Size Matters

Yesterday before noon there was mostly sun, with intermittent clouds. The trail cam that was set up by the “Butterball Diner” turkey lure had been running during the night and that morning, so Robert retrieved the SD card and I began the review (more on that below.) By 1:00 PM, I was able to get outdoors to begin the acclimatization process with the intentions of getting much better images of the birds than the Trail cam offers. To get the birds used to my presence, I satin the golf cart within about 60 feet of the lure and did not move. The position I chose as my base camp for (hopefully) an eventual great photographic opportunity, was quite close to the platform feeder in the Pond Meadow. I planned it that way. It allowed me to keep busy filming the “regulars” while waiting for the big birds to arrive. Here are a few pictures that I took during the wait.

Alas, after sitting in below freezing temperatures for over three hours, I saw no activity at the turkey lure. However, I did observe a large hawk fly directly over the lure and my golf cart a bit after 4:00 PM. Birds are very cautious creatures and I have found that they engage in reconnaissance missions to scope out an area of interest sometimes for days before making any move that could compromise their safety. Examples I have witnessed include selection of a nest box or nesting site and the decision to partake in consuming a new food source (like when I put out fresh fruits or seeds for example.) I think we humans might learn a bit from the wild creatures about making sound decisions based on the accumulation of reliable data.

I can be as patient as the birds are cautious. Robert has set up the golf cart with a heated blanket (thanks honey,) and I dressed appropriately for the conditions. I used to give sheepdog herding lessons in winter in Wisconsin. I can weather the conditions to get my desired outcome!

Fortunately, before I went out on my frigid foray, I had reviewed the activity on Trail Cam from the previous twelve hours. I found a number of 30 second clips that were recorded in good light that displayed the subjects of my affection! I present them here.

I entitled this Blog entry “Size Matters” because it seems obvious that the outrageously beautiful Red-tailed Hawk that shows up at the end of that clip had a significant influence on the (significantly smaller – beak, talons and body) American Crows that were snacking on the Butterball.

These birds act like the dogs which I am far more familiar. The Hawk, which is clearly “higher ranking” looks directly at the Crow. The Crow is positioned with his back to the Hawk, and keeps his gaze away from the big bird. In dogs, that means “I mean you no harm – I’m not a threat.” Looking away is also a way that some dogs take pressure off of themselves when they want something that the know they shouldn’t / can’t have. The Hawk acts just like a higher ranking one in a pack of dogs. It could be a coincidence – but, I’m thinking there is some significance to the “interaction.”

I suppose somewhat like the Jackals that must yield to African Lions before they get to partake in the spoils of a wildebeest kill, the crows are willing to merely hang out observing the Hawk until he is is satisfied – before they fill their bellies, again. As soon as the “top dog” is gone, the crows begin to move up to the “kill.”

This next clip was recorded about twenty minutes after the Hawk first arrived.

As I have written before, this project brings me joy. Let me expound on why it makes me happy. First, I am feeding the birds something that, yes they could get if a real wild turkey were to be struck by a local’s Ford pick-up truck, but that I have chosen to offer them rather than spending my money on something that I don’t really need. Second, these are species that really excite me because they are the intelligent, creative, inventive, powerful, up-high-on-the-food chain members of the avian world. Three, this project is pushing me to get better at my craft of nature photography and an understanding of bird behavior. Finally, if I’m going to have a “hobby,” this one takes me outdoors where I can get a little sunshine (and renew my vitamin D), feel the wind in my hair (well, unless I am wearing two hats, like I did yesterday!) and appreciate my kindred connection with “All.” What else could a person ask for?

3 Comments on “Size Matters

  1. I want your camera! I am dying to find something that takes close-up very clear photos. I have had the same camera for many years and I don’t know how to work it even though I’ve tried to read the manual a number of times.

    • Mine is not a super fancy camera. It’s a Cannon Rebel T7 with a 300 mm zoom lens. That’s actually considered an “entry level” SLR camera based on a Youtube video I watched. My success lies in the lighting (I only get the nice shots on days when there’s a lot of sun). I never use anything but the auto focus, and supposedly I could change the ISO setting and compensate for the lower light conditions, but I just can’t imaging having to manually focus or change a camera setting when a bird sticks around for about ten seconds! I am an EXTREME newbie when it comes to using my camera the way that it is intended to produce high quality images. It’s like I am wasting 90% of the camera’s capacity – but, frankly, that’s OK for right now, for me.

      To compensate for my total incompetence as a photographer, I focus on creating situations where the birds comes to me. My best shots are when I’m in the spot WAITING for the bird to show up. Filming birds that use nest boxes, putting up feeding stations or hanging fruit in a tree are all ways that I improve my odds. I prefer “natural” shots, so I have been practicing focusing on birds when they land in the trees around the feeders (or next boxes etc…) rather than taking including artificial elements in the frame – or, I do a lot of cropping. I don’t use a tripod, but I often support my forearms on the steering wheel of the golf cart. Remaining in the golf cart is a good way to camouflage my presence, since the birds tend to tolerate inanimate objects like vehicles better than a person walking around.

      I try to control what I can which is the distance from the subject, shooting in high sunlight and trying to keep the camera as still as possible. I usually get about 10 – 40 good shots out of every 1,000 images that I download off the camera’s SD card. For me, that’s enough. But, I cringe many times when I open the file and realize that my camera has focused on the branch right in front of the bird – and the bird is just a blob. It’s a process.

      • Thanks for your insight. I also use only a smidge of my camera’s capabilities but I just can’t seem to learn it no matter how many times I read the manual.

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