Monday, July 19, 2010

It's NOT A Peregrine! Red-tailed Hawk Youngster and The Butchie Boys - Latest Installment

 I just came back from three days at the New England Camera Club Council conference (NECCC) in Amherst, Massachusetts. It's three days of lectures and workshops from 8 AM to ten PM or whenever you may drop like a rock before that. The campus is huge, so there's a tremendous amount of power walking from one event to the next. I stay in the dorms and eat in the student cafeteria. It's photography boot camp. The NECCC conference is largest event of its type in the northeast and has about 2,000 attendees. The lecturers are photographers from all over the world and they are world class. They are the big names from National Geographic, Conde Nast and other travel magazines, photographers to the rich and famous for portraiture and weddings and the biggest stock agency names in the business. There are also zoologists, ornithologists, geologists and others who in the name of science picked up cameras (usually to support scientific papers for journal submissions) and got really good at photography. It's an inspirational, educational, exhilarating and exhausting total immersion event. Oddly, though, there's not too much actual photography going on amongst the attendees. It's more about learning from other people, not being behind your own lens. There's also just not too much time to do anything other than stand in the food line and run from one class to the next, hoping you'll squeeze in a minute to find a bathroom before you find a seat. The NECCC does put together some fantastic staged photo shoot events, though. Every year it's something different. This year, among other smaller events, they had scheduled a paratrooper group to jump onto the campus with colored smoke, flags and other stuff. It probably doesn't surprise you that that isn't really my thing. I was with some photographer friends who were in to it though, so I got my gear and prepared to tag along.
     Since the first day I had set foot on campus, I had heard vocalizing of hawks and they were close! Seven times I saw them on tops of buildings and window ledges seventeen stories up. They had been distracting to me, almost taunting from on high.  I was not so much interested in the paratroopers as I was getting shots of those hawks somewhere on the campus. I had the lens for that job on my camera, not a lens for guys jumping out of planes tied to a silly sack. On the way to breakfast, crossing a barren quad which sported a single, aging spruce tree, I heard the birds again. Honestly, on seeing them from afar and because of the persistent vocalizing, I had thought they were Peregrines. I know some of you will laugh and roll your eyes at that. I'll never live that down and I'll never give up on that quest, either! Two of them zoomed across the quad then landed on a building. I had seen as many as three together previously, so this wasn't surprising. I'm quite sure it was two parents and a fledgling. They were being harassed by Northern Mockingbirds which are abundant on the vast University of Massachusetts campus. I thought, rats! They were gone again. But I listened and could hear them close as I continued to the dining hall. In the one rag-tag tree on the dried up quad I could just make one out. Sure enough, it was there eating a Red squirrel which it must have tagged on it's trip across the quad. I thought it was fitting that it was having its breakfast just outside of the dining hall.
     Of the 2,000 people there, at least half of whom crossed that same quad at about the same time, I'm the only one that found it in the tree and had the right lens on at the right time and the right skill set developed for the image captures. Many lined up behind me and fired off, I could hear them clicking away at my flanks and behind me. I pished a couple of times to get the bird to look at me. A woman said, "Hey! What's that noise?" My eye glued to the view finder, I did not answer but pished again. A man responded, "Does that really work?" I pished again. The bird looked right at me. Not taking my eye from the camera, I said, "Don't know. What do you think?" Click, click, click. There was lots of oooooing and ahhhhhing, wonderment and "OH MY GODS!" Between classes, at least a dozen people approached me over the next couple of hours to ask if they could see the pictures of the bird. Ahhhhhhh. That was followed by a big pile of steaming scrambled eggs, bacon and desperately needed coffee.
     What I most love about wildlife photography over other types of image captures, like weddings or car advertisements, is that it gives me a chance to be great. Sometimes, I'm just in the right place at the right time in the right bathrobe and I get the shot. Wildlife photography gives a bungler like me a shot. Much like photojournalism, a wildlife image does not have to be technically great if it carries enough emotional impact. Ideally, it's technically flawless or near to, but that takes a back seat to the 'oooooh, ahhhhhhh' factor.
     When I took the photos of the hawk, I was wearing a dress. I know that doesn't sound like me, but bear with me: I had slept in the dress the night before. It's a cotton, short thing someone had handed down to me. I had taken it with me because I thought it would be good to sleep in and lounge around in. I did not intend to wear it out of the dorm. My girlfriend said it was cute and I should wear it, so after sleeping in it as I had intended, I wore it for the day. Technically, that makes the hawk photos 'Bathrobe Birding,' even though I was in Massachusetts wearing a dress.
Juvenile Red-tailed hawk dining on Red Squirrel on the UMass Amherst campus.
By the way, I did not even see the paratroopers. I hope you're not disappointed. I'm not. Life is about choices. I think that's a Weight Watchers slogan or something, isn't it? I'll always choose wildlife first and breakfast second.
Friday morning, on my way out of town at 5 Am, I checked on The Butchie Boys. They are doing a little more flapping and looking plenty cramped. I'll check again today. I'll bet they are ready to take the big leap any moment. I'll let you know.

