In 2004 a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks built a nest 98 yards away from my house in a tree directly off my deck. For years I was frustrated by not being able to get photographs of these birds, their nest, their eggs, and their babies. They were just too far away. In 2006 I figured out I could get pictures (that I could at least recognize) by putting the lens of a digital camera up to the eyepiece of a spotting scope through which I had been watching these birds. Success!!! Hence “capturing the ultimate shot” obsession began.
I thought I had created a new way to shoot pictures. I later discovered there is an entire photography genre called digiscoping! Initially all of my shots were by holding my camera to the lens and manipulating the scope on a tripod. When shooting stills I would use 2 tripods. Now I have gotten up to speed and use an adapter that mounts my camera to the eyepiece of the scope. I am currently digiscoping with a Canon Powershot SD950 through a Nikon RAII Straight Body Spotting Scope with a 20x eyepiece. I am also shooting a Nikon D-90 with an 18-105mm zoom and Nikon D-300 with a 300mm lens and a 2X teleconverter (which approximates 900mm).
A Little History
2004 4 eggs, all hatched and survived to independence
2005 3 eggs, all hatched and survived to independence
2006 3 eggs, all hatched and survived to independence
2007 2 eggs, all hatched and survived to independence
2008 2 eggs, one hatched and survived to independence
2009 2 eggs, neither hatched
2010 1 egg, hatched, survived to independence
2011 3 eggs
In 2008 we had a number of snowstorms and brutally cold weather while the eggs were incubating. The adults continued to sit on the unhatched egg for several weeks along with the chick. At some point the egg broke and the female ate the shell. (I wonder if the chick had separation anxiety at the loss of its sibling!)
In 2009 there was not much out of the ordinary, just the usual nasty Rocky Mountain Spring weather. Almost to the day that it was too late for the 2nd egg to hatch, the adults abandoned the nest. This came as a great relieve to me as I feared they would brood dead eggs all summer. The female was looking a little rough that year with broken feathers that never molted. I was concerned that she was declining. I was sick at heart thinking this was their last breeding year.
March 9 – 1st sighting of a Hawk returning to the valley
March 28 – 1st sighting of nest repair
April 23 – 1st egg!
April 26 – 2nd egg!
May 21-30 eggs could hatch at any time (eggs did not hatch)
June 1 or 2nd Hawks abandoned the nest
In 2010 the hawks showed signs that their breeding years had come to an end when their usual laying time came and went, and so did they. A week later they returned and laid 1 egg. Gratefully it hatched. There was more food delivered to that nest than ever seen years prior! Rabbits seemed the newest addition to their menu. This baby took its sweet time flying for the first time. Usually the babies make their virgin flight and then spend the night in the tree to which they flew. By the time 2010’s baby flew it had mapped out a number of destinations it wanted to explore. That baby took 4 flights before it settled in for the night, back in the nest! That was the first time I missed documenting a baby’s 1st flight on “film”. And I missed all 4 of them! The 2010 baby was the most interactive of all of this pair’s offspring. We had numerous photoshoots daily where “she” would buzz the house and call to me. At some point her parents intervened teaching her that it was not safe to get so close to humans. These birds trust me but they are wild and it is critical to their survival that their babies learn to stay away from people.
2011 is hallmarked by my digitally capturing the pair mating, and the earliest egg laying ever. The birds returned to the valley looking healthier and more vibrant and more interactive than ever. This will be the 13th year that I have witnessed their nesting presence here.
March 18 – Hawks return to claim and work on nest
March 18 – Witnessed mating
April 18 or 19th -1st egg!
April 20 – 2nd egg!
April 22 – 3rd egg!
May 16-27 eggs could hatch at any time