A Landing Red-tailed Hawk Series

It’s hard enough to get a single sharp shot of a landing raptor but nine days ago I captured an entire series of them near Montana’s Centennial Valley.



1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

I posted this first image as a standalone while I was still on the road but decided to include it here to make the series more complete. I had watched the hawk launch after prey from this pole and guessed that it might return to the same perch so I prefocused on the pole and waited for the hawk to come back. It obliged me.




1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

A slight headwind slowed the bird down so I was able to get more approach shots than I expected to. I assumed there was a missing feather to explain the gap we see in the tail but in my previous post falconer Laura Culley counted them and in a comment said that the normal number of twelve feathers was present so the bird must just be holding its tail a little strangely.




1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Here I enjoy the outstretched talons as the bird prepares to settle down on the pole.




1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Wouldn’t you know it – the hawk’s face was shaded when the feet contacted the pole but I decided to include the image anyway. How could I leave out the moment of touchdown?




1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Then the bird began to fold in its wings and soon continued its “sit and wait” hunting routine from the pole.

In the field I was a little curious about these unusual poles (unusual because they’re extremely old, uncommonly short and they have those old-fashioned glass-like insulators) but good friend and renowned raptor expert Jerry Liquori immediately recognized them as being “railroad poles”. He said they support very low voltage signal lines that often are no longer used by the railroads. These poles were running parallel and very close to railroad tracks. I thought it interesting that the insulator on the right was missing. Perhaps it was shot at by vandals – a common practice when I was a kid growing up in Montana in the 50’s.

  • And speaking of Jerry Liguori – he is selling his Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM lens. This is the older version of the lens I have now but I used that lens for years (most of the images I’ve posted on Feathered Photography over the years were taken with that lens) and it’s a superb piece of glass. Readers often ask me for lens recommendations and this one has my highest (this lens doesn’t come on the market very often). If anyone’s interested Jerry can be contacted at [email protected]


In closing I have to include an image of a different Red-tailed Hawk I took while it was perched on yet another one of these same railroad poles.



I was struck by the light coloration of the bird. Red-tailed Hawks are known for their highly variable colors and plumage patterns and I’m used to seeing that variation in the field with this species but this bird stuck out for me so I thought others might be interested in seeing it too.



The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Bird Photography

As viewers we almost never know what it really took for the photographer to get that shot we like so much. Nor do we fully appreciate the tremendous satisfaction the photographer feels when everything finally comes together – if it ever does. This post is my attempt to illustrate the joys of setting a very difficult photographic goal and eventually succeeding after long periods of frustration.

I’ll use two examples to illustrate – an image of my own and one of another photographer, Tim Laman. It’s my intention to highlight Tim’s incredible photograph but I’ll use my image as a lesser example because I can describe my personal feelings of joy and satisfaction at eventually achieving a difficult (for me) goal.

For several years I’d dreamed about capturing a dramatic flight shot of an owl (any owl species would do) flying toward me with prey. I had several requirements for the image to meet my expectations that made achieving the goal very difficult. Those requirements included:

  • the image must be of high quality with good sharpness, detail and light
  • the prey should be well-seen and identifiable
  • the background must be a pleasing one (or at least with nothing distracting or unappealing in it)
  • there must be no clipped or cut off body parts and the composition must be appealing
  • as mentioned earlier I preferred that the owl is flying toward me
  • and of course the owl must not be baited. Images of owls with prey are often baited because that despicable practice makes it much easier to get the shot

But my standards were high and that image eluded me for almost four years.




1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 800, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Then in the summer of 2010 I found a nesting pair of Short-eared Owls in Montana’s Centennial Valley that gave me a chance. I never approached the nest of course but the male was hunting to feed his family and when he brought in prey he usually landed on a metal post before delivering the vole to the nest. When he would take off from the post I occasionally had a chance at my dream shot.

But the major problem was light. This was mountainous western Montana in June and it was nearly always overcast so I couldn’t get enough shutter speed for a bird in flight. I had the option of increasing my ISO but I was determined to avoid going above ISO 800 with my Canon 7D because I didn’t want to ruin the image with excessive noise. But day after day the dreary conditions continued and something always went wrong. If it wasn’t bad light it was clipped wings or a wrong angle on the bird or it didn’t have prey or the image was soft or the background was distracting or… ad infinitim, the list was endless. I spent most of a week trying to get that shot.

Finally it happened. The sun momentarily peeked out through the clouds to give me enough light (barely) and the owl took off from the post with prey. He came toward me briefly before veering off to the nest and I was able to get a series of shots I like but this one is my favorite of the bunch.




Here’s a larger version of the image for those with monitors big enough to see it without scrolling. At this size we can see that I even got a catch light in the eye of the vole. My satisfaction at getting the shot was (and continues to be) immense – to the point that I have a large print of this image hanging on my living room wall.


Ok, now to the primary purpose of this post – Tim’s image and how he captured it.

Please watch this video. I’d suggest you watch it full screen if you have the band width, especially at the end where we see the image so you can fully appreciate its beauty. Every time I watch the clip I pause the video on the actual image just so I can savor it longer…

After watching it I suspect that all of us (whether we’re photographers or not) can appreciate the tremendous amount of satisfaction Tim felt, and continues to feel, in finally achieving such a difficult goal. Personally it gives me goose bumps just to think about it.




And now you can see why the Cornell Lab of Ornithology chose to use Tim’s image as the cover shot for their incredibly good and recently published 3rd edition of The Handbook of Bird Biology. This photo of my copy of the book doesn’t even begin to do the image justice but well… you get the idea.

Sure, Tim may have received a sizeable licensing fee for the cover image but believe me, if I know photographers his greatest satisfaction by far was achieving this almost impossible goal in the first place. I’m sure photographers among my readers get that.

Congratulations Tim – I understand that feeling! On a much less spectacular scale perhaps but I do understand it.


PS – Apologies for using an owl photo I’ve posted previously but it was the best example I have for the situation.