Saturday, April 28, 2012

Swainson's Hawk

A Swainson's Hawk posing for me in the southeastern AZ desert, Hwy 80, Cochise County; 4/11/2012
6 AM, April 11, 2012: I was tooling down Highway 80 heading east, just outside of Douglas, AZ, about the farthest south you can be in AZ without being in Mexico. I was on Spring Break and decided to go down to Arizona to do some birding. One of my destinations was the Chricahua Mts. in the southeastern corner of Arizona. My hope was to try to get some photos of birds that can't be found elsewhere in the U.S., a Mexican Jay, a Red-faced Warbler, or with luck, even an Elegant Trogon.  Anyway I was the only car on the road for some time, scanning the desert grasslands for a glimpse of Burrowing Owls when I see a large raptor perched on a skimpy withered plant. I passed it going perhaps 60 MPH, when I noticed it had a dark breast and didn't look like the usual raptors I often see.
I slowed down, made a Y-turn and reversed course. I was in luck, it was still perched in the same spot, looking all regal and all that.  I slowed down to a crawl (checking my mirrors to make sure I wasn't holding up traffic) and slowly crept toward a good spot to pull over - close enough to get a photo with my Sigma 500mm, but not too close to become threatening. I got out of the car and immediately took some photos using my car as a blind (I am sure I fooled that old raptor into thinking my bright white Nissan Sentra rent-a-car was a natural piece of desert scenery).  I went into my be cautious, but slowly get closer strategy. That is - I take a few steps closer, stop take a couple more snaps, move couple more steps closer and take a few more pics. I continue doing this until the bird appears to be alarmed or it flies off.
The same majestic Swainson's Hawk; Hwy 80, AZ; 4/11/2012.
I estimated that this beautiful hawk was about 20 yards on the other side of a fence that ran along the side of the road. As I crept closer and took more photos, I could see that it was a Swainson's Hawk - very cool - a lifer for me - my first sighting and ID of this gorgeous bird. I was within ten yards of the fence and Mr. Swainson ignored me and kept his poise. I became bolder and eventually I reached the fence was able to get some very nice  looks in my viewfinder. he posed nicely and other than moving his head from side to side he didn't move a muscle. I really thought that he'd take flight as soon as raised my camera to my face to focus, but he stayed put. Then I thought it would be cool to get a BIF shot, so I switched to autofocus getting ready for it take off flying, but he stayed put. i even started talking to it,
          "Hey, Mr. Swainson, what a beautiful morning isn't it?" Still no move. "How about it if you spread your wings so I can get a nice photo of your wingspan?" He just looked at me as an insignificant object in his way of searching for a meal. I was obviously a bit too big for him to take me down and devour, so I was not  of interest. "C'mon, Mr. Swainson, why don't you make a nice lazy circle in the sky so I can get a nice pic of you flying?" ... No movement. .. "Please?" ... nothing.

After about 5-10 minutes of waiting for him to fly, he never made a move. Then I thought, if I make a sudden move perhaps it will take flight. So I made a great effort to lower my camera, adjust my backpack walk a few steps back and forth ....... nada (remember I was close to the Mexico border).   He was not going to fly for me.  I respected that, resigned myself from a Bird-in-Flight pic, and started to walk back to my desert camouflaged bright white car, with my camera ready. He stood still. As I reached the car, I opened the car door noisily... He sat there.... I bent over to set my camera on the seat next to the driver's seat and hopped in. Before I could even close the door, I saw him fly right past me and I swear he even looked at me (and maybe winked) as he flew by. By the time I could reach for my camera to try to get a bead on him, he was already too far off.  At first I was miffed that I missed my BIF chance, but I realized I had a nice lengthy peaceful, encounter with this beautiful raptor without any interference from anyone else on a rather main highway. I thanked Mr. Swainson for the nice poses and cheerfully continued my journey to the Chiricahuas.

1 comment:

~Val said...

The pictures are gorgeous - but I love love love the accompanying narrative. :-)