The Price for these Red-tailed Hawk Images

/, Birds, Red-tailed Hawks, Utah/The Price for these Red-tailed Hawk Images

I thought I was going to get “skunked” on Antelope Island this morning, skunked meaning not bringing home any decent shots of birds. The island has been slow lately, it always is in August but maybe the drought this year is making it worse. Even the Burrowing Owls didn’t seem to want to come up and perch on the sagebrushes. It was hot when the day started.

Juvie Red-tailed flying towards a perch

Juvie Red-tailed Hawk flying towards a perch – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 500, +0.3, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

After having driven around the north end of the island we headed south thinking there probably wouldn’t be much to shoot there… until I spotted this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk perching on some of the darker rocks on the island. We’ve long hoped to find a raptor perched on those dark rocks and today we did. The juvie perched for a while as we photographed it and then it may have seen prey because it lifted off and dove into the grasses not too far from the perch it had just left. I watched it walking around in the grasses through my lens hoping that it would go back to the rock it had been on.

In this frame the hawk was heading towards the perch I first spotted it on.

Juvenile Red-tailed about to land on a new perchJuvenile Red-tailed about to land on a new perch – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

When I took this frame I realized the hawk was much closer than what I would have expected it to be and it struck me that the young raptor might land closer to me than it had been before. I kept my toes crossed because my fingers were busy. Good thing I was wearing my hiking sandals.

Red-tailed Hawk juvenile perched on dark rocksRed-tailed Hawk juvenile perched on dark rocks – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The juvenile Red-tailed Hawk landed on top of these richly toned, dark rocks that was much closer than where I had originally seen it. By then the morning was getting warm (okay, it was hot) and the bird kept its wings slightly away from its body in an effort to keep cool.

Red-tailed juvenile crouching for lift offRed-tailed juvenile crouching for lift off – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 320, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 328mm, natural light, not baited

After a few minutes I could tell by the bird’s behavior that it might lift off so I backed up my zoom hoping that when it took flight I wouldn’t clip the wings. Then I saw it crouch and knew it was lifting off. The frame after this one, the one where the hawk had its wings high over its head? I still clipped it even after I had backed up my zoom.

It was such a great pose. I’m kicking my own butt for messing that shot up.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk lifting offJuvenile Red-tailed Hawk lifting off – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 320, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 321mm, natural light, not baited

I backed up my zoom a touch more as I was shooting in a burst and in this frame which was immediately after the one I messed up I was able to get the whole bird in without clipping anything. Yay!

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk in flightJuvenile Red-tailed Hawk in flight – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1250, ISO 320, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 314mm, natural light, not baited

I was still backing up the zoom for the next frame because the bird was flying even closer to me than it was the frame before (above) and didn’t clip the wing tips in this one.

The juvenile Red-tailed flew towards some rocks to the south and we went back to see if we could get more images of it. We did but the bird wasn’t as close to us as it was in this series of frames.

I mentioned a “price” in the title and I don’t want to leave that hanging.

Just after the young hawk took off from its perch the first time I felt a stinging pain on the right side of my neck and knew I was getting bit so I slapped at my neck and killed a Deer Fly. I kept on shooting and by the time we went south to photograph the Red-tailed hawk on the other rocks I realized my neck was swelling and popped 12.5 milligrams of Benadryl into my mouth and swallowed it. Once we left the hawk to head north again I took another 12.5 milligrams hoping to stop any further swelling. Right now I’ve got a nice red welt on the right side of my neck from my collarbone to just below my chin.

Were these images worth the price? You betcha!

But now I need to sleep off the Benadryl.



  1. Jim August 9, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    What we ignore and go through to ‘get the shot’. Outstanding images and story of the Red-tailed, way to go Mia.

    • Mia McPherson August 10, 2012 at 6:20 pm

      Thank you for commenting Jim.

  2. Matt Finch August 6, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    I find that Redtailed Hawks in my experience, are one of the easiest birds of prey to get close to. The only raptor easier is the Swainson’s Hawk. There’s a few Redtailed Hawk nests I know of that are right in the city and in someone’s backyard. Those one’s are so easy to approach. I’m glad you got a chance to run into one of those approachable raptors.

    • Mia McPherson August 9, 2012 at 7:17 am

      Thanks Matt, I have had better luck approaching juvenile hawks than the adults in most cases. When it gets really cold it seems the adults are a touch “stickier”.

    • Scott (@NESASK) August 9, 2012 at 11:19 am

      Hi Matt and Mia. I agree with you about the Swainson’s Hawks being very approachable, Matt. There were a mated pair sitting outside the yard yesterday on the power poles. They are close to a fair grounds and will sit on a fence or a straw pile with thousands of people passing by relatively close to them (most of them blissfully unaware of the hawk). Our Red-tailed Hawks here in NE Saskatchewan are very wary. They are a common decoration on highway power poles, but aren’t inclined to sit for a photographer. Some Rough-legged Hawks in the spring, have allowed me the best close detailed shots that I have ever managed of a non-urban hawk.

