Friday, November 14, 2008

Hunting Lessons

Cooper's Hawk 11-14-08 by kathiesbirds
(Click to enlarge any photo for the best viewing)

After days of cool sunlight I awake to a warmer day. I have my windows open, but only silence greets me as the sunlight pours through the screen, illuminating my bedroom. By now the lesser goldfinches and house finches should be twittering away at the feeders. I should be hearing the “tcch, tchh, tcch!” of the hummingbirds, but nothing. I roll over tucking my thick quilt under my chin and speculate that a Cooper’s hawk is lurking about somewhere. I leave the warmth of my bed and, after dressing, take a look outside, but I see nothing.

With a cup of coffee, a bowl of cereal, and my binoculars, I take my seat on the patio. This morning’s warmth flows over me, permeating my skin and my inner being. I warmed through and through, the down-to-my-bones kind of warmth that only sunlight or a cozy fire can give. I search the surrounding rooftops and trees for signs of the hawk, but, I see nothing. Perhaps embolden by my presence a few lesser goldfinches arrive to pick their morning breakfast from the thistle feeder. Then the hummingbirds show up and I grab my binoculars to view a spectacular male Costa’s with his violet gorget flashing in the sun, the pointy ends streaming out far beyond his neck. Still, the birds are all nervous and jittery and few and far between.

After breakfast it’s time to process my most recent photos, including the ones I took last night at the Rosemont Mine meeting. As I sit at my computer in front of the den window a sudden motion catches my eye and there she is. A Cooper’s Hawk has just landed on the railing outside my window. I have my camera right in front of me, but the problem is that the side of the window I sit in front of has the screen on it, and that is where the hawk has landed. If I get up to move to the other side, the hawk will surely see me, and leave. I watch as it grasps the metal railing in its talons, eyes darting left and right and down into the brittle bush below. Are there actually sparrows hiding in the silvery foliage? While the hawk watches for birds, I watch it. We are both hunting, but for different reason. I want to capture an image, it wants to capture lunch!

I move slowly, waiting for its eyes to be diverted, but the phrase “eyes like a hawk” didn’t come out of nowhere, this bird is sharp-eyed and close. At only 10 feet from where I sit with only a window between us, it can see me as easily as I can see it. Though I try to move slowly and even drop below its range of view, the hawk catches my movement. In a desperate move it dives down into the brittle bush and sparrows fly out! Swiftly the hawk follows them towards the front of the house, and I assume my photo op is lost.

All this excitement has made me thirsty, so I get up and walk to the kitchen for a drink. Suddenly I hear the thump of a bird against glass, and I realize it did not come from the den, or the back windows, where I usually get window strikes. I head to the front of the house to see if I can spot where the bird has hit. I assume once again that the hawk has scared the birds out of the front yard bushes and into my windows. I look through the open slats of the shutters, expecting to find the outline of a bird body on the glass. Instead I find the Cooper’s hawk perched in one of my front yard acacia trees! Breathlessly I hurry back to the den for the camera, which still has the 18 to 70 mm lens on it from last night. I poke the extended lens out through the slats and start shooting. The slats of the shutters are working like a bird blind for me, for the hawk does not seem to notice my presence. Still at 12 to 15 feet away, I am not getting the close-ups I want. I quietly leave the window, and hurry to the den to change lenses.

To my surprise, the hawk is still there when I return. It grasps the tree branch and turns its head with eyes darting; looking, looking, for a meal.

I stand breathless and shoot, shoot, shoot. I have captured my prey, will the hawk catch his?

After many shots through the Low E glass windows, which lend a greenish tint to the images, I decide to see if I can sneak outside and creep along the side of the house to get a clear view shot. There is no grass to soften my footsteps. I try to tread lightly to minimize the sound of crunching gravel.

I think that I am doing good, but when I finally peak around the corner of the garage, the hawk is gone. I assume, once again, that it has left. So, I decide to walk the rest of the way around the front of the house to get a better shot of the brittle bush and fence where the hawk first landed. I want a photo to illustrate my story. As I step out from the corner and start to pass Gus’s truck, I once again catch some motion out of the corner of my eye, and there atop my roof is the hawk! Seeing me it drops down below the house to the feeder side and the fence where I originally saw it.

