Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A COOPER QUICKIE…

I never quite know what will appear beyond my writing-room window. Usually it's a gray squirrel or Carolina wren, sometime a groundhog or Canada goose.
Today it was a Cooper's hawk. I was busy answering a comment from yesterday's post when a passing shadow caused me to glance up from the keyboard. (Yes, that's right—I'm not a touch typist, so I look at the keyboard and not the screen when I'm typing.)
Anyway, sitting on the ground just beyond the glass was a Cooper's hawk…and like all Cooper's hawks at all times, this one was on high alert—swiveling its head this way and that, looking, staring, scrutinizing. To say a hawk is watchful is like saying the Ohio is a big river—an understatement in the extreme. Hawks are so nervously quick in their sharp-eyed vigilance that they can see everything in every direction at practically at the same time. A hawk is like an all-seeing-eye with feathers and talons.
Like most wild creatures, of course, a hawk is first staying alert to any potential danger to itself. Not that much is going to manage to sneak up and nab a Cooper's hawk. (Although last winter I did watch a small housecat, who should have known better, ambush a Cooper's hawk who was busy ambushing a titmouse. Cat and hawk engaged in a brief but lively tussle—a rolling ball of fur and feathers that whirled dervish-like about the yard for maybe ten seconds, and ended when centrifugal force sort of spat each opponent in opposite directions. The hawk was highly miffed and the cat was embarrassed; the titmouse escaped unscathed.)
This hawk was mostly looking for any movement which might have indicated the makin's of a quick supper. Perhaps a tasty dove. Although it was facing, and often staring at, the stones of the cottage, which were only inches away—so maybe the intended meal had been a mouse or chipmunk.
The hawk was standing no more than five feet away—measured from my nose to his beak. Luckily the camera was on the desk beside the computer. It was late, 5:42 p.m. which is only a couple of minutes from official sunset—though the sun was already below the river corridor's west bank treeline. I knew the bird wouldn't linger long, so there was no time to check or change ISO, shutter speed, or aperture setting; I focused as best I could through the window's glass, fired off several shots…and hoped. According to their exposure data, the 8 shots were all done within the same minute. Then I did what I could in iPhoto to make up for the lack of light.
Incidentally, that dark blur in the lower righthand area is a cactus which sits on the inside window ledge; the lighter blur in the middle shot is a pencil holder on my desk corner.
As expected, the Cooper's hawk didn't stay outside my window for long. That minute during which I made the photos was easily the full extent of the visit—though my guess is that it took up perhaps half that amount of time. Dash in, look around…come up empty…and hurry off to better hunting.
I was just lucky to have witnessed the stopover.

26 comments:

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

Hi Scribe: - what a fortunate 'capture'! Their apparitions are so fast and fleeting - but you show 3 great shots here - through glass.

I am interested because 2 days ago I spotted a Cooper Hawk on a sumac branch about 25 feet from my window. My shots are also through glass - but as ever, I was without my glasses so could not make the required settings on the camera. (Well, that's my excuse.) My shots sure don't match yours, but I am thrilled to have them as a record nonetheless.

I'm going to have to invest in an SLR. I have a new Canon Powershot 200 SI - while versatile and compact, it sure does not produce the quality of an SLR. What camera are you using, if I may ask?

A falcon landed near me this summer with a struggling bird in its beak and it proceeded to rip it apart and eat, until a squirrel annoyed it and it took off.

Wanda said...

Such great photos to have been taken through your window...aren't you glad you were at your desk working?

TheChicGeek said...

Great shots! What a regal bird. I love the second one the best. You really are an amazing photographer.

Two times in one day....Scribe, we must stop meeting like this :)

Have a Beautiful Evening!

Kelly

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Hawks and their raptor kin simply do what we all must to live…which is eat. In their own way, they're no different than a robin tugging a worm from the ground or a swift taking a mosquito from the air. But their feeding can be pretty in-your-face if you're not expecting the primal.

I was simply lucky more than anything on the shots—right place and time, camera handy, right lens on the camera, barely sufficient light that I could end up with a few fairly good photos.

To answer your technical questions, I used an old Nikon D-70 and an even older Nikon 70-210 zoom. You could probably buy both on the used market, in good condition, for two or three hundred bucks. There are several generations of newer, mostly better, gear between this and what's now available. But I don't need all the bells and whistles.

