Tag Archives: Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Hawk triplets

A pair of Cooper’s hawks (Accipiter cooperii) nested near my home.  I knew they were raising young ones when I saw them flying back and forth with prey.  But I never could find the nest despite traipsing through the woods in a desperate search.  (I’ll note I did at least confirm the presence of ticks during these jaunts, although I never located their nest either.)

Yet over the past several weeks I’ve seen the juvenile hawks flying to and fro, unsuccessfully hunting squirrels along with everything else that moved, and being quite boisterous and obvious.  I’ve taken their photos before, albeit not under ideal circumstances or at a time allowing me to see all three of them at once.  That all changed on a hot afternoon.

Two juvenile Cooper's hawks (Accipiter cooperii) perched beside each other on a branch (2009_07_25_027727)

I first spied two of them sitting in a tree.  Too far away for any photos of respect, I dove into the woods and made my way toward them.

Obviously they heard me coming.  Only when they moved to different perches did the third one appear from its hiding place in the thick foliage nearby.  But it chose one of the best places to land: right in front of me.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched on a stump (2009_07_25_027748)

Another one landed behind some small limbs and leaves.  Hiding place or not, it made for a great view.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) hiding behind some leaves (2009_07_25_027750)

At no point was I fooled into thinking I would sneak up on one of them, get into the perfect view for the perfect shot.  They watched me like… Well, like hawks.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) staring at me from a high perch (2009_07_25_027755)

That’s the one I named Scruffy.  It was disheveled, wet from some encounter with the water that left it constantly trying to dry off.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) with its wings spread (2009_07_25_027757)

When it flitted to another tree, I realized it must have fallen in the water during a failed hunting attempt (much like the very bad squirrel hunting from a week or so ago).  Afterward, it tried its best to look dangerous and menacing despite the unkempt feathers and occasional drip of water.

A juvenile Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched on a branch (2009_07_25_027767)

No matter its unsavory appearance, I found it intriguing and majestic.

Meanwhile, its siblings retreated into thick woods until I moved far enough away for their comfort.  So I left them in peace.

Birds I never knew – The End

Haphazard photos taken with the assumption that what lurked at the other end of the lens was something more common than what was discovered in the image later.  Running down a hill snapping picture after picture of something flitting about the shore so far away that I felt convinced it would be better displayed in my memories than in the camera.  A flippant photograph, one taken over my shoulder with nary a thought.

I can’t help but think I chance upon a great many of the images shared here, and not by skill or preparation as much as luck.

Which brings us to the end of our story…

A female yellow-rumped warbler (Dendroica coronata) perched behind bare branches (20071228_00463)

A female yellow-rumped warbler (Dendroica coronata).  I saw across the floodplain in a barren tree some tiny bit of movement as I walked through dry grass.  Winter had long taken hold of the world.  That meant no foliage protected whatever life busied itself in the nearby woodlands.  Still trying to gain comfort with my new camera at the time, I held it up and clicked a few images of what I believed to be a mockingbird.  Thankfully the lens knew better than I and helped clear up the confusion by seeing more clearly than I did.

A male yellow-headed blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) standing in the grass next to a tree (20080420_04303)

A male yellow-headed blackbird (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus).  An infrequent visitor to White Rock Lake, I immediately recognized it the moment I topped the hill at Winfrey Point.  Clouds had long obscured the world when a flash of gold wrapped in the deepest black turned my attention from the drab surroundings.  Far ahead of me down at the shore danced this marvelous creature.  Watching it flit from spot to spot, I ran headlong, nearly tumbling down the hill several times, and I snapped photo after photo along the way.  The bird vanished long before I approached its location.

A spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia) in non-breeding plumage standing on a pier (IMG_20080106_00986)

A spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia) in non-breeding plumage.  A marvelous aspect of the lake comes from how localized wildlife can be.  Looking for buffleheads?  You won’t find them in Sunset Bay.  Looking for American white pelicans?  You’ll find them mostly in Sunset Bay.  The whole lake seems apportioned by species with only a select group claiming the entire refuge.  So as I rounded the north shore and spied a pier overflowing with gulls and cormorants, this tiny bird dashing along the edge drew my attention more than the raucous giants who very much dwarfed it.

An eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) perched on a bare branch (20080120_01484)

An eastern phoebe (Sayornis phoebe).  One thing I learned quickly when I started photographing wildlife is this: No matter what creature you hope to capture in an image, you have better luck if they don’t think you’re looking at them.  As large mammals with forward-facing eyes, we automatically come across as predators.  Other animals recognize that and know when those eyes have settled upon their location.  Pretending not to notice has often given me a better opportunity to take a picture or two than has stopping and looking directly at the subject.  So it was with this phoebe who dashed from tree to tree each time I stopped and took aim.  So instead of trying intently, I tried flippantly: Walking by and quickly pressing the button a time or two as I held the camera over my shoulder.

A great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) perched on a fence wire (20080523_05733)

A great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus).  One disadvantage of visiting the family farm stems from the amount of territory it covers.  The house sits atop a hill with pastures and woodlands stretching in all directions.  While standing in the main yard helping my parents tend to the rabbits, a bit of movement far off in the distance caught my eye.  Something loud flew into view and perched atop a fence.  Without thinking, I turned, faced into the sun, zoomed in all the way despite knowing I was ill prepared for such an endeavor, and I pulled the trigger—photographically speaking.  Much to my surprise, I captured this rather poor image of a bird that rarely stands still.

(Honestly, without time to change lenses or get closer, I took four pictures, all the while telling myself I’d get nothing for the effort.  That even one of them showed the actual subject with any clarity brought a great deal of cheer to my heart!)

A juvenile Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched in a tree (211_1135)

A juvenile Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii).  Lake Tawakoni impressed me beyond measure.  The giant spider web overwhelmed me with its vast reach and unexpected majesty, yet every direction I turned offered one more surprise…and one more challenge for my little PowerShot S50.  When this accipiter landed in a tree some distance from me, its tail resting comfortably on a branch behind it as the predator surveyed the morning landscape, I scarcely thought I would be able to see it in any of the photos I took.  Small and compact, the camera I had with me offered few answers to the challenges I put before it.  In this case, however, it at least let me know it tried.

An American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis) seen through brush and branches (IMG_20080105_00804)

This poor unidentified bird left me wanting (see update at bottom of post).  Never having seen its face, let alone a profile shot that might offer a bit more of its plumage for comparison, it landed only once in a small stream hidden by brush and branches.  Its song made me turn and look; the click of the camera made it disappear into the sunrise.

A female northern flicker (Colaptes auratus) clinging to the side of a tree as she looks to the side (IMG_20080106_00932)

A female northern flicker (Colaptes auratus).  The rat-tat-tat of pecking above my head called my attention to an otherwise silent visitor.  She clamored along the tree’s bark high in the treetop, and the faint echo of her efforts provided the only evidence of the encounter.  I backed away snapping photo after photo under less than ideal circumstances: the sun had not yet risen above the treeline; a great number of bare branches stood between me and her position; and her color made her all but invisible in such dim light and at such a great distance.  The only thing I could focus on was the spot of red on the back of her neck.

A male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus) standing on a bit of tall grass (20080629_08622)

A male house finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).  I followed this chap from Garland Road to Sunset Bay (quite a distance for those unfamiliar with White Rock Lake).  He stayed well ahead of me, and each time I got close and tried to take a photo, he darted further ahead—but always stayed close enough that I could see him.  Native to this area, I never doubted his identity; I did, however, doubt that I would get a respectable image of him.  This is another case of pretending not to notice the very thing I wanted to photograph.  Only when I leisurely walked by as though he didn’t exist was I able to surreptitiously aim the camera at him and snap a few images.

— — — — — — — — — —

The purpose of this series has been manifold:

  1. To show that one need not have the greatest equipment available in order to capture a memory.  None of these photographs will be published, but each of them means a great deal to me.
  2. Every picture doesn’t have to be a work of art, let alone something worthy of inclusion in a nature guide (or other publication).  I’ve been published because of my photography, yet the image that started me down that path was taken with a weak and simple point-and-shoot camera, and it was an image taken only because I wanted to capture a beautiful thing that Mom pointed out to me.
  3. Photography is a personal endeavor.  What I show here has nothing whatsoever to do with wanting to share with the world.  It has everything to do with wanting to experience the world, and once in a while finding that effort resulted in a moment others might enjoy.
  4. I’ve long advocated that a camera at the ready is the most meaningful tool anyone can have, for it enables us to memorialize life as it happens.  A small red bird.  A waterfall casting a rainbow upon the day.  A simple confluence of stars and planets that won’t be seen again for a hundred years.  The list goes on.  Memories are personal and fleeting; photographs can be forever and immemorial.

