This is another Red-tailed hawk without a red tail. The other one is in a previous post and lives at the Clinch River Raptor Center. The hawk in this post lives in the wild, hunting and living and raising its family in nature. Why no red tail? It is too young for that. Read the other post to learn more about that bit of growing up for these hawks. The one at the center now has a full red tail.
Now, here is the tale of the photos you will see here.
My wife was driving and she said a hawk just dove into a field. Of course, this means it was hunting lunch and might have caught it. We went back and parked at the edge of the field which was bordered on the far side with a woods line. Soon enough I saw the hawk flying over the field. Did it get lunch? We do not know but it was certainly hunting as we watched. It went back and forth high above the field and into the woods line. Then it reappeared and was coming our way. I hoped it would get close enough for a photo or two. It did, not close enough for a really sharp photo but the best in-flight raptor photos in a long year.
We were leaving lunch on a Sunday when it all happened. The lens in the camera was a zoom, 18mm to 200mm. You can figure 1x (one magnification) for each 50mm with a 35mm camera and with the digital camera I had with me. At 200mm, that meant the magnification was about 4x, not as strong as a pair of 7x binoculars. That lens was not long enough to get closer photos! Also, as the lens was zoomed to the maximum length of 200mm, the aperture (opening for light) would go down. The widest opening was f/5.6 but that was ok…the day was bright and sunny.
The light going into the camera would determine how fast a shutter could be used. My concern was having enough light to get a fast shutter speed to stop the flight of the hawk. All was just about perfect as anyone could hope for, except for having the wrong lens on the camera. I cannot complain at all; with nature you take what good she offers and do not complain about it. All in all, the settings were mostly like this: ISO 400, f/5.6, shutter 1/3200 of a second. The camera controlled the shutter speed and that was plenty fast enough. The primary concern once I knew the light was sufficient was how would the bird look on the photos? Generally, a bright sky is going to dominate everything and the hawk would be a silhouette (thank you, spell check). The answer is to set the camera to “spot metering”. All cameras do not have this setting but it will often make the difference in getting a photo or not. Set to spot metering, the camera sets its exposure based on the light where the camera is focused. I focused on the hawk and it came out with the sky also ok. Lighting was very even that day and exposure might have been acceptable with normal settings but why take a chance with a rare opportunity.
Getting some fairly decent photos is the blessing. Had there been no camera, the sight of seeing that bird fly so gracefully and determined was an opportunity to peek at nature in action. That the hawk stayed long over the field and close enough to watch it search for food was quite unusual and very appreciated.