Luckily, this lens focuses close enough that I could focus on the hawk. I almost never use auto-focus or auto-exposure settings. If I had had the camera set to either, I'd have missed the shot. Why, because if I'd have been set to auto-focus, the camera would have kept trying to focus on the window glass, not the hawk beyond. And if I'd have had it set on auto-exposure, because it was so dark, it would have slowed down the shutter speed to let in more light…and that would have made it impossible to hand-hold the zoom lens without blurring.

Again, lucky to have had the right setting at the ready…

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

I was glad. It was just neat to have that hawk fly in, land within a few feet of where I sat, stay there long enough form me to grab the camera and make a few shots…and then watch it fly off. And be able to post a blog about it afterwards and share the experience.

Richard said...

Would like to say "Lucky Shot" but then I couldn't use that as my excuse next time. Great pictures. I know when I stumble into such a situation, I'm way more interested in trying to get the shot and never really get to enjoy the beautiful bird in front of me until I look at the pictures.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

ChicGeek…

Hawks always look regal to me, too. I liked the second shot, but didn't like the blurred stuff from desk and window, and the slightly grainier appearance—though the actual pose of the bird is better. From a pure technical standpoint, the top one is the best.

But…and I'm not being humble here…they're all due to luck. In fact, if it hadn't been for your comment re. yesterdays post, and some other blog comments I was making, I'd have never been at the desk in the first place. So in a way, you had a hand (or in the case of your thumbnail blog profile photo, a couple of legs) in making these photos possible. So today's double encounter paid off for me!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Richard…

Hey, it was a lucky shot, I say so myself and certainly take no offense when another photographer backs me up. We both know a lot of shots such as this one are pure luck.

If I saw a twenty dollar bill on the ground, I'd try and snatch it up before the wind blew it away…but I'd also admit that luck put it there, not something I did.

Most of the time birds and bucks all get away from me. I wish you could see my world-class collection of "almost got 'em!" photos…except I didn't get 'em and so have nothing to show.

And you're perfectly correct—I usually see the birds and such in such shots when I see the photos afterwards. With this hawk being so close—and sometimes looking right at me it seemed—I was afraid to move once I had the camera up…so even when I wasn't tracking it with focus or pressing the shutter, I was still observing the bird through the lens rather than trying to look directly. You don't get a mistake with a hawk five feet away.

Bernie said...

Great photo's Grizz, you take better pictures through your window than I do with full views, I am happy you were at your desk when this hawk stopped by for a quick visit, I only get to see them through my blogger friends eyes and love it.....:-) Hugs

madcobug said...

Great shots you got off quickly. Helen

Jayne said...

It's so cool to see one in the yard being quiet and pensive as they watch and wait for an opportunity. I think the photos you got are great!!

giggles said...

wowwowwowowowow!!!!!!!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

If you saw my window, you'd wonder how I could even see light through it! The glass on one half (there's a vertical divider) is fogged internally and cracked, and the other—though not cracked—isn't exactly perfectly transparent, either. Because they're set into stone walls rather than wood framing, the window replacement people want nearly two grand to replace just this one! So…I'm putting it off until I can either find someone who knows how to do the job but will do it cheaper, or I can come up with an alternative.

Yesterday's hawk just happened to be visible (and photographable) through the best area of window glass. Again, pure luck.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Helen…

Hey, I grew up watching all those old westerns where the cowboy with the fastest draw, won.

Bang! Got that hawk!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

There'd been a few doves in the same place earlier, so maybe that was what the hawk was after—though as you can see, it was facing the window and cottage, and is no more than a foot from the stone walls. Which makes me think there might have been some small animal—mouse, squirrel—running along against the foundation line.

The top shot is actually the last one in the series, taken just as the hawk turned to fly off, and a second before it launched. That's the only time it wasn't facing the window and wall. It didn't spend much time watching or waiting—just hurriedly looked around and seeing nothing to eat, headed elsewhere for supper!

The shots came out far better than I dared hope.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: wow! Just wow! I can't believe the bird didn't fly even with the camera on your desk. I'm surprised it didn't notice that movement. But I'm glad you got the photos. They are wonderful!!

Carolyn H.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

That's pretty much what I said when I looked out the window at that Cooper's sitting a few feet away…wowwowwowowowow!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

Honestly, I was totally surprised I could get the camera up without the bird spooking.

