A sacrifice for a Goshawk – winter photography in Norway

HabichtIn the depths of Norwegians winter forest I stroll in the pitch darkness over a small path. It is just 6:00 am. I woke up early to visit a Goshawk photography hide with Ole Martin Dahle. During a very successful Eagle photography session in November 2013 I made my first attempts to shot the Goshawk with my Canons. But in vain. This time is late winter and I am about 90 minutes earlier on the way to be in the hide prior to activity time of the Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). The night before it has snowed. Now the air is cold and the land lies under a thin, icy snow. Ideal conditions for the Goshawk Photography. We travel a narrow road out of the village and a short time later Ole place the car at the edge of a pine forest. Now it is time for the walk through the pine forest. The path is just poorly lit only with a meager torch light. Soon we are in the spacious, well-isolated cabin. Good thing, that I brought enough tripod heads. These are each fastened with a large wing nut under the window. The “loopholes” of hide are now equipped with the lenses, cameras are mounted and secured: Ready! Meanwhile Ole prepares the table with a Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus)-bait. The bait is draped on the table, that it looks as if it is laying on the forest floor.

Now everything is ready for hard-core photography. It is now 5:45 am and it is completely dark in the closed pine forest. In the dark I hear the first bird: a Eurasian Blackbird (Turdus merula). At about 07:00 am the forest looks something brighter now. But no birds and no squirrels far and wide to hear. It begins to snow. Luckily no rain. The table is beautifully covered with snow. This gives great pictures from the Goshawk – if he is coming. Well, at first light the first Tits are to be seen. First the Great Tit (Parus major) and finally a few Blue Tits (Cyanistes caeruleus). Already in the first light of the day you can see them. Then a little later, other species of chickadees. First Willow Tits (Poecile montanus), Coal Tits (Periparus ater) and Crested Tits (Lophophanes cristatus) can be observed raiding the feeders. A little later, the first Eurasian Jay (Garrulus glandarius) on a branch, uttering its squeaking calls. Then the first squirrel can be seen as well. Short time later I hear the typical high-pitched calls of Bullfinches (Pyrrhula pyrrhula). You can see the colorful male Bullfinches a little later. On the floor below the grain silos other finches species romp. They are Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla). Somewhen in the morning intense call activity can be reported from the Eurasian Jays. Is there about the Goshawk in the neighborhood? Nothing to see. I try to imitate the calls of Goshawks. The Squirrels respond immediately, are scared and sat down with their tail whipped over their heads. But that was about the only reaction. It’s only 12:00 and I’m already a bit discouraged. It is now almost 01:00 pm and I still have not triggered a single shot. I’m pretty frustrated. Suddenly a bird flies in. On a branch, right above the bait table. Yes, it is banded. Great raptor, too. Wow, that’s actually the female from Northern Goshawk. Really a Dream. She carefully looks down and examines the forest floor. Carefully, I make a document photo with my pocket camera from inside the hut. This works even quite good. I realize that a pivot with the lens out of the hut out would probably provoke the immediate escape of the Northern Goshawk. This warning you get from Ole right in the beginning: Goshawk! OK, let’s wait until he starts to feed on the bait. Then start the One-Shot Mode in combination with the Silent Mode. I do not have to wait for long. After the air space was checked to be secure, she more hops than flies down the on the mossy table with the Ptarmigan. Directly she starts to feed. The Goshawk is initially a little nervous on the bait, plucks a little at the slut, looking around. The environment seems to be secure. The Goshawk female swallows the first bite and I know I do not to hurry. Great, I start with my EOS 5D Mark III in Silent Mode. Then some shots with the EOS 1 DX, in Silent Mode, too. This bird is beautiful, absolutely breathtaking. Soft grays and browns color tones mix; the back looks scaled. The combination with the pine forest is stunning. Remarkable are the long, powerful legs, which have an almost eye-catching yellow. The eye is also yellow and make in between the gray and brown a perfect stopping point for autofocus. The Goshawk eats without haste but with appetite on the Ptarmigan. Suddenly move comes in the scene. An attack! It is the male who also wants to participate on the prey. But the lady Goshawk sheathed now the bait and the male has to watch on the same pine branch, where initially the females had been sitting. After a while the male flies away. Too bad, a little argument between the partners, I would like to photograph. It is interesting that after a fright moment all songbirds are back and enjoy the content of the feeders. As if not a few meters away a fearsome predators is feeding on his meal. It takes about 2 hours until the Ptarmigan is as far decomposed that it can be turned back and forth again and again. The wires that secure it to the table still keep them on the table It’s the right time of day to photograph in the forest. Nevertheless, one should not expect too much regarding the light quality and I photograph – if the Goshawk allows for that – with a maximum of 1/125 sec, if not even less. The yield will show what was good. A great rain replaces an afternoon of sunshine. The raindrops in Goshawk´s plumage give a special touch. Then again, the sun comes out. In Norway we have all precipitation opportunities in a day. Finally after 2 hours the female Goshawk has dealt so intensively with the bait that the rests of the Ptarmigan are free to move. She defecates on the table and shortly after, the female flies away, the the remains of the prey in the talons. What remains is a table covered with white feathers. Wow, what a photo session. I shot a total of 3,505 images.

In contrast to the trip to Goshawk in the coastal forest in November 2013 this time I had the Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO with me. In contrast to the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS USM used at that time, the Sigma-Zoom should give me a chance of changing the framing not only on the table but also in action, e.g. during the flight-approach of the Goshawk to the table. In the gallery of the trip to Goshawk in March, the results can be seen. There was only one opportunity where pictures of the approaching Goshawk benefited from the versatility of the zoom. In combination of the Canon EOS 1 DX and the Sigma 120-300 f 2.8 APO EX DG OS HSM it was possible to focus on the approaching Goshawk, thereby moving the zoom ring slowly and gently press the shutter button and still leave enough memory buffer for the decisive moment when the Goshawk will grab his impressive talons on the bait on the table.

Up to now, most images of the Goshawk were flight shots from Germany. To meet the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of Palaearctic, Bird-lens.com made trips to areas such as the Brandenburg lakes, Lake Neusiedl but also taken to remote locations such as the coastal rain forests in Central Norway. This to do anything to shoot excellent photos of the Birds of the Western Palearctic. The results of images from rare Western Palaearctic birds are very good. The beautiful images that you see in the gallery of the Goshawk-shooting, are just first impressions of what you’ll find behind the tab “Picture- Shop” very soon. Just give bird-lens.com a message, if you need a picture of a bird before the new pictures are online.

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