[Update] I have since identified that bird as an American goldfinch (Carduelis tristis).

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Opportunity missed

While standing on the patio yesterday soaking up a bit of warm sunshine, something we hadn’t seen in ten days or more, I rested the camera atop the fence due to the lack of anything worthwhile to photograph.  Besides, I spent most of the time standing in the open, my head leaned back and my eyes closed.  I wanted to bathe in the strange light falling from the sky.

And then it happened.

A juvenile red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) An adult Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) landed in the tree no more than six feet (two meters) away from me.  It was so near I could have spit on it.

Perched on a branch jutting out amongst many other branches, it set its eyes upon me and watched carefully.  And like an idiot, there I stood with the camera turned off, my hands resting on either side of it.

I could have kicked myself.

Despite the precarious circumstances, and although I knew it was watching me closely, ever so slowly I moved my hands to the camera.  The movement could only have been discerned by a predator.  Unfortunately, that’s precisely what was eyeballing me.

Nevertheless, I was able to turn the camera on without too much commotion, yet the bird grew increasingly uneasy with each passing moment, its attention never diverting away from me.

Because I knew lifting the camera would frighten the hawk, I did my best to aim it from its position on the fence—which meant I couldn’t see what I was aiming at or even if I was focused on the correct scene.

Sadly, the moment I depressed the button and snapped the photograph, my spectacular visitor dropped out of the tree and flew around the corner.  It moved too quickly for me to get another picture.  In fact, it was long gone by the time I took the five steps necessary to get to that end of the patio from where I had been standing.

Damn it!  I said that then and I say it again now.

Irrespective of the opportunity missed, I’m showing you a portion of the photo I took.  As I suspected, I had not focused on the bird but instead on something behind it.  Still, I caught the creature in full, so I’ve cropped the majority of the nonsense out to give you a direct view of the poor observation I had.  As you can see, a branch between us kept me from getting a clear shot from where I stood.  I had little choice considering how close we were, though, so I can’t complain.

An adult Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii) perched in the tree outside my patio

These hunters are plentiful here at the lake, although not as plentiful as red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis).  That said, this was the first time I’d seen one of either of these raptors that close, although I’ve certainly seen them in close quarters before.

Just the other day as I stood outside, I listened intently as a mockingbird sang defiantly atop a nearby tree.  Meanwhile, house sparrows twittered and fluttered about in the tree near the patio.  Without warning, the sparrows took flight and rapidly made their way to another tree some distance away, one huddled amongst several other trees that offered more protection.  I had the camera with me but didn’t think much about it.  I then turned my attention back to the mockingbird who had fallen silent.  The moment I locked eyes on him, he too bolted in the opposite direction.  It was then I knew something was afoot, so I diverted my gaze back to the south where it had been looking.  Along the way as I turned my head, an adult red-tailed hawk swooped in low—perhaps ten feet (two-and-a-half meters) off the ground.  It was spectacular to see.  Its path traced a perfect line in the same direction the mockingbird had flown, so I suspect that’s what it was chasing.  Like the other birds before it, it was gone in an instant, but the image of that low-flying predator sweeping in on still wings seared itself into my mind.  It had been no more than fifteen feet (four-and-a-half meters) from me as it sped through the area.

Similarly, several weeks ago I was coming home and saw two massive adults circling above one of the major roads in this area.  I had to drive beneath them to get home and found myself nearly causing a few accidents as I strained and stretched to see them.  They had just flown out from the woodlands around the lake and undoubtedly were starting their ascent, perhaps in preparation for a hunt (likely, but I can’t be certain).  Again, the view was phenomenal considering they were so low.  Even with their upward movement in lazy circles, they started just above the streetlights and climbed ever so methodically without a single flap of their wings.  As I should have expected, they had sauntered away from the street toward the lake by the time I stopped, climbed out of the car with the camera, and found a position to snap some photos.  I had no direct route to follow them since thicket and heavy woods, not to mention a creek, separated me from their path.

But there will be other opportunities.  As I said, they are numerous in this area given the plethora of food available in this wildlife refuge.  I assure you I’ll try not to miss any opportunity offered to digitally capture these majestic creatures