My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Listen, stop, look!

I’ve written before about paying attention to the sounds you hear while you’re outdoors, and how that can lead to some great photos, if that’s what you’re after. That point has been made many times to me again the last few days. Starting with the great horned owl I was able to get a picture of.

Great horned owl in the wind and rain.

I heard the hoot of the owl long before I was able to spot the owl itself. As long as it continued to hoot, I continued to search for it, and was able to get that photo because of that.

But, you don’t always hear the subject you end up photographing first, it is often another species that you hear, but that leads you to find something worthwhile. For example, jays, robins, crows, and squirrels can be used to locate other species of wildlife, especially predators. The species I mentioned are the self-appointed watchdogs of the animal kingdom, they’re good at spotting danger and issuing their warning cries, sometimes too good. They can be like the little boy who cried wolf too often, it is easy to dismiss their warning calls because you hear them so often. The deciding factor for me as far as investigating what they are warning is the intensity of their warning calls. Like in this example.

Crow attacking a red tailed hawk

Crows have a definite dislike for birds of prey, especially owls, and in particular, great horned owls. Why? Because great horned owls like crows, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a midnight snack. In many areas, the number one predator of crows is the great horned owl. Crows know this, since they are one of the more intelligent species of birds, and crows do their best to harass any owl they find in the open during daylight. If you hear a large flock of crows going crazy, it could well be that they have an owl treed someplace, and you may find it worthwhile to check it out. Of course, it could be that the crows have found a feral cat to harass, but that could be interesting, also. Crows are very acrobatic in flight when they want to be, and watching a large flock wheeling, diving, and attacking a predator is something to see, even if the predator is a house cat in the wrong place at the wrong time. You may even get to see some feathers or fur fly. I didn’t in the photo above, there were only two crows, and they gave up on the hawk after just a few attacks, but, the possibility of a great shot was there, so it pays to pay attention.

Now, for the story that prompted me to write this post. I was doing my daily hike, and I heard turkeys begin to give their call that means they are agitated about something. I wasn’t close enough for it to have been me, I couldn’t even see the turkeys when I heard them start calling, so I headed in that their direction to investigate.

I saw a small flock of turkeys, some still resting on the ground, but all of them where craning their necks all around, as if trying to spot something. I stood there watching as all the turkeys eventually got to their feet, and I began to think that maybe I was the reason they were agitated, but they weren’t focused on me the way they would have been if I had been the reason.

Then I heard ducks in the nearby creek begin to sound off as well, also in their agitated voices, and I couldn’t even see the creek, let alone the ducks. I wondered if the ducks were reacting to the turkeys’ calls, when a female sharp shinned hawk came flying towards me through the woods, and landed low in a tree. This really got the turkeys and ducks going, which kid of surprised me. I don’t know if a sharp shinned would try to tackle a mallard which is as large or larger than itself, and I seriously doubt that even a starving sharpie would try for a full-grown turkey. A poult, yes, but this is January, and last year’s poults are about full-grown.

I got this photo of the sharpie.

Sharp shinned hawk

With a couple of shots in the can, I was just beginning to plot how I could get closer to the hawk, when it flew off to another wooded area, but I could watch where it went. So, off I went, and got this photo.

Sharp shinned hawk

Or is it a coopers hawk? I have had some birding experts tell me that it is sharpie, others tell me it is a coopers, I can’t tell for sure either way.

Anyway, I was going to try to get closer, but I don’t like trying to sneak up on an animal from behind when it already knows that I am there. No critter likes to be approached from behind, that’s the classic action of a predator. I have much better luck if I can circle the critter and approach it head on if it is aware of me. So, I decide to try to circle around to get in front of the hawk, and I snapped this one on my way.

Sharp shinned hawk

I had to work my way around some wetlands to get to where I could approach the hawk from the front, I didn’t make before the hawk flew off again. I saw the area that it landed in, but not the exact spot. From the movements of the hawk so far, I could tell it was working its way from one patch of trees to another, moving generally to the north.

