Last Saturday morning I woke to the sound of high winds. A brief out-and-back to my deck revealed they were also warm—not your typical January day. I went back to bed, initially resolved that a photo trek would be non-productive but I tossed and turned as I second guessed my decision. The sun was just grazing the horizon when I rose a second time and checked out the windows for signs of wildlife activity that would inspire me to hit the road. As expected, the only movement came from cedar crowns and sycamore limbs, trying to hold their own against the warm gusts. Tired, and a little perturbed that Old Man Winter was shirking his duty, yet again, I rationalized that a hike at Shaw Nature Reserve with my ponderous camera gear draped over my shoulder would only exacerbate the dull ache in my lower back. Besides, I’d probably come home empty handed, image wise.
I asked Joyce for her opinion and she reminded me that I often say it is impossible to go to Shaw Nature Reserve without getting at least one good image. I was surprised at her insight, as she was just rising, that time when our thoughts are as languid as a prairie stream. So without further consternation I loaded my gear and headed east into the fully-risen sun, an unusual sight for the start of my shooting day which typically begins when the BBC is still transmitting on our local NPR station.
Upon arrival, I headed into the woods in search of woodpeckers, cardinals, foxes, squirrels and anything else that moved. I had just settled my tripod on some uneven ground near a lake so I could photograph a band of white-throated sparrows when I saw a shadow moving across a nearby field. A closer look revealed a red-shouldered hawk had just lighted on a sign post. I decided to take a chance and try to approach the stocky buteo from the woods by keeping a huge pine tree between us as I closed the distance, a typical hunter’s trick. I couldn’t see the hawk as I walked toward the pine tree but I knew if I made it to the tree I would be close enough for a shot. When I finally made it to the pine I peaked around its edge and sure enough, the mature red-shoulder was still sitting on the post!
I began settling my tripod at the edge of the field, still in the cover of the pine tree, and in a final lateral movement I opened a clear line of sight from my lens to the perching hawk. I knew I was in trouble the moment I stepped to the right of the concealing pine boughs. Just as I acquired focus on the nervous hawk it launched from the sign post. But instead of flying away, giving me boring shot of its tail feathers, it angled toward me! Shocked at my good luck I was paralyzed for a microsecond but my instincts finally kicked in and I captured a flight image of the hawk as it swept downward toward its prey—a tiny vole. I didn’t take too much time to pat myself on the back for getting the flight shot because the hawk was still in front of me on the ground, sorting out its catch in the grass. In an icing-on-the-cake moment I made a second image just before the red-shouldered beauty swallowed its breakfast in one gulp.
If you’ve ever had trouble seeing the “red shoulders” on this species, it is well documented in the flight image I’ve posted here. I’ve always enjoyed red-shouldered hawks because they are not only beautiful, they are filled with personality and feed on a wide variety of prey. I’ve even watched them go in my pond for frogs and salamanders, awkwardly surfacing with soaked plumage and muddy talons. I never grow tired of the red-shouldered hawk’s incessant squawking which clearly distinguishes it from other raptors. I can’t describe the sound too well with words but you can listen to the call here. Maybe after you read this you’ll be watching—and listening— for red-shouldered hawks around your own stomping grounds. I guarantee you’ll be fascinated when you find one! Oh, and the next time you start to wonder about the validity of one of your “second guesses” you might want to reread this post….smile.
Thanks for Looking!
Red-shouldered Hawk in Flight; Canon 1D Mark IV; Canon 500/4 L IS Lens with Canon 1.4 TC II; 1/640 @ f/5.6; ISO 400; Aperture Priority; RAW Capture; Gitzo GT3530LS Tripod with Wimberley II Gimbal Head; Converted and Processed in Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP)