Last week I decided to ignore the continuing heat in central AZ, where it has been well into the triple digits for many weeks, and made the trip to Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior, AZ. Although just 60 miles east of Phoenix the slight increase in elevation and the riparian habitat in the Queen Creek canyon make it a few degrees cooler than the desert around Phoenix.
I hiked around the two miles of trail from 6:00 until 8:30 am taking frequent sips of water from the hydra pack I was wearing and taking my time enjoying being out. I didn’t have a long list of Avian species, but I still found enough subjects to take about 300 photos (half of them of a single subject).
The visit was capped off when I located the family of Cooper’s Hawks that have been nesting at Boyce for many years – I could hear one of them calling and saw one large bird pass through the low trees. When I hiked over in the direction the hawk had taken I found one adult ripping apart some prey and feeding it to a recently fledged juvenile while a second young bird watched from nearby.
I was thrilled when none of the birds instantly departed (a usually happens with hawks). I started taking photos as soon as I had a clear view as I figured my window of opportunity was limited. I decided not to fumble around taking off the 2x converter I use for almost all my bird photos to give me wider coverage and just started taking shots. The light was dim in this shaded alcove, and the strong light behind the birds didn’t help with getting a good exposure. I increased the ISO from 400 to 800 to gain an additional stop of shutter speed and kept shooting.
With the narrow angle of view using the 2x on the 300 I couldn’t get both the adult and young bird completely in the frame so I concentrated on the juvenile and cropped out most of the adult.
Note the pale blue iris of the juvenile – it will soon turn pale yellow before finally turning orange-red as an adult. Also note that this bird still shows some downy feathers on the forehead.
When I processed these images there was very little work to do: I use the recovery slider in Adobe Camera Raw to bring down one hotspot in the bright background, moved the temperature slider to counteract the cool blue tint from the deep shade, and brought up the midtones with the middle slider. I then fine tuned the image in Photoshop with a slight increase in saturation and contrast and cropped slightly from top, right, and bottom for better balance in the composition.
This additional image was taken just a fraction of a second in time from the image at the top. I prefer the head position of the adult in the first image but thought I’d share the second as a bonus.
I feel very fortunate to have seen these birds so close and to have them stay put while I took photos. But it also helped to have my gear ready, with the camera and lens mounted on my extended tripod and ready to shoot in aperture-preferred mode as it always is.
Both images: Nikon D300, Nikkor 300/2.8 AF-S, TC20E III (2x), Gitzo 1325 carbon fiber tripod, Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball head, Sidekick, ISO 800, 1/200th second at f/8, 795 of frame.