I’ve Become A Red Tail Snob
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Last year I was out photographing raptors one day with a couple of friends and one of them commented that he’d become a bit of a Red Tail snob. By that he meant that he was less interested in photographing typical Red-tailed Hawks and had focused on those birds that were doing something especially interesting or that had a unique appearance. At the time I was a bit puzzled. I was still early in my raptor photography and, to me, all birds were equally worthy of being photographed.
Well, times change. I have a collection of several hundred photographs of Red Tails, perched, in flight, taking off and landing, and I, too, have become a bit of Red Tail snob. These days I find myself routinely driving past “generic” Red Tails perched on utility poles, expressing a kind of “been there, done that” attitude when I see them.
But, there are exceptions and this bird is one of them.
A few days ago I was once more out with friends looking for interesting subjects to photograph. We were exiting an interstate highway and a large dead tree right by the exit ramp caught my eye. A very uniquely colored Red Tail was perched on a branch and I couldn’t resist the urge to take a photograph.
This is a juvenile hawk, almost certainly in its first year. That’s evident by the bird’s pale eye and by the fact that it doesn’t have a red tail. What makes this bird unusual is its plumage. Most Red Tails of this bird’s age — at least, most Red Tails born in this area — would have nearly white breasts with dark spots running laterally across their abdomens, forming a band or a “belt.” Most local juveniles would also be considerably lighter in color than this bird. This bird, by contrast, is very dark and its abdomen is more than 50% dark feathers. That suggests that the bird may not be a local bird, but a winter resident, and, moreover, it suggests that it will mature into something that looks quite different from our local Red Tails. Quite possibly, this bird will grow up to be a solid dark red in color or perhaps a solid dark brown.
So, that makes this bird a bit unusual. The photograph is also a bit unusual in the sense that so many of these hawks are perched on utility poles when I find them. The dead tree branch makes for a far more photogenic perch in my opinion. Finally, there is something unique about the quality of the light that attracts me to this photograph. I see so many birds in brilliant sunshine that I grow a bit bored with photographs of them against a bright blue background. On this occasion, however, the sky was mostly cloudy, but there was just enough sun to highlight the bird against a blue-gray background.
Snob that I am, I like this image!
Photo taken with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, ISO 500, M setting, f7.1 @ 1/1250.