Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Batting Practice" for Photographers

Photography takes practice, and bird photography requires the equivalent of baseball's batting practice.  Birds move, and sometimes they do it really quickly. This past Saturday, I had the privilege of visiting the Hawk Creek Wildlife Center in East Aurora, New York. Open to the public only four days a year, this was their annual Photo Day which included a good number of wild birds.  While these are wild animals in some degree of confinement, I strive to create a sense of a natural setting. I'm sharing these with the wish that they provide some enjoyment, no matter how stressful your day has been.

First off were a pair of tropical birds.

Hyacinth Macaw

Buffin's Macaw

 The Hyacinth Macaw had great personality. It's rather an outgoing bird which seemed to be seeking attention.  More subdued was the very colorful Buffin's Macaw at left.  In both cases, I worked for a photo that did not show the leather jesses on their legs. You'll see it was unavoidable to see them on the birds when they were flying.

A good number of the animals are rescues that cannot be returned to the wild. Some of them are capable of breeding as is the case for their Barn Owls.  If you are unfamiliar with this bird, be prepared to be dazzled.

Barn Owl adult

Even more awesome were the two Barn Owl chicks nestled in a bed of straw.  They stare at you and emit this growling hiss that surely would frighten most intruders.

Barn Owl chicks

Another stately member of the Owl clan is the Eurasian Hawk Owl.  (There is a Northern Hawk Owl that sometimes ventures south from Canada in harsh winters, but it lacks the ear tufts of this Eurasian version.)

Eurasian Hawk Owl

It is a bit larger than our native Great Horned Owl which it closely resembles.

The staff spends a large amount of each day attending to the animals needs which include exercise and nutrition.  For the birds capable of flight  --some cannot due to injuries-- there are daily flying sessions.  We were shown several animals flying between staff members. It began with an unlikely example, a Turkey Vulture. (Suppress any negativity to accept that TV's serve a valuable role and are graceful in flight.  Think of what happens in a big metropolis when the sanitation workers are on strike!)

Turkey Vulture

One nice aspect of the TV flight was that they are relatively slow and that makes for good practice before they bring out the other birds.  Next up was a Harris Hawk. 

Harris Hawk

It was a bit faster and more difficult to track and keep in focus.  Good batting practice for me. It was to get better, and  more challenging. This was my favorite flight demonstration.

Barn Owl launching

Gaining speed.

Streaking to the target.

While the event highlighted the birds, there were other interesting animals including a thoroughly tame North American Porcupine that kept pestering the handler, because it smelled her botanical hand lotion and wanted to find the yummy bark that it suggested.  The most unusual was a juvenile Canada Lynx cub that was so tame that we could enter its enclosure to photograph at close range.

Canada Lynx cub

So, what was my favorite.  Hard to choose, but collectively, I was most intrigued by the Barn Owls.  The feather texture is ethereal, the chicks growl is unexpected, and the adult flight is so graceful and totally silent that the overall experience is greater.  The Canada Lynx cub is just cute beyond words.  But, my choice is the large amount of practice I got in one five hour session.  In the wild, I would spend that many hours and only hope for 30 minutes of productive shooting.  It was batting practice before the big game that I'll soon be experiencing in Alaska.  No posting on that until mid September.

Best to you,


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