It may be late Summer in the Salt Lake Valley but up in the Wasatch Mountains Autumn has already made her presence known, in one week’s time I’ve seen many leaves change color on the peaks, slopes and canyons. Early morning temps are delightful to me after too many hot, long days. Many of the summer birds have left already and it is quieter up in the high country because of that though the year round resident birds remain. Yesterday morning I photographed birds in what would be the equivalent of one city block and it paid off.
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk with fall colors – Nikon D500, f8, 1/1000, ISO 800, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited
While I waited for birds to come to a clump of mixed deciduous trees I could hear turkeys close by, I’ve seen a large flock in the area recently so that didn’t surprise me at all. After a bit I noticed some movement in my rear view mirror and I could see three turkeys foraging at the side of the road behind my Jeep, it frustrated me because I couldn’t photograph them and it amused me at the same time because they were simply ignoring my Jeep and me. Then I heard a vehicle come behind me and in the rear view mirror I saw a red pickup stop because they too had seen the turkeys. Having that pickup enter the area must have been enough of a disturbance for the turkeys because I watched them cross the road and head up the hill, after they crossed to the other side of the road the pickup passed me and was soon out of view.
I decided to back up and see if I could photograph the turkeys on the hillside and I slowly drove my Jeep backwards until I had a view of the hillside but by then the turkeys weren’t in view.
So I started to drive my Jeep back to where I had been parked and I hadn’t even gone 25 feet when a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk flew in, landed on a pile of branches, gave one brief call and started looking around from its perch. I stopped my Jeep, grabbed my camera, focused and fired away. Having something like this happen with a Cooper’s Hawk is unusual for me and I took full advantage of it.
Staring juvenile Cooper’s Hawk – Nikon D500, f8, 1/1000, ISO 800, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited
The red leaves of a chokecherry behind the young Cooper’s Hawk delighted me and added a pop of fall color to every image I took of this hawk. The Cooper’s turned its head from right to left and then stared right towards my Jeep for one brief moment while overhead a single Warbling Vireo called out in alarm. The prey of these accipiters is small birds and those birds know it.
Juvenile Cooper’s Hawk in the Wasatch Mountains – Nikon D500, f8, 1/1250, ISO 800, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited
I took many images of this hatch year Cooper’s Hawk as it looked around. From where I sat it seemed that all the other birds had gone quiet and had stopped moving so that they didn’t draw the attention of this young but deadly raptor.
Cooper’s Hawk juvenile portrait – Nikon D500, f8, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited
Young raptors can be approachable because they haven’t learned to be wary yet so I decided to try to creep forward with my Jeep and attempt a few close up shots of the juvenile Cooper’s Hawk. I didn’t want to flush the young hawk so my movement forward was slow and I watched for any signs of discomfort in the hawk. Once I was close enough I stopped my Jeep and took several portraits of the Cooper’s.
Within a minute I could tell that something had caught the hawk’s eye, it lifted off, flew right in front of my jeep, dove down into some shrubs not twenty feet from the edge of the road and from all the movement I could see but wasn’t able to photograph I could tell the young hawk and captured prey. Then the young Cooper’s Hawk lifted off and flew towards some cottonwoods with a small bird in its talons.
I know, I could grumble about not being able to photograph the young Cooper’s Hawk taking its prey down just feet away from my Jeep but you know what? Being there to see nature in action was enough for me.
Life is good.