Joseph V Higbee.com

Musing Over a Life Bird

March, 2006


How big a deal is a life bird? One you haven't seen before. Unusual in your area or you would have seen it before. For me it varies. If it's one someone else has located and I go and see it, it's fun, and if I get a photo, it's more fun.If I go to a place where the birds are known to migrate through, and I search and wait and see one I haven't seen before, I feel real good, and if I get a photo, real much better good! But seeing one with no more help other than just knowing it's possible if unlikely? And some kind of photo too? Now that's exciting enough to keep me awake at night. And it did...........
   As I begin writing this, it is 1:45 AM. I can't sleep. I'm in my camper using my laptop. I just looked outside and the stars are out and there is a light frost on the camper step. I'm totally alone. Camped at a BLM site known as Escure Ranch on Rock Creek. This is the second night of a several day trip to find and photograph birds. No special birds in mind, but always the hope that one I haven't seen, or at least one I haven't photographed before, will be waiting around the next bend. Last evening, about an hour before sunset, I had one of those moments.
   It happened like this: Coming out of a draw and around a curve onto a straight section of road, I see a hawk on a fencepost about a hundred feet ahead on the left. As I whiz past at 50mph I see white front. FERRUGINOUS HAWK! With great self-control, I force myself to a slow easy stop on the side of the road about 100 yards past the bird. Could it be? Not a Rough-legged Hawk? Hardly daring to believe and trying to move at a pace a little less than the speed of light, I stagger to the back of the rig and withdraw my camera, lens and tripod. Trying to move slowly I jump, fly, crawl into the ditch so as to be less visible, set the tripod, loosen the knobs, point and press the shutter button. Four clicks and he is off and away. BUT I GOT HIM! I think. Was it really a Ferruginous Hawk? Is the picture going to be good enough? Oh my gosh, I don't even know how the camera is set.
   Several small miricles. I had had previously been trying for some small birds high in the trees and still had two 'doublers' attached to my 500mm lens. In order for that to work there has to be enough light and there just was. The camera is a newer digital with an auto off and instant on, and I hadn't manually shut it off when I put it in back. (I usually don't.) The other settings were usable, I didn't take time to check. The bird didn't fly sooner. I had seen some Rough-legged Hawks earlier, but they were off and gone before the truck ever quit rolling.
   Two days later, it's 4 AM and I'm sitting in the camper on Leahy Cutoff Rd waiting for daylight on the grouse lek. I still haven't been home to edit the pictures and I'm stewing! I've looked at the pictures several times on the laptop. The white on the breast is over-exposed and has no detail. By the time I enlarge it will I be able to sharpen it enough to make it usable? Is there something in it's mouth or is the beak deformed? Look at the size of it. And look at that wing color. It really is a Ferruginous Hawk, isn't it?
   I'm back home now. It really is a ferruginous Hawk. The picture could be better, but hey, it is a picture. I never really expected to see this bird without going out of state. The excitement has waned and I can sleep all night again. Interestingly, I saw two other birds that were first time birds on this trip, but this one is the one I'll always remember.

   A few words about myself and how this came about; Being alone wasn't totally by chance. I frequently find that pleasant. The worlds gotten a bit crowded since I was a pup. I started birding and taking pictures of birds a couple of years before I retired in 2003.
   I'm not a super serious birder, I don't keep a list. I don't count the birds other than noticing if there is one, a few, several or a whole passel. I like to find my own birds. That doesn't mean I won't chase someone else's, just that it's more satisfying to see and photograph them on my own. Not being real experienced, I usually check with someone else before posting if I am not sure on the identifiation. Even when I thought I was sure, I have made mistakes. Misery!
   I'm not a super serious photographer, but my photos are my bird list. When I get an identifiable picture, then it counts. If the distance is great, I use as many 'doublers' as the light will allow. About like digi-scoping (using a small camera through a spotting scope), sometimes it works and sometimes it don't. I crop most pictures to make the most of the setting, angle and detail. I may remove the tail of another bird, or a tin can, but I don't often alter the subject bird, although I have been known to remove a piece of corn from the mouth of some taken in my yard.

   Some information for those who are serious about such things:
Location was on McCall Rd in Adams County about 4 miles, as the hawk flies, from the East county line.The date was March 2, 2006. The time of day was 4:49PM.
Camera was a Canon 20D. Attached were Canon 500mm f4 IS len, and canon1.4X and Kenko 1.5X teleconverters('doublers'). The tripod had three legs,etc.
Settings were: ISO 400, aperature wide open at f8 with doublers, speed 1/200th of a second (thank goodness for image stabilization), combined focal length of 1050mm and a distance of approximately 100 yards.