Juvenile Cooper’s Hawks

Wednesday, August 15, 2018,

Most times in birding photography, getting the shot or shots depends on where you are, coupled with when you are. The where are is simple. You need to be where the birds are. To be honest, that part is not so simple, but I explained as much in an earlier post.

Next, you need to be there when then the birds are. I find mornings and early evenings to be the best time for finding and photographing birds. During summer, birds are most active in the morning and later in the day. Many birds, like most other sensible creatures will take a siesta during the warmest parts o the day. So mornings and late afternoons and evenings tend to the best time for me find birds to photograph.  

Okay, now I’ve mentioned the importance of the where and the when. Both of those aspects are important. Now, I’m going to tell you that sometimes that kind of information isn’t enough. Just like in regular life, sometimes it’s who you know. You see, this series of pics doesn’t happen without friends of mine telling me about a pair of Cooper’s Hawks nesting in their yard. The parents raised three chicks and you’re looking at them. I wasn’t able to capture all three in one photograph, but trust me, there are three different birds depicted in these pics. In these first two pics is the fledgling who stood alone but the next two pics show one and then both of it’s fledgemates.That first fledgling seemed to enjoy resting on the cool flagstones. If you’re here on Long Island, in this sweltering weather, I’m sure you can appreciate this young bird’s wisdom.

How is this for a shot of Cooper’s Hawks siblings? These two were romping away, jumping on and chasing one another. There may have been three chicks from this nest, but these two were best buddies. Aren’t they beautiful? Again, these pics aren’t because I knew the where or when to grab these shots but because of my friends and the heads up they gave me. Sometimes, it really is who you know.  JK.



Not Quite Ozzie and Harriet

Friday, August 3, 2018,

This is a family unit of Oystercatchers. Here we have Mom, Dad, and little Ricky Nelson. My younger readers will have no idea of what I’m talking about, but that’s okay. Most of the time I don’t know what you’re talking about either. The young one in the center is the chick of the two adults on either side. He’s probably asking for food but I do suppose he could be singing about a Garden Party. You never know with these kids today. 


On Photographing Birds

Wednesday, August 1, 2018,

Those of you that read this blog or view the work of other photographers may enjoy the photographs of birds without thinking very much about what goes into a these shots. “A bird. On a branch. Pretty bird.” While these are correct and true observations, they don’t really capture what is actually involved in taking a photograph of a bird, or any wild animal for that matter. I’m not complaining, or bemoaning my lot in life. In fact, I’m hoping that parts of this little essay will bring a smile to your face. That’s what I attempt to do here at Joe Kayaker. Mix in some Nature, a little humor and a dash of knowledge, bake for thirty minutes and maybe we’ll all get to enjoy some wild creatures and places. And maybe we, or our children, will try to preserve the recipe.

Okay, back to the premise at hand. I was talking about photographing birds before I went all philosophical there. It happens, get over it. Photographing birds is not as easy as one might think. First off, you have to find the bird. I know, I know: They’re everywhere, right? But they’re not. Not really. We all have Robins or Sparrows or Blue Jays or Crows in our back yards. Or pigeons for you city dwellers. But if I or any other wildlife photographer just took pics of those guys, we wouldn’t generate much interest. People might get to thinking that they’d seen all there was to see and why seek for more? No one would want to preserve open spaces or parklands. They wouldn’t understand the why of it.

I did it again. I was talking about finding birds and I went all sideways with it. So, really, you have to find the bird. You need to go where the birds are, whether it’s a park, a river or wetlands, a sea shore, or wherever. Again, you need to go where the birds are. You’re not done yet. Even when you’re in the right place, you still need to find your quarry. It’s not like birds are lining up to meet you. I have friends that can find and identify birds by their calls. I am not so gifted. I have several CDs of bird calls but I find my retention for such recordings – or lack thereof – do not help me in the field. Also, I am mostly deaf in one ear so even if I could recognize a particular call, zeroing in the location of a particular call is nigh on impossible. By the way, I can hardly believe I found an excuse to use the word ‘nigh’ in a sentence.

Okay, so you’re in a right place and you’ve found a bird. You don’t always see it right off. Sometimes, it’s just a rustle amongst the branches or a disturbance in the flowers. But it’s a bird. It’s right there, maybe just a few feet away. You know it’s there. Maybe you can even hear it. But can you see it? Can you get a photograph? Is that bird sitting there, proud and dignified, waiting for you to take its picture? Most times, at least for me, the answers are no, no, and no. Birds flit and fly from branch to branch and from tree to tree. It turns out that the darn things have wings.

But sometimes, those sweet wonderful sometimes, you get lucky. The bird peeks out from the foliage or the flowers and is right there. All you need to do then is put it in focus. And that is an entirely different conversation. JK.



Baby Great Horned Owl Release

Friday, June 1, 2018,

I’m a volunteer at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. Mostly, I just take photos but sometimes I get involved in cooler, more hands-on stuff. Recently, I participated in the release of a baby Great Horned Owl. I thought some of you might like to hear about it.

This story starts about a day before I even meet the owl. One morning, the Smithtown Animal Shelter received a call about an injured hawk. They went to investigate and realized that the hawk was not a hawk but a baby owl instead. A big baby owl. This is no small bird. Don’t be deceived by the photographs; this owl stands over a foot tall.

It is not a unusual for a baby Great Horned Owl to be found outside of its nest. These owlets are so large and so rambunctious that they sometimes break apart the very nest beneath them. Often, all that’s needed is to place the baby owl on a high branch and allow its parents to tend to it from there.

The folks from the shelter brought the owl to Sweetbriar Nature Center. Sweetbriar specializes