The window and bird was to my right, the camera to the left (where it sits when I upload shots) and for once wasn't still plugged in. Of course, being a hawk on the hunt and on the ground, that Cooper's head was swiveling like crazy.

I absolutely froze—slid the camera in front of me using my left hand, took a chance when the bird was looking the other way and brought the camera to my eye, then froze everything again except my shutter finger…and I actually figured the bird would see that.

Several times the bird seemed to stare directly at me , and I'd think, uh-oh, the game's up. While I didn't have a light on in the room, the computer and it's big twenty-something inch screen was on and surely illuminating my face—so I don't know why I didn't get spotted anyway.

The whole scenario was just plain old dumb luck working in my favor. But the photos are really neat.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Fantastic shot scribe. Love the story of the hawk, the cat and the titmouse. The hawk would fly away with his pride hurt, the cat would immediately start cleaning himself so that if anyone was looking they would see he was totally unconcerned and the titmouse? well methinks he would be laughing all the way back to his nest. Sounds almost like an Aesop's Fable.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Thank you re. the photos—though it was just luck I got them.

Now, you've almost figured the tale of hawk, cat, and titmouse absolutely spot on—except for the hawk's behavior.

Understand, this was a small cat, young, maybe a year old, but a constant hunter—I'd watched it make several stalks in the past. While a Cooper's hawk is not a big hawk—it was at least as big as the cat. So you have to say the cat was ambitious to a fault.

When the cat surprised and attacked the hawk, which was on the ground with the titmouse already in its clutches, though not yet under full control—the titmouse made good use of the diversion and escaped.

Hawk and cat began their whirlwind waltz.

After their brief but furious wrestling match—when neither got the better of the fight—the two stalkers ended up separated by a distance of perhaps three feet.

The hawk shook itself and hopped up onto the bench seat of the nearby picnic table, about two feet away. The cat turned and sat, back to the hawk.

The hawk screamed and cursed, hurling every raptor invective it could muster at the nearby cat…while the cat did exactly as you guessed, and what cats always do when they're embarrassed—sat and began cleaning its paws, never deigning to glance at the hawk a few feet away, or reacting in the least to its continued name-calling.

So far as the cat's body language revealed, that big old loud angry hawk didn't exist. A snub which literally made the Cooper's hawk hopping mad. So it hopped and screamed.

I expected that any moment the hopping raging shrieking hawk would swoop down and attack the cat…but after several minutes of verbal abuse, the haughty cat simple stood, stretched, and walked on toward the corner of the cottage.

The only real winner was the titmouse—though I came out with a good story.

Squirrel said...

You may have lucked out with the camera setting but you have a good eye for sure. I have enjoyed all your fall photos this week. They have all been picture postcard quality and worthy of framing. Thank you for the pleasure they have given me along with the great narative.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Squirrel…

Thank you sincerely for such a really nice compliment. I'm glad you've enjoyed recent posts—pix and text. I'll try to keep putting up good stuff in the future, but can't promise another Cooper's Hawk windowside portrait…although you never know.

Again, thank you!

Kelly said...

...fantastic captures. Our Cooper's Hawk has started showing up again as well. I hope he lands just outside my window for a lovely photo shoot too!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

I expect I'll now see the Cooper's every day—it was here a couple of times yesterday. They become pretty regular in their feeding circuit, seems like. This was just a lucky shot, er, shots. But last winter, I did several pieces on the Cooper's which came through several times each day on its rounds.

You'll be able to get some dandy shots I bet with your nice Nikon rig.

Hope you have a good riverside walk with lots of color. Today's soft light will be excellent.

TheChicGeek said...

Hello Again Scribe :)
I'm giggling at your funny response to me. I'm happy to have brought you luck in capturing your beautiful bird.

I was looking at the pictures again and I just noticed the last photo in the line looks like the little bird is wearing pants...LOL Really neat...or pantaloons...LOL

Have a Great Day!
Kelly

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

ChicGeek…

Pants or pantaloons? I'm often puzzled by the same thing…the eternal "what to wear question."

Oh, you meant the Cooper's haw. Sorry, my mistake.

Yes, I wish I could have included more of his/her lower legs in the shot, but the rest is below the window ledge and blocked from view.