      • Mia McPherson August 10, 2012 at 6:19 pm

        Scott, The Swainson’s I’ve been able to get close to have mostly been juveniles, in the winter I’m able to get close to Roughies.

  3. Glenn Nevill August 4, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    Mia, great shots of the red-tail, sorry about the flies, always a bother when the flies won’t leave you alone, but great shots.

    • Mia McPherson August 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you Glenn, the images were worth the bite on the neck. Being a bird photographer isn’t for sissies!

  4. Dan Huber August 3, 2012 at 5:13 am

    Wonderful images Mia, hope your neck gets better soon. Sounds like it would be a lot worse if you hadn’t acted as fast with the benadryl.

    • Mia McPherson August 4, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      Dan, I do think the swelling would have been worse if I hadn’t taken the Benadryl so quickly, I carry it all the time. Thanks so much for your kind comment on my images.

  5. Julie Brown August 3, 2012 at 4:23 am

    This series was sure worth the bite, I would think! It is amazing what damage the deer flies can do. That kind of attack would make most people run for cover. On a canoe trip, my friend got bit on the lip at Mono Lake and his whole mouth swelled up. I still have scars the bites I got at Corkscrew Swamp from my Florida trip back in March.

    • Mia McPherson August 4, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks Julie, deer flies are nasty biters! I can believe how much your friend’s lip swelled from a bite. The series was worth the pain, for sure.

  6. Reid Barclay August 2, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Great shots that were definetly worth the discomfort. Hope there is no lasting complications.

    • Mia McPherson August 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      Reid, the bites is gettng better and it was worth the price to get these images. Thanks much for your comment.

  7. Syl Lobato August 2, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    All the photos are unbelievable, but the last one says it it..take care of yourself..Thank God for Benadryl..

    • Mia McPherson August 4, 2012 at 3:40 pm

      Thanks Syl, the hawk was a beauty.

  8. Scott (@NESASK) August 2, 2012 at 8:57 pm

    Wow. Gorgeous shots of the hawk, Mia! It’s hard to keep your finger on the shutter while the bugs are busy biting. I hope your neck has recovered. Those deer flies are nasty. We have horse flies. They’re something similar to a deer fly, I think. They can take a chunk out of you! We have serious mosquitoes here this summer. I had to deal with a horrible swarm yesterday to capture an unexpected group of pelicans. Oh well, if you like to be outside, they go with the territory. You sure captured some wonderful images in trade for that serious bite.

    • Mia McPherson August 4, 2012 at 3:39 pm

      Thank you Scott, the bite is getting better every day. I was bitten by horse flies last month in Montana, they are huge!I’m in agreement with you, if you like ebing outside bug bites go with the territory. Thanks for you kind words on these images.

  9. N. Wilson August 2, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    The photos are fabulous!!! How hot is hot? I read that street lamps are melting in Oklahoma… 115! Lunacy… I don’t know that type of bite either, however the photos are amazing!

    • Mia McPherson August 4, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      It had been hovering around the century mark, for the first time in a long time this mornings low was in the low 60’s, that felt marvelous! Thanks for your comment on these images.

  10. Earl August 2, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Great shots.

  11. steve gent August 2, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    Great set as ever Mia.

  12. Susan August 2, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Sure hope the swelling has gone down, great job, these are awesome photos:)

    • Mia McPherson August 4, 2012 at 3:23 pm

      Thank you Susan, the swelling is going down a little everyday. This was a great hawk to photograph!

  13. Carol Mattingly August 2, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    Nice images Mia. Now go to bed and sleep off your drugs. Carol

  14. Matt August 2, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Badass as always, Mia!!

    • Mia McPherson August 2, 2012 at 5:25 pm

      Thank you Matt, this was a great & cooperative hawk.

  15. judy watson August 2, 2012 at 4:09 pm


  16. Beverly Everson August 2, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Absolutely breathtaking, Mia!!!

  17. Merrill Ann Gonzales August 2, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    This is a wonderful series of photos. I never get tired of seeing the various feather patterns in red-tails. You can almost identify birds by the various patterns. Around here they are extremely distinct. This one you show here is beautifully marked.

    • Mia McPherson August 2, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      Thank you Merrill, Red-tailed Hawks are so varied that I find it fascinating. This hawk sure was handsome.

  18. M. Firpi August 2, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    The sequence is phenomenal. These hawks are just so beautiful, but their beauty is fully appreciated when they’re in flight. I like all of these shots.

    • Mia McPherson August 2, 2012 at 5:22 pm

      Thank you Maria, Red-tailed Hawks are beautiful!

  19. Bob Zeller August 2, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    And some people think we just aim the camera, shoot, put it in the computer and print. Yeah, right….
    Great shots here, Mia. I love those rocks, too.

    • Mia McPherson August 2, 2012 at 5:22 pm

      Thanks Bob, creating our photos is a joy but it can be work!

Comments are closed.