Since I had been pushing the hawk to at least some degree, I decided the best course of action was to let it rest for a while, and to try to get all the way around in front of its general heading, that way, if it did take fight again, maybe I could catch it coming towards me. At one point, I could see that a woman had parked her car, and was photographing something, I couldn’t see what, but I was pretty sure it was the hawk, and it turned out that it was. There wasn’t much I could do at that point, other than hope that since I had made it all the way around the hawk, that if it was spooked off by the other photographer, it would probably come in my direction. Turned out, I didn’t need to worry, the hawk decided it was going to pose for any of us who wanted to take its picture.

Sharp shinned hawk

I would take a couple of photos, then step slowly closer, and repeat.

Sharp shinned hawk

Sharp shinned hawk

Until I was as close as I wanted to be, due to the angle I would have had to shoot at if I had gotten closer.

Sharp shinned hawk

Sharp shinned hawk

Sharp shinned hawk

After those photo, I just stood there with the camera on the hawk, waiting for it to take flight. That didn’t happen for quite some time, several minutes at least. When I saw the hawk spreading its wings to fly, my brain told my finger to shoot, but by that time, my finger wasn’t working any longer.

Many years ago, as the result of an act of industrial stupidity, I dropped a 400+ pound piece of a machine on my right index finger as I was removing the part from the machine. I can’t call it an accident, because I knew better than to try what I tried, and I paid for it. I won’t say much else about it, other than the sound that it made when my finger was driven into the concrete floor was almost enough to make me toss my cookies right then. I thought my finger was gone, but luckily, it was just a very painful learning experience, although my finger does still stiffen up in cold weather to this day.

So it was when the hawk was taking flight, my finger wouldn’t work at first, but I did catch this one.

Sharp shinned hawk in flight

Not very good, but it was cold and very cloudy that day, here’s one of her landing, and not being very graceful while doing so.

Sharp shinned hawk landing

She nearly fell off the lightpost, but recovered nicely.

Sharp shinned hawk

I thought about trying to get close to the hawk again, but decided against it. It is winter, although a mild one, and I don’t like to bother critters too much when they are obviously out hunting for food. Besides, the light wasn’t going to be any better than for the shots I had already taken, so there wasn’t any real reason to chase her around any more.

Going back to the beginning, I would have never gotten any of the hawk photos if I hadn’t paid attention to the agitated calls of the turkeys in the first place. It was only because I stood there trying to learn why the turkeys, and later ducks, were agitated that I saw the hawk. Then, it was watching it as it flew, and noting the direction it was heading each time. Most critters work their way in one general direction as they are looking for food, even if they seem to use a zig-zag pattern as they do.

Well, that’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by.

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6 responses

  1. Glad you found an owl at last. Or he found you. You must have a lot of mice and other small critters in your area to attract so many hawks and owls and such.

    January 26, 2012 at 6:50 pm

    • Thanks, we do have a lot of small rodents around here, I see them, but they are really hard to photograph! They never sit still unless they’re in cover, and they blend into the background most of the time.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:18 am

  2. This post was fun to read, like going along on the hike. We have Great Horned Owls in our woods, Grand Haven Michigan. I haven’t been able to get a good photo of them, too dark or too high in the trees.
    I enjoyed the post, thanks.
    Chris

    January 27, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    • Thanks for stopping by my blog! Owls are typically pretty tough to photograph well, I got lucky that day.

      January 28, 2012 at 2:16 am

  3. Great post- I’m the same way with Sharpies or Cooper’s Hawks, it’s so hard to tell which one it is I’ve just fallen into the habit of calling them ‘Accipiters’ and leaving it at that!

    Many a time a group of crows will alert me to a nearby hawk when I’m out hiking. I sort of feel sorry for the hawk.

    January 30, 2012 at 9:55 pm

    • Thank you! That’s what I should do as far as identifying them, but it also makes me wonder, how do they tell each other apart?

      January 31, 2012 at 2:54 am