A Peregrine Falcon And A Frozen Coot

Yesterday morning went from bust to boom at the very last minute possible.

Our bird photography location of choice was Farmington Bay WMA but as we got closer to it on the freeway it looked like it would be socked in with fog so we tucked our tails between our legs, turned around and headed back home. In a last-minute attempt to salvage the morning we decided to try another location but that also turned out to be a bust so we stowed our cameras in our lens caddies and turned around to leave the area, thoroughly defeated and discouraged.

But seconds before I turned onto a busy road and picked up speed a Peregrine Falcon saved our bacon.

 

1/1250, f/5.6, ISO 1250, 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 believe it to be an adult female and she was sitting motionless in the grass. It was only a few minutes after the sun came up over the nearby mountains but they were shrouded in heavy clouds so the light was atrocious. But hey, I’ll photograph a Peregrine no matter the conditions.

 

 

1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Eventually she began creeping stealthily through the heavily frosted grass but at first I had no idea why she was being so sneaky about it.

 

 

1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

The first hint I got was a slightly dark spot in the grass that was almost hidden from my view by the slope of the terrain slightly away from me. She was very interested in that dark spot and when she arrived there she…

 

 

1/640, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

hooked her talons over whatever was responsible for the spot and claimed her prize. I strongly suspect it had been her kill the previous evening.

 

 

1/1250, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

It turned out to be a dead, frozen coot that had already been partially consumed. Here we can see the stump of the de-feathered and headless neck beneath her raised foot. I always enjoy seeing those huge falcon feet.

 

 

1/1600, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

The coot had apparently been partially stuck to the frozen ground and she struggled to get it unstuck and on top of the grass where she could better deal with it. Here we can see those lobed toes that clearly identify the carcass as that of a coot.

 

 

1/1250, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

When the coot was finally free and laying on top of the grass she raised her wings in triumph and then…

 

 

1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

began to feed.

 

 

1/2000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Because the coot was frozen she had difficulty pulling off large chunks of meat so she had to settle for little bits at a time.

 

 

1/500, f/6.3, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

By the time this shot was taken I’d moved my pickup a little which gave me slightly better light, a different background and put me slightly closer to the falcon. I love the direct stare and intense eye contact of this pose.

 

 

1/1250, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Sometimes the feathers went flying as she fed.

One of the wings had already been detached from the coot and I believe its tip sticking up and poking her in the butt as she fed bothered her a little so she…

 

 

1/1600, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

picked the rest of the carcass up in one foot and moved it forward to get it further away from the bothersome wing.

For this photo and all the rest below I’d removed my teleconverter to give me a little more wiggle room for her raised wings in case she took off.

 

 

1/2000, f/5.6, ISO 1250, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

At times I was surprised by how many feathers she gobbled down. Usually she discarded them but several times she just swallowed big gobs of them.

 

 

1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 1000, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Typically I wouldn’t include a shot like this because her feeding mouth is partially obscured but in this case I like seeing those coot feet again. Usually they were hidden from view.

 

 

1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 1000, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

She fed for quite a while before she eventually slowed down. Here’s she’s looking around as if to see if anyone’s watching before she…

 

 

1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 1000, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

raised her tail and pooped. Typically I don’t include poop shots in my posts but I adore this one. It might be my favorite poop shot of all time.

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 1000, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Eventually she crouched extremely low in the grass as if she was trying to hide in it as best she could.

Any guesses as to what she’s doing and why?

 

 

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 1000, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

She was crouching as low as she possibly could in order to get all the push she could from her legs for takeoff. After all she’d eaten her fill of coot so she had an extra load to carry as is evidenced by her bulging crop.

At this point I was glad I’d already removed my teleconverter or I’d surely have clipped or cut off her wings.

 

 

1/1600, f/6.3, ISO 1000, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

This was the last decent photo I got as she left. I didn’t have enough depth of field for the wings in this position but I thought it was interesting how the wingtip of the coot apparently passed between two of her toes on her right foot as she lifted off.

It’s funny how a single cooperative and very special last-minute bird can instantly transform my mood from near-depression (that description is only slightly hyperbolic) to one of elation that lasts the entire day. I’d probably have been absolutely giddy if the light had been better.

And I wasn’t through with this bird yet but those photos will have to wait for another day. Nineteen images in a single post is already pushing the limits on several fronts including server load and reader patience and stamina.

Ron

 

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