I shared a photo recently that turned out to be pretty popular. It was a portrait of an adult Red-tailed Hawk, another bird species that has adapted well to being around humans. Here’s the photo.
And here’s the description that followed: “The payoff for being still. This adult Red-tailed Hawk landed on a utility pole just above me as I birded Money Point in Chesapeake, VA this a.m., (10/17).” The normally skittish and hard-to-approach bird landed where it did because I wasn’t visible. I’d been rooted to a spot beneath the utility pole for over 10 minutes.
Those of us who work with, or have worked with, young children are familiar with the idea of “teachable moments.” Every moment in a young child’s life is a teachable moment. Well, I’d submit that teachable moments happen throughout the life cycle. I experienced one that morning.
What did I learn, or what was reinforced? (1) It’s important to be still and to ease up on pursuing when you’re out in the field. (2) If you follow that guidance, you’ll increase your chances of being astonished, (to borrow an idea from the poet, Mary Oliver).
Here’s another, full-body shot of the same bird. The sit-and-wait predator, perched on a crossarm, was searching for food (and still didn’t see me).
The Power Corridor
I’m reminded of being at Indian River Park in Chesapeake the day before. I often bird the power line corridor there. Power line corridors rock. They’re great places to find and photograph wildlife. Interestingly, we’ve already noted in “Bird Notes” that power lines, themselves, rock.
As I was walking around, I could hear Carolina Wrens calling and singing. Some songs sounded just like this:
Carolina Wrens aren’t as loquacious as Brown Thrashers.
Just ahead of me I saw movement in a bush. I stopped and waited. After 7 or 8 minutes, 1 of the 2 wrens in the bush inched its way closer to the top. All I could think of at that moment was “fieldcraft, fieldcraft, fieldcraft.” I actually mouthed the words. Notwithstanding the importance of good photo gear, correct settings, and proper hand-holding technique, few things are more important when it comes to capturing wildlife than fieldcraft, or how you conduct yourself in the field. Again, my stillness was rewarded. The bird eventually teed up and provided a great photo op. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere had I tried to pursue it.
The Same Scenario
A few days later, the same scenario played out in a different Chesapeake hotspot: Money Point. I’d just finished trying to capture another raptor, an adult male American Kestrel. To avoid shooting the kestrel against an unflattering sky, I had to “dance around the teacup,” or move to find a better backdrop. I found one in the buildings of the cement plant nearby.
Then I headed down the road to the Money Point restoration site. I noticed some bird activity in an area I frequent there. I stopped and waited for about 10 minutes. Savannah Sparrows had just arrived from their breeding grounds farther north, but a calling Song Sparrow caught my attention. It, too, was buried in a bush. But as I stood there, it slowly made its way to the edge and began to sing. Had I spent time moving around or trying to coax it to come out, I would have missed the opportunity to get this close-up.
Now, I waited only a short time for the above sightings and photo ops. I was lucky. Some, like Keith Freeburn, wait a lot longer. Here’s Keith’s story about an experience he had at Lake Accotink Park:
I had quite the experience at Lake Accotink Park yesterday!
I saw the Bald Eagle pair in a tree across the pond and waited patiently for about two hours to see if they’d fly off to hunt again. It started getting late so I started walking down the path to head home. After only five steps I heard a Killdeer land fairly close and started taking some photos.
As I photographed the Killdeer I noticed that both Bald Eagles had left their perches and were flying low circles together over the lake. They would come down to the water as if they were going to catch something but then fly back up. Eventually, the female hit the water with a big splash. She sat in the shallow water on top of her prey and then started to swim toward a muddy island in my direction. Once there I was able to see she had captured a male Ruddy Duck. Once on this island she flew a short distance to this piece of driftwood and ate her prized catch.
And This Just In
Thanks to Keith for the great photo.
I covered many of the ideas above in “Be Still and Know.” Here’s a brief quote from that piece: “The first, and most important, skill for getting close to wild birds is really a non-technique, technique. It’s called ‘patience.'”
Vera, a reader, saw the Red-tailed Hawk portrait and commented, “What a face!” She was probably thinking about the bird’s eyes. Those eyes are exceptionally large and provide the bird with great vision. Some have referred to birds as “two eyes with wings.” That descriptor especially applies to the many birds of prey.
If you’re interested in learning more about power line corridors as sanctuaries, here’s a fascinating read about corridors in New England.
Acorn numbers are pretty good this fall in Virginia. Here’s an indication.
Quip, Question, Quote
“Many species of mammals and birds will allow you to approach them closely if you are careful and take your time, no fast movements and using the correct techniques. Read the land for yourself, see what’s in front of you, in between you and the subject, use natural gulley’s and shapes to break up your approach. Never make the mistake of walking directly towards your subject as the chances are the animal will have long gone.” (https://blog.craigjoneswildlifephotography.co.uk/)
6 thoughts on “Fieldcraft”
Great post, Dave! I especially like the wren and the song sparrow photos.
Thanks so much, Jean.
Wow! A fantastic read. It felt as if I got to come along on your adventures. Good information and a human experience. Nicely done.
Thanks, Beverly. Those words are music to this writer’s ears.
Your photos speak for themselves Dave.
I take that as a high compliment, Andrea. Thanks.
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