Red-tailed Hawks – More from the Big Bend


To expound a bit more on my previous post about photographing tiny birds I would like to offer this tip.  Birders like to walk through areas and look for birds.  This is all well and good.  I, as a birder, like to do that on occasion myself.  However, as a bird photographer with heavy equipment, I prefer to find a location that is a bit more sheltered to shoot from.

One such place might be a bird blind, or an area where there might be feeders, etc, located, along with a sheltered place for the photographer.  I do a lot of my work from such places, although it is not my favorite.  I prefer to not have my photos include feeders, seed trays, etc.  I prefer to have the natural look.

So, my favorite place is in my car.  It is a natural blind.  Birds are not afraid of it, and I can maneuver it into some isolated places for better sight lines.  I usually drive very slowly, around 5 mph or slower, creeping through woods, parks, and empty roadways.  If I come across a copse of trees where there is bird activity, I come to a stop.  With patience, you will see birds flitting between trees.  I keep my big lens resting on my “noodle”, on the window sill.

My only pet peeve about all of this, is when the action takes place outside the passenger side window.  That can be exasperating.  That is when I slowly move the car around for better position.  I have tried to quietly get out of the car, to take a photo over the roof, or from behind it, but almost every time the bird gets spooked.  It is so amazing.  I can get sometimes within 15 feet with the car and get great shots, but if I leave it when I am 40 or 50 feet away, the birds scatter.

There are times, though, that I find myself in a large area of bird activity, some times in parks.  I have been able to set up my tripod, maybe next to a picnic table for comfort, and just watch and wait.  This is particularly nice it the trees are large and open like large oaks.

So, try these methods.  I think that you will find that you will come away with more usable images.

I also love photographing raptors.  One of my favorite subjects, and the one that I have the most opportunities to shoot, is the Red-tailed Hawk.  The following three were shot last week in or near Big Bend National Park.  All were photographed from my car, but in all cases, they were much farther away.

Red-tailed Hawk in tree.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk in ocotillo.

In an intial post about our visit to the Big Bend I erred in quoting the number of species that we saw.  After carefully auditing our lists, we discovered that we had seen a total of 60 species.  I wish that I could have photographed all of them.  As it is, we still didn’t see any of the birds that should be arriving for the winter, or the list might have been greater.  For you who might be interested in seeing what there, is to view there here is our complete list.

  1. Red-tailed Hawk
  2. White-winged Dove
  3. Scissor-tailed Flycatcher
  4. Turkey Vulture
  5. American Kestrel
  6. Chihuahuan Raven
  7. Vermilion Flycatcher
  8. Eurasion Collared Dove
  9. Northern Mockingbird
  10. American Coot
  11. Golden-fronted Woodpecker
  12. Townsend Warbler
  13. Black Vulture
  14. Black-throated Sparrow
  15. House Finch
  16. Mourning Dove
  17. Say’s Phoebe
  18. Wild Turkey
  19. Canyon Towhee
  20. Northern Flicker
  21. Red-naped Sapsucker
  22. Blue Grosbeak
  23. Cassin’s Kingbird
  24. Eastern Phoebe
  25. Loggerhead Shrike
  26. Greater Roadrunner
  27. Sage Thrasher
  28. Scaled Quail
  29. House Sparrow
  30. Yellow-headed Blackbird
  31. Clay-colored Sparrow
  32. Western Wood Peewee
  33. Yellow-billed Sapsucker
  34. Wilson’s Warbler
  35. Brown-headed Cowbird
  36. Vesper Sparrow
  37. Belted Kingfisher
  38. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  39. Nashville Warbler
  40. Chipping Sparrow
  41. White-crowned Sparrow
  42. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
  43. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  44. Pyrrhuloxia
  45. Lesser Goldfinch
  46. Ladder-backed Woodpecker
  47. Orange-crowned Warbler
  48. Northern Cardinal
  49. Inca Dove
  50. Yellow-breasted Chat
  51. Cactus Wren
  52. Acorn Woodpecker
  53. Steller’s Jay
  54. Mexican Jay
  55. Scott’s Oriole
  56. Common Grackle
  57. Northern Harrier
  58. Bell’s Vireo
  59. Western Scrub Jay
  60. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
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28 thoughts on “Red-tailed Hawks – More from the Big Bend

  1. Pingback: The Blues Can Make You…….Happy! | From guestwriters

    • We observed for only about 15 seconds at the Window Overlook in the Chisos Mountains. We saw the familiar dark blue color graduating up towards the black-crested crown. We are 99% sure in what we saw, but we also know that it would have been a rare sight for that area. Unfortunately I was unable to get a picture.

  2. Another impressive trip to Big Bend, Bob, with fantastic captures. I also can get frustrated when the bird is on the passenger side if I’m driving, and equally as frustrated when I’m the passenger as hubby is driving and the bird’s then on the driver’s side! It’s not always so easy to do a “U” or 3-point turn but doesn’t mean we don’t try! LOL :-)

  3. I love the red tailed hawks too. Except for in winter when they suddenly develop an increased appetite for chicken. I like the second shot best because of the way it is looking over its shoulder. It is a no nonsense kind of glare.
    ~ Lynda

  4. Impressive, Bob – the photos you shared as well as the list. Wow! I started to count how many of those species I’ve no chance of seeing here, but the point was made by the time I got to about twenty. I’ll just have to rely on your photos…

  5. Bob, I especially like that adult red-tail in the middle photo. Good look at the name-sake tail and it really looks like it is scowling at you (I enjoy the “attitude”). My experience is EXACTLY the same as yours – stay in your vehicle and you can get close, crack a door and they’re gone. I wish a few other photogs would learn that lesson – so often I’ve been on a bird when another vehicle pulls up, so far no problem. Then they try to get out of their vehicle for a closer shot and the subject immediately vamooses. Grrrr…..

  6. Ooo! Scott’s Oriole. I’ve not seen that one in my bird books…what a beauty (judging from the photos) and I’m partial to the name.

    As for your passenger seat position, a mini-van (with no center console) or a truck with a bench seat and column shifter would solve your problem. You simply scoot over to the other side. That, or get Anne to do some shooting for you!

    I look at that first photo of the hawk and am thankful that those birds don’t eat people for breakfast. He looks like he might be working out that situation, though…

    • Hi, Shannon, thanks for commenting. I agree, the console in my car does hamper me a bit. When I trade next time I will make some changes. :-) About the Scott’s Oriole, it can be seen quite a bit in far west Texas. I got a few photos of it from farther away, maybe I can publish one. I have wanted a close up of one for several years. Maybe next trip….

      Those red-tails have a way of making themselves look fierce. :-)

  7. It is good to hear about the Big Bend trip and see some of the photos. Thanks for the tips on getting them. I do have a hard time spotting small birds in trees or bushes and forget knowing what they are! I guess that is what the photo is for!! Glad to have you and Ann back.

  8. Thanks for the tip about photographing in the car. I have said, on more than one occasion “Geez, as soon as I get out of the car, they fly away …”. I’ll linger in the car longer from now on.

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