What follows are a few late winter/early spring Mid-Atlantic region sights and sounds. I’d like to begin with some Red-shouldered Hawk photos, but first, here’s one of a Great Blue Heron grabbing a bluegill for breakfast. I took it on the same morning I took the Red-shouldered photos.
The Red-shouldered Hawk
Let’s go to those photos. On March 8, I visited a local park to bird and to photograph whatever I could find interesting. As I was getting into my truck to leave, I spotted a Red-shouldered Hawk 40 feet up in a tree. It was surveying the area looking for food. There’s a small freshwater marsh not far from the tree, and it turned its attention there. Then it bolted. I wasn’t prepared nor was I positioned for a good flight shot, but I took one anyway. Sometimes, I can’t resist; I’m sure many of you understand.
The bird might have flown to stoop on prey, or it might have left for a better perch. In any event, it caught nothing and wound up in a smaller tree on the bank of the marsh. I followed along quickly. Here’s a photo of the bird as it continued its search. The far side of the marsh is in the background.
The photo might make those of you who have followed the blog remember the Red-shouldered photos that appeared in “The Scuffletown Creek Hunters” and “The Scuffletown Creek Hunters, Cont’d.” It also might make you recall those lucky hunting party photos. The bird in those blogs was a juvenile, while this one is an adult. It might be fun to compare the photos.
Within a minute after I took the shot, the hawk stooped on a Wood Frog and carried it up into another small tree where it proceeded to eat it. It ate all but the legs. Wood frogs and spring peepers had just emerged from hibernation. A friend with whom I shared the photo told me the bird was an excellent hunter to find a frog in March. Another told me she didn’t know that Red-shouldered Hawks ate frogs.
The above photo reminds me of an email I just received. Included was a link to a lesson on how to remove fences in Photoshop. This was the teaser: “Do you have a photo of an animal that’s obscured by ugly fencing? Here’s how to remove the fence in Photoshop in just a few clicks.” It would take more than a few clicks to remove all the stuff here.
This is my last photo of the bird. I chose a head shot. Among other things, the photo highlights the bird’s red shoulder. It’s always interesting to learn about the origins of common names.
A few days after my encounter with the hawk, I revisited the marsh. This time I brought along not only my camera, but a recorder. I was fortunate to record both spring peepers and wood frogs. I’d been listening to and enjoying the high-pitched sounds of the peepers, when all of a sudden the wood frogs announced their presence. Their voices, which sound like quacking, were almost drowned out.
Spring Songs and Calls
A little later on, I recorded another male Song Sparrow. You can hear the Red-shouldered Hawk scream near the start. The screams are faint. You can also hear Eastern Bluebirds and Red-winged Blackbirds throughout.
Here’s a better recording of the Red-shouldered. I was watching it from below another perch when I recorded it. I’d gotten to the area first, and it never noticed me. That’s always the key, isn’t it, whether you’re recording or taking pictures. Get there before the bird(s) and you’re guaranteed success. The hawk begins calling about 10 seconds in.
Let’s wrap this up with a flight shot that I was prepared for and waiting for (and that’s also much better). Again, I got to the area first. These are newly arrived Tree Swallows that were flying around and inspecting a nest box occupied by an Eastern Bluebird. Here, they’re settling in a nearby shrub. Placing yourself not far from nest boxes or tree cavities can be a great way to capture birds in flight like this. FYI, I used Zone AF (automatic AF point selection) as opposed to Spot or 1-point AF to photograph the pair. That’s the same AF area mode I used to capture the Snow Geese in “God Bless the Child.” With Zone AF, the camera, not the shooter, selects the AF point.
And This Just In
Great Blue Herons enjoy frogs, too, but they mostly eat fish. And just like other birds that prey on fish, they swallow them head first to avoid being pricked by the spines. Here’s another photo of the Great Blue, now polishing off that “bluey.”
I love this from the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds: “Whether wheeling over a swamp forest or whistling plaintively from a riverine park, a Red-shouldered Hawk is typically a sign of tall woods and water.” I made the better recording of the bird along the bank of a limestone stream.
Quip, Question, Quote
Tom Shahan, who writes for Outdoor Photographer, wrote the following about macro photography. I took the liberty of replacing “macro” with “bird.” His words will resonate with many of you. “Bird photography allows me to get close to nature, both optically and by encouraging me to get out into the wild areas more often. Spending more time outside pursuing subjects has been a rewarding journey for me. Every single time I go out, I see and learn something new, often gathering more questions than answers.”