The big birds were out today – Birds of prey at the VOA

We no sooner set foot on the path around the lake at the VOA when a big hawk swooped out of a tree, flew close to the ground, and then soared away.

I was juggling my camera trying to get a shot, but the settings were wrong from yesterday’s trip to an amusement park, and I wasn’t able to get anything worth showing.

Not to worry.

I quickly spotted another hawk in a tree,

who stood his ground at first,

but soon decided to put some distance between him and us.

I suspect he was intimidated by our killer dog Arthur.

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I believe this is a red-tailed hawk, primarily because it looks like the pictures on the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds Red-tailed hawk page. Also because the odds are in my favor because, according to  Cornell, the red-tailed hawk is probably the most common hawk in North America. Also the behavior was right as the red-tailed hawk soars above open fields, slowing turning in circles. They have broad, rounded wings.

But one of the women in the park thought it was a peregrine falcon and said that they are becoming common here now.

Which is one of the reasons why, although I still think the first bird is the hawk, I think this bird that flew across our path as we were leaving was a peregrine falcon. It’s color was darker than the hawk. It’s wings were not as rounded. And its tail was longer, and straighter.

This looks a lot like the silhouette of the peregrine falcon in my Peterson Field Guide, and the photos of the peregrine falcon from All About Birds.

We weren’t done yet.

As we were driving away, I spotted this bird in a tree outside the park.

I thought it was another red-tailed hawk. There were several hawks soaring in circles in the general vicinity of the park. But I suppose you could argue that it was the same one we saw earlier.

I was a little uncertain about the identification because when the bird ruffled his feathers, the tail looked more square and not as curved as the one we had seen before.

I wanted to show you this lightened version so you could see the dark band on the belly. I think this is a characteristic of the red-tailed hawk.

I hoped to capture this bird in flight, but he was fairly incorrigible and wouldn’t be scared away by my shouting, Mark moving the car closer, or beeping the horn. Mark eventually opened the car door and closed it and the hawk took off. Sadly, my photography skills fell short. Not much help here.

This bird-watching stuff is not as simple as it looks.

17 thoughts on “The big birds were out today – Birds of prey at the VOA”

  1. I love animal photography. Although I spend a lot of time at my Portland, OR Zoo I also shoot true wildlife, even at the zoo. There are hummingbirds, squirrels and birds outside while walking the paths through the zoo. Since I only shoot with natural light I set my camera for ISO 3200 and F/8 just to make sure I’ll be ready for anything, in any light. I use Aperture priority and let the camera choose the shutter speed. Even in bright sunlight by camera can take it to 1/4000″

    My prize photo with this setup was a Stellar Jay who landed on the path infront of me. I waited until he hopped up on a wooden fence and captured the best jay shot I’ve ever taken. Having cameras that shoot great photos in low light is such an advantage. I can go to ISO 6400 if I need to.

    Thanks for posting your wonderful outdoor scenes. Egrets are one of my favorite birds to capture. My longest lens is 300mm so I’m limited on the distance to subject distance.

    1. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us, Bob. I took several photography classes about 5 years ago and bought a Nikon DS70 at the time. I think it shoots about 6.1 mega-pixels, or whatever the unit is. I recently purchased a newer entry-level model, the Nikon D3100. I don’t think I can shoot at nearly the same settings that you have available to you. I think the ISO only goes to 3200. I just got it, so I need to spend some time figuring everything out. I like it because my 6.1 picture size just went up to 16, so I can enlarge more which will help with my bird photos.

      Once I get better at it and can justify the expense, I may move up to a better camera. Until then there’s plenty I can learn on this one. 🙂

      1. I agree. If you lear about your D3100 to the point where you’ve just got to have more then you”ve learned a lot. I recently showed my work to a potential client who dearly loved every shot. There were over 20 to view. Little did she realize at least 3 of those 20 were taken with a pocket digital camera.

        Have fun with your new camera in this coming Fall season. I look forward you viewing your work.

  2. I love the shot you got with the wings stretching upward as it left the tree branch. It was still interesting to see what you got, we don’t see raptors every day.

    1. I’ve been noticing a lot of them in the sky around here. I sat at a light yesterday and watched one glide in circles overhead the entire time I waited, without once flapping its wings. That’s awesome, I think.


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