Monday, May 11, 2009

An interesting opportunity (hawk habitat photography)

Very recently I heard from Brian Wheeler of the Wheeler Raptor Guides. He is working on a new book, to be published in a couple of years. He said it would include photos of habitat used by various raptors and he needed photos of habitat used by California red-shouldered hawks, and he had modest funding to pay for one or two such photos. He preferred slides, and so I bought a roll of professional grade slide film (Fujichrome 50) and went out Sunday (yesterday) and shot the entire roll.

I visited somewhere between twelve and fifteen red-shoulder territories and took photos of nests, nest trees, nest tree groves, foraging habitats, creekbeds and bottoms, vineyards adjacent to nest groves, oak habitat with grass below, fields with wildflowers and nest trees in the background, etc. It was a glorious day with powder blue skies and bright sun. The hawks were out and bringing food back to their nests. I was watching one nest when a group of three local ladies came walking by just as an adult red-shoulder carried in a small snake to the nest. The ladies were totally unaware that they had such a nest in their neighborhood and they got to see nestling stretching its wings above their heads.

There were a few fledglings flying around of both red-shoulders and redtailed hawks. You could hear the baby redtails food begging in some cases before you saw them away from their nests, but I was not photographing redtails yesterday.

I had shot the entire roll of film by 1:00 and I hope Brian finds one or two of the photos suitable for his book. He contacted me at the perfect time because the weather was great and the birds were out and it offered an opportunity for nest habitat photos to actually show birds present on the nest or perched nearby or foraging nearby while still showing a broader view of what the habitat is like.

I must say, though, that northern California habitat is somewhat different from red-shoulder habitat I have seen in southern California. In Orange County, the habitat is typically canyon habitat that is too precipitous to be developed and the hawks are packed into linear space up and down those canyons. They live in canyon bottoms and hunt much like Coopers hawks in the understory of the canopy. In San Diego County, there is a lot of riparian habitat, but the birds again stay in the riparian corridors except for places where they reside on ranchette lands and amongst rural homes as they do in small towns in northern California. Also in San Diego County, the red-shoulders like among the huge avocado orchards, where they proliferate due to the abundance of prey amongst the orchards. But the avocado orchards I saw are somewhat different than our vineyards up north because the avocado orchards hold few grassy fringes and are solid agriculture as far as the eye can see. In my area, red-shoulders can be found adjacent to vineyards in the grassy fringes and hunting the grass-bottomed ditches, but in southern California the birds are right in the orchards themselves.

So, if I had been assigned to photograph red-shouldered hawk habitat in Southern California, I would have different scenery than I photographed in the Bay Area. Both areas hold large numbers of red-shouldered hawks.

It was a fun assignment to photograph them yesterday.

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