Near or far ?

There is always the feeling that the best photo opportunities lie some distance away and close to home the subjects are limited.  This weekend was an example to challenge that.

I’ve long wanted to get to Hawk Mountain near Allentown, PA because of its storied reports of large raptor counts on peak days. This place is central to the story of raptor protection and the Audubon Society’s history.

I could not get there earlier last week, and had  to stay close to home. On a neighborhood walk on Wednesday, I’d stopped to chat with a new neighbor when a flock of Cedar Waxwings quietly invaded his crab apple trees with their faint piping calls. They’ve been on my  list of difficult birds to photograph.  So, I gathered my long lens, tripod and flash with some eagerness.  It was only two houses away, but by the time I returned, they’d had their fill and were gone. Returning Thursday afternoon a little before the time when they’d appeared before, I waited and was rewarded with my long sought opportunity. The big challenge is finding them low enough to see something but their bellies.

Meeting with this success, our departure on Friday for Hawk Mountain seemed destined for more success.  After all, the weather report was for brisk north winds of the sort that deliver large numbers of migrating birds, maybe even Golden Eagles. We arrived about 11 am and hiked out to the first overlook on Kittinny Ridge. It is a beautiful vista.

I only carried my 70-200mm lens, knowing it unlikely the birds would come very close, and knowing the weight of the big lens would too much for the rocky trail 3/4 mile from the parking lot to the best overlook.  It turned out to be a slow day only highlighted by the sight of a Northern Goshawk folding its wings and going into a power dive.  Not one bird photograph.  I was reminded that the Cedar Waxwings were only two houses away from my front door. Still, the views and the wonderful birders we met were some reward.

Saturday’s forecast was for another north wind; cold early for sure.  Had colorful male Ringneck Pheasant on the highway as we drove in. By noon it was clearly a bust.  We decided toabandon the watch  for the warmth of the visitor center.  We noted a raptor program scheduled for midday with a few of their captive birds and decided it would be interesting.  The volunteer had a Great Horned Owl and a Redtail Hawk. It was a nice program and afterwards we stayed to talk and I got a few close images of the birds that made the day less of a disappointment.

Great Horned Owl-  I moved in close so the handlers glove was not shown.

Redtail Hawk- The bird’s right wing is injured, so I positioned the camera to leave that detail unseen.

So, was it worth the trip?  … or would I have done just as well at home?  Well, yes and yes.  I made some new friends, found a good wildflower location for spring, and can plan a return trip with prior knowledge.  Just as the Cedar Waxwings were not predictable, it is not predictable as to when the raptors will move past Kittinny Ridge.

More photos at my Flickr page:

Redtail Hawk fly-by.

Paul Schmitt

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