Any falconers out there?

It’s occurring to me that it would be a lot easier to run experiments on photographic and camera options if I had subjects that performed consistently and when I needed them to. I can’t even get the cats to do this (no duh,) so it certainly isn’t going to occur with the raptors. Were there a bigger market among nature photographers (or, you know, if we actually got paid a decent amount,) I’d suggest someone start a business of trained hawks to perform on command, or perhaps even start it myself.

On Monday, before all the rains came, I went back down to the lake to see what I could see, and potentially try out some new ideas. Naturally, the osprey and eagles weren’t being as cooperative as they could be, though I still managed a few acceptable frames. Like this distant bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) circling lazily overhead that nevertheless appeared to question my presence.

adult bald eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus circling overhead with head cocked at photographer
The eagle only got marginally closer, yet never displayed any indication of actively hunting, but then again, the osprey (Pandion haliaetus) weren’t doing all that much either. Someplace not too far off, someone was burning off a significant amount of wood, judging from the pall of smoke that occasionally drifted over the lake surface, and I believe this particular frame suffered a little because of it.

What I was hoping to get were a few good dives from the osprey, or really anything else that wanted to pretend it was an osprey, so I could see if some changes that I’d made actually improved things. It wasn’t a good time for this, apparently, and I saw just a few in the space of a couple hours, with only a handful of dives in there. One, I almost missed. The sky had cleared of all bird life and the camera was resting on my knees when abruptly, fairly close by, I found an osprey had swept in without any circling whatsoever and was already showing signs of having seen a fish, these being the dropping talons and the sharper banking.

osprey Pandion haliaetus banking in preparation to a stoop
With luck that I don’t think I’ve ever had before, the osprey was not too far off and facing almost directly towards me as it spotted the fish. Come to think of it, maybe if I could find just a fish trainer? That could work, though it might be a lot of effort for trainees that keep disappearing.

osprey Pandion haliaetus in head-on position entering stoop
There was very little hesitation as the osprey entered the stoop (the dive after prey,) and I endeavored to track it down. The lighting was a bit hazy so the colors weren’t as bright as I would have liked, but see all that above.

osprey Pandion haliaetus  with wings tucked in stoop
Definitely accelerating now – look at how cupped the wings are.

osprey Pandion haliaetus extending glide slightly in stoop
I can only assume the fish began moving off, perhaps having spotted the bird bearing down, because in a split-second the osprey stretched out slightly to extend its glide. I say this more from viewing the photos afterward, because I was only trying to keep the bird in the frame as the camera cranked out three frames a second.

I still blew it, both in tracking and in running an experiment. One of the changes that I made was to assign a function to a button under my thumb, one that shut off autofocus as it was held – this is intended to prevent the AF from suddenly grabbing the background as the diving birds cross the horizon line. However, not only was the osprey too close for this to have a lot of affect, it was coming towards me, so shutting off autofocus would only guarantee that focus was off – better to take my chances. Still, I failed to keep the bird centered as it entered the water, and the splashdown was 90% out of the frame, but what I got was motion-blurred a little anyway. However, I was back on as the osprey emerged back up from its brief total submergence.

osprey Pandion haliaetus emerging from water after unsuccessful dive for a fish
This is only slightly cropped from the full frame, to give you an idea of the proximity, and looked perfectly sharp in the viewfinder, but I’ve been burned on that before – it’s hard to tell as the action is going on and everything’s changing, plus the resolution of the little image in the viewfinder isn’t anywhere close to the actual image. Neither is the LCD on the camera back, so checking it onsite remains meaningless. I was prepared to find that focus wasn’t quite on for this frame, and very pleased to be wrong this time. That’s the secret to a happy life: maintain low expectations.

But we need to go in closer on this frame.

closer crop of soaking wet osprey Pandion haliaetus emerging from water
Can you tell from this that the osprey missed the fish? No, of course you can’t, because birds don’t really change expression, but it would be easy to believe this anyway, and the osprey did emerge empty-taloned, which was more the average for the day while I was out there. So from an experimental standpoint, I didn’t have a lot of luck, but if you count the results instead, well, okay then.

« [previous]
[next] »