I hurry over hoping to get a shot of it as it flies away, and there it is on the fence. But the sharp-eyed hawk sees me and once again drops low, flying close to the ground across the wash, skimming over the fence towards the houses across the street.

I focus on the bird and snap away as it follows the contours of the land and the house where it flies up over the rooftop and disappears from sight.

I feel sorry the hawk did not catch its meal, especially since it was after these invasive house sparrows. As far as I am concerned, it can eat as many of them as it wants to! But I learned a lot about hunting from the hawk. I learned not to give up, to assume nothing, because your prey may be hiding right around the corner. I learned to use the landscape to my advantage and to keep my eyes and ears open, for that is the only way to survive in the desert.

It isn’t long after the hawk leaves before the birds return. Now I hear the cheerful twittering of finches outside my window. Then the merry laughter of a Gila woodpecker joins the cacophony of sounds. Outside my den window the house sparrows are at the feeder once again and I know that all is right in the bird world.

So, how did I get this photo of the Cooper's Hawk perched on the fence, outside my den window? Well, as I was sitting here typing up this story and editing my photos, he dropped like a gift from the sky onto the railing once again. this time he landed a little bit farther to the left, which allowed me to pick up my camera, which now has the 70 to 300mm lens on it, and lean over just enough to snap a few shots before it flew away. Also, I cleaned the lens between the first set of photos and these last 2. I think I can see the difference, can you?

Photographer’s Notes: I started with the 18-70mm lens, since that was what was on the camera. I tried using the programmed mode but with the multi-metering pattern the camera couldn’t decide what to focus on. I switched to sports mode which gave me the center focus I wanted without having to go into the menu and change settings. Time was of the essence! After loading the images onto the computer, I noticed the very greenish-gray tint to some of the photos. It seemed to matter at what angle I was shooting through the glass. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that by auto enhancing the photos, which sharpens, brightens and enhances the colors (if necessary) the greenish-gray tint all but disappeared. Some of these images are cropped and enlarged, but some are the original size. I hope you enjoy them all.


gina said...

i enjoyed every one of them and the story behind them. :) i think you captured him beautifully! i would love to be so lucky. :)

Anonymous said...

Brilliant images Kathie and a great hunting story.

Deborah Godin said...

This is absolutely breath-taking! You had me on the edge of my seat with suspense! I have never seen such an incredible series of photos of such an elusive bird! This was thrilling!

A New England Life said...

Wonderful photos! I can only imagine your heart pounding as you stalked that hawk like he was stalking his prey. Moments like that don't come very often. I'd say that Hawk was pretty hungry and persistant if it kept coming back over and over. He knows a good place to eat when he see's it!


bobbie said...

Amazing photos, Kathie. So many of them! And a great story to go with them.

Mary C said...

Wow, Kathie! Great photos and a great story to go with it. Thanks for sharing your hunt with us.

Texas Travelers said...

All of the photos are really good, but the last photo is outstanding. Well done.

Great story providing us with the thrill of the chase.

I know the rest of the birds were happy to see her go.

This was a really good post.

Thanks for the visit,
Troy and Martha

A Scattering said...

I've just discovered your blog via Skywatch Friday. I really enjoyed your entry about the Coopers Hawk. My husband and I count Red-Tailed Hawks as we drive throughout southwestern Ontario, Canada. In fact we keep a record in a log book that we keep in the car. You can find a couple of my bird related entries here:
Have a great weekend.

Ces Adorio said...

Holy smokes! What a morning. I like reading the part where you are drinking coffee and eating cerael and the after breakfast processed your photos. What a gift you had that morning with that beautiful hawk. It is a beautiful creature and your photography is fantastic!

Kathryn and Ari said...

What a day--even Thoreau would envy you, I think. And a cooper's hawk--so wonderful. Thanks for sharing!

Shelley said...

Exciting and beautiful! You captured the gleam in his eyes!

Redzlan said...

Lovely, beautiful Cooper's Hawk!
Have a nice weekend.

Celeste said...

What a wonderful tale and such fabulous photos to accompany it, your patience was most definitely rewarded.

Kathie Brown said...

Gina, Thank you! I'll try to send a hawk your way! There's nothing like being in the right place at the right time. Living in Sycamore Canyon, I am in a place with ample opportunities!

Roy, glad you liked it!

Deborah, I'm so glad it captured you that way. My heart was pounding also.

A New Enlgand Life, yes, I do think that hawk was really hungry. I'm so glad I got to witness this amazing behavior though.

Bobbie,glad you enjoyed the story and photos.

Troy and Martha, I couldn't believe it when that hawk came back and landed in the right place this time. I did have to crop the edge of the window frame out of the photo but I can see the difference having the camera set to "fine". There is much more detail in the photos, and I was impressed even before we bumped it up to fine!

Elaine, welcome to Sycamore Canyon! It's always nice to see a new face! Skywatch is wonderful, isn't it? I have discovered so many new blogs that way myself! We have red-tails all over down here right now also. I sometimes count them on the way to the store.

Ces, it amazes me that you like the simple and ordinary things. It's stuff we all do every day and take for granted, but it certainly is a part of life, and beauty is where you choose to find it! As an artist, you already know this. I see it in your work. Poets know it too and point it out to the rest of us!

Kathryn and Ari, Well, since I am an admirer of Thoreau, that's quite a compliment! Perhaps I should re-write his opening, "I went to the desert to confront the essential facts of life..." (I'm paraphrasing here.)

Shellmo, thanks!

Tabib, thanks,

Celeste, Oh, I am so glad you came by and were able to see this post. I am glad that you enjoyed it!

Vickie said...

Kathie, I so enjoyed this post! It wonderfully describes the spontaniety, tenacity and a measure of luck that it takes to get wildlife photos--and why we are hooked! Your photos are outstanding. Thanks for this treat.

Mary said...

There ya go, Kathie! Cooper's are patient - we need to be as patient. You did well. I had to laugh at how much you resemble myself - sneaking and worrying about crunching gravel. LOL!

I find hawks are fun to photograph - they're much easier than flitty birds.

Getting a good photo of a bird in flight is my hardest challenge. You seem to have mastered it!


A Scattering said...

In a comment on my blog you asked whether I'd seen The Shipping News. I've read the book and seen the movie and really enjoyed both. Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey were apparently very well liked by the locals when they were filming in Newfoundland. Rumour has it that Spacey bought land there. If you look in my 2007 archives you'll find photos from my last trip home to Newfoundland. Thanks for stopping by.

Kathryn said...

Kathie, great pic of the Coop! How exciting to catch the shot!

Beth said...

Kathie, the pictures and story of the hawk's hunting trip are just incredible. I can feel the strength of his wings in that close up of him flying. I was on the edge of my seat all the way through. I think I'll go back and read it again.

Its Time to Live said...

A few Coopers Hawk migrate through where I live. We used to have a sharp shined hawk that would try all winter to get at my doves in their outside cage. I have already forgotten what it is like to sit in the sun and feel warm ;) Thanks for the images and the story.

Anonymous said...

The hawks were here yesterday. Mine was a male Coopers Hawk. I think. I have to check out its middle toes to see if they are extra long indicating a Sharp Shinned Hawk. It could be. Anyway, it has popped up on my board fence the last three days in a row. We do not have many birds here right now it always leaves without catching a meal.

Susan Gets Native said...

Will ya look at that TAIL! It looks longer than the our Coop's here.

I giggled at the image of you sneaking around the corner of your house... Sic 'em, Kathie!

Amy said...

Such an AWESOME series!!! What a beautiful hawk. Look at how perfect the tail stripes are. And those gleaming yellow eyes seem to look right through you. Amazing bird! I would have been tripping all over the house trying to get photos. Once in a while one will perch in the maple tree out front but I can't get such good shots with my little digital camera.