I first saw the hawks last Sunday. For three days in a row (for my daily photo for the 365Project) I took photographs of them working on their nest high up in one of the sycamore trees in the woods behind our house.
Then on Wednesday, they did not show up. I watched on and off all day and no hawks. According to All About Birds, “Red-tailed Hawks may or may not use the same nest from year to year. A pair may have a few nests in the area and may fix up two or more nests for the breeding season before they finally settle down and choose one.”
I believe this may be what they are doing on the days they are not here. And I thought today might be one of those days. Then at 8:01, as I stood looking out the kitchen window towards the nest, one of the hawks glided over the top of our house outside my window and landed in the nest. It was immediately followed by the second.
They are majestic creatures and fascinating to watch. They are also powerful predators. From time to time I see one swoop past our bird-feeders looking for lunch. They also could potentially kill my little 10-pound dog Arthur. Meanwhile they are simply trying to live, make nests, and feed their young. I understand all of this. Life is full of dichotomies.
The setup I use to photograph the hawks’ nest that you can see as a small spot in the top of the tree through the window.
I believe I am doing the best I can to photograph these birds given the limited equipment I own. If I had a super long pro lens, I could probably do a lot better. I have an Olympus OMD Em1 with an Olympus 14-150mm f/4-5.6 lens and use a trip-pod set up beside my kitchen window.
This is actually a good location because our house sits on a hill. The yard drops down a steep slope to a creek, and then the woods rises up another hill on the other side. The tree is in the woods across the creek. My kitchen window provides the advantage that it sits a few feet higher than the floor of the deck right outside–not to mention it’s been cold outside. So there is that. One of the challenges is getting an angle that minimizes view obstruction from branches.
I shoot at 150mm and then crop in to get the shots I post. I use center-weighted metering and manual, magnification-assisted, focus. Another challenge is lighting. It’s so far away, and mostly backlit, that it’s been difficult to illuminate the birds in or on the nest. Yesterday I realized that 9:00 a.m. on a sunny day, is a good time. The sun is high enough in the sky and off to the left enough to shine a nice light onto the birds. I just have to get the birds to cooperate during that time — another challenge.
Shot taken at 9:00 a.m. with the morning light shining into the nest. This is an extreme crop.
I might try my longer, 75-300mm lens, again. I tried it once and discarded the shots because I thought the 150mm cropped shots were better. But I just googled and read a post about birding lenses from an Olympus user at mirrorlessplanet.com, and he used the longer lens I have to get some acceptable images. It’s worth another try. The dream lens, a 300mm f/4 pro lens lists at $2500 on Amazon. Then there’s the Olympus 300mm f/2.8 super telephoto lens for Olympus digital SLR cameras (I don’t know if this would work on my OMD-Em1) at $7000. My 75-300mm lens currently lists at about $550. You get what you pay for. Maybe when I get hired by National Geographic . . .
(You might be interested in a video I posted on YouTube where I tried to record the hawks in action. There is no audio and the lighting is not optimal, but you can see the activity of the birds. I actually don’t hear anything when I’m watching them either. I got dinged by a viewer who didn’t approve. You can read my response to him there as well. It appears he removed the 26 dislikes he gave me after reading it.)