presence. When trying to get closer, do not hide from a Red-Tail. Believe me, they saw you a long time before you saw them. Let a hawk evaluate your presence. The Red-Tail will decide how close you are allowed to get. If you are lucky and they are eating prey, your chances of getting closer are greater. Approach a few steps at a time, then stop and take some photographs. I find it helps if I talk to them in a soothing, quiet voice as I get closer. Be sure to take some photographs each time you stop. A Red-Tail can take off at any moment. Follow their flight - they may only fly a short distance.

6. On rare occasions you can befriend a Red-Tail, and when this happens they will know you and let you into their world. This is the ultimate Red-Tail Hawk complement.

How to befriend a Red-Tail:

Let me tell you a short story of how this happened to me. In the pictures through this story are pictures of the same Red-Tail that I took over a two-day period. I first met this Red-Tail while he was eating a squirrel on a limb. He was not really anxious to leave his meal so he let me stay. I took hundreds of photos and stayed with him over an hour, within ten feet of him.. I talked to him often in a calm voice. I felt a connection, and apparently he did also.

The next day I was walking down the same path and spotted him on a limb. He was not eating this time, but looking for prey. He allowed me to get very close, within five feet. I was able to stay there with him for several hours. Then I saw him dive in some underbrush. He had caught a mole and flew in a close-by tree and let me watch him dine. I had gained his trust the previous day, and that bond of trust did not disappear.

Whenever I walk the same path, I am allowed to approach and share some kind words with him.

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