Red-Tailed Hawk And Dead Cottonwood

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I mentioned the other day that I’m bored with photographing Red-tailed Hawks on utility poles or in flight against empty skies.  I’ve been there and done that with such images and they no longer please me aesthetically.

But, that’s not to say I no longer photograph Red Tails.  I’ll eagerly take their pictures if they’re doing something interesting or if the setting pleases me.  These are, after all, magnificent birds.

The other day I was driving a rural road and I passed a familiar landmark.  It’s a dead Cottonwood tree.  It’s huge by southern Arizona standards, probably more than 50 feet high, with numerous projecting snags and limbs.  It’s a favorite perch for hawks and ravens and I always check it out when I’m in the area.  This time, I discovered a Red-tailed Hawk perching on one of the tree’s upper snags. I decided to photograph it, as much for the shape of the wood as for the bird.  I’m pretty pleased with the images that I got.

Normally, I crop my images of birds in order to exclude extraneous background and to make the images more dramatic.  With these, I decided to do minimal cropping and, in the case of the third image, to present it “as shot.”  I think that the photos actually are considerably more interesting that way.  Moreover, they show the hawk as I saw it.

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In the first image the hawk is watching me warily from its perch.  Red Tails are often quite shy around humans.  In order to get this photograph I parked my car a few yards down the road from the tree and shot from my driver’s side window.  The birds usually react less to a parked car than to a standing human.  Even so, the act of poking my lens out of the window was enough to upset the bird.

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Here, the hawk is “rousing” its feathers, an act that birds of prey often engage in seconds before taking flight.

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And, finally, the moment of liftoff.  In order to capture the bird I had to back off my telephoto, shooting this image at less than full magnification.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm f4-5.6L zoom lens+1.4x Telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f8 @ 1/2500.

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