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  1. what a lovely close up ... wonderfully done, gee what else can I say...simply marvelous

    Don't you wish there was something on his claws ...say a rat or a ...

  2. I know I enjoy seeing the birds you photograph far more than paratroopers!!!!! Keep it up! Bet you are exhausted-but next year, you should have your own "How to make the phishing sound and take great photos" class and get all the rest for free!!!!-Ms. Boo

  3. You got great looks at a Red-tailed Hawk, Robin. Beautiful photos! I have never heard of the NECCC, sounds interesting and will subscribe to their bulletin.

  4. Hey there Triple R. You got some great raptor shots there. VERY well done, my friend.

  5. Robin, I was one of the "machine-gunners" behind you. That was an amazing sound. All of those shutters going off!!!!!

    I'm still wandering the campus looking for the Peregrine Falcons. I guess I can go home now.

    BTW Nice images.
    I was disappointed not to see the bathrobe ;-)


  6. Love the robin photos,and great hawk shots. Don't get hung up on the peregrine ,with your patience you'll get a shot of one.Tell BTW they really don't want to see the bathrobe.

  7. The Hawk photos are exquisite Robin! I would have done the same thing, click away on the Hawk and forget about the paratroopers. I have 26 jumps to my credit when I did my stint in the armed forces in the late 70's and early 80's, so a bunch of men falling out of perfectly good airplanes has much less of an Oooohhh factor than a Red-tailed Hawk in all it's glory! Besides, the Hawk can get along just fine without a parachute!

  8. You guys are all so funny! Thanks for your compliments. bmc is correct that none of you would REALLY want to see the bathrobe. If you did, you might all go jump out of a plane!

  9. You are unbelievable! I’ll bet the right lens was that 100-400 mm honker that is so heavy to carry around!

  10. Yes, indeedy - that was the one 1-400mm big old howitzer.

  11. I have never seen more spectacular photos!! The Red Tail in flight suspension was magnificent!

  12. Good Morning, Robin: you are getting some excellent shots this year !! You are a contender !!! I love your blogs !! have a great day today!!

    Bonnie Kynoch

  13. Great shots; still don't know how you know sex of eagles! Love the little robins; best I did this year was recover a nest with 3 abandoned eggs; 4 th one broke .
    Have a good one!

  14. I can't gender them that young either. If they actually sat side by side, you might be able to determine that. The females in adults are larger than the males which is obvious if you have the chance to see them sitting together. The same may be true of the youg-uns.

  15. Oooohhhh and ahhhhhhh is right. What great pictures Robin…and a great story! Hope you learned all kinds of things. Can’t wait to get you on horseback. We see some wildlife, mostly hawk and eagle but your eyes would find more I am sure. Just being out in the woods by the water on horses is a scene I think you would like.

  16. loved this UMass post-I did my graduate work there-back in the days of the dinosaurs (late 60's).

  17. Excellent photography! Sounds like you had a wonderfully rewarding experience at the NECCC in Mass. I guess now we will have to call you "Dr. Bathrobe of Photography!" The Butchie Boys have really grown...BEWARE!
    Keep "Pishing!"

  18. Boy your good!!!!, taking birds photos even at NECCC, WOW , your body never rest, you must dream of the bird photos all night long.
    Red-tailed hawk dining on Red Squirrel on the UMass Amherst campus. and you are education me again, hope I remember but short term memory and not really a birder.
    But I love your photos of birds, keep up the beautiful work, and those "The Butchie Boys, are ugly looking birds and they smell - Oh My God!!!!.



  20. Good work getting that hawk photo in Mass! LLR


    I chaired an institute at UMASS Amherst for several years and know full well the sites and sounds of the compass quad including the birds. At times in the spring they totally fill the air with excited chatter. Great place.

    Tom Robinson