Winged Justice

Apparently my brother has seen fit to have a multi-part post making it very apparent I need to step up my game or be lost in the dust.  To offset this recent charge, I’m reaching into my bag of tricks and pulling out one of my favorite photo sets.  Needless to say, the topic is winged in nature but with a little extra.  Our Nikons get heavy usage whether it be on photo outings with my wife, capturing the sights on vacation, dog shows or just about any event worth reliving in the future … oh, and of course potential blog posts.  Every once in awhile there are some that make it into our favorites collection.  Sometimes we luck out and the photo is stunningly tack sharp.  Other times the tipping point is a unique setting, an interesting composition or a rare sight.   You may not even be able to tell from the picture itself because the special aspect of the photo was the effort involved in capturing it or pure luck of being in the right place at the absolute right time.  I am fond of this set mainly for the latter reasons, with a smattering of interesting composition and rare sight.

For the curious, I was shooting with the Nikon D90 at the extent of a 80-200mm Nikon glass shooting at ISO 1600 in a desperate attempt to freeze flight.  This results in the age old battle of speed versus grain and in this case I opted for the noise.  I need to briefly set this up for you.  Having spent the morning at Menards loading treated lumber for the bridge, I was slightly drained on the drive back home.  About a mile from the house, something caught my eye coming from the upper left.  Turning my head, my eyes locked onto a huge red tailed hawk in a tight dive right towards my truck.  Not sure what was going on, I hit the brakes in time to see the hawk begin to raise up, extend the wings and drop the landing gear.  With claws protruding, the hawk sailed in front of the windshield and dropped with authority in the ditch to my right.  Thankfully, there was no one else on the road at that time because I just sat there stunned with my mouth open relieved I was able to stop the truck in time.  After about 15 seconds, the hawk unfurled the wings and took flight landing in some tall Hedge trees further off into the woods.  At that point the heart sank because I had no way to capture this magnificent bird.  The truck was a mile from the house and loaded down with hundreds of dollars of lumber.  Screw it, some things are just worth taking some risks.  The truck was put in gear and the accelerator floored.  There was a slight scare as I turned into the driveway (slid would probably be a better word), but it was in 4 wheel drive due to the weight and the back wheels brought it back in line.  I flew into the house, grabbed the camera (thankfully had the right glass already on it) and jumped back into the truck and made the return trek – yes, with the wood since the only alternative was to run and I didn’t want to risk the camera.  Having already resigned to the fact the moment was likely already gone, I pulled off the road and started scanning the original bank of trees.  IT WAS STILL THERE! but definitely at a ways out there.  So, the first part of the equation was good, but was the the tipping point aspect still there?  This is rhetorical, of course.

By any chance, did you take a close look at the photo and notice anything intriguing?  The reason it was worth this effort (at least in my opinion) was that the hawk was actually on a specific mission and not just randomly scaring the crap out of motorists.  Nope, this red-tailed hawk was having some lunch.  As it rose up out of the ditch, there was a snake entwined in its talons.

Hopefully the zoomed shot provides a better view of the prey.  It was pretty cool seeing the snake trying to wriggle free, but that hawk was having none of that.  To be honest, I suspected the snake’s head may already be missing and the muscles were just convulsing by the time I made it back.  It would have had a few minutes to much while hunting down the camera.  It noticed my return giving me all of 3 to 4 seconds to get the camera settings the way I wanted before it started taking flight again.

Hit the jump to see the rest of the pictures in this set – unless of course you are squeamish, have a snake phobia or a PETA idiot that thinks the hawks should be nibbling on a stalk of celery instead.

The hawk actually made a couple of circles looking for a better place to partake in lunch away from the intrusive human.  I had some trouble tracking the movement while looking through the fully zoomed glass, but I did get some additional shots which turned out pretty cool.  Again, not tack sharp, but amazed they came out as good as they did.

Of the set, this one is the one I liked the most.  I lucked out through the branch and has pretty good definition in the wings (and of course shows the cargo).  Those that know Linda also know she absolutely HATES snakes.  In fact, she is pretty much tolerant of insects and animals except when it comes to these slithering abominations.  The entire time I was taking these shots, all I could think of was her worst nightmare of a snake being dropped into her convertible by a bird.  I had always laughed this off as something that would/could ever happen.  Clearly that assumption was now proven very false.

By now, the flight path was really getting to the extents of the glass and ISO performance.  As a result, the image quality started deteriorating and the noise started overbearing the shot.  There was some thought given to tracking it down for some better shots, but I was still sore from loading the truck and figured the hawk would like to eat in peace.  As the hawk made one last circle, I got off another two shots before calling it a wrap.

So what do you think, was it worth all the trouble?  I firmly believe that answer is yes, but there was a costly error made that day.  Wanting to get the wood offloaded, I forgot to get the pictures downloaded off the card.  If I remember correctly, she happened on them or for some stupid reason I decided to show her the great experience I had.  Not sure which situation it was, but I clearly overlooked her dislike for the lunch choice and only served to fuel her fears when driving with the top down.  I’ll catch her scanning the sky every once in awhile 8^)

That’s all folks, hope you enjoyed let’s see what my brother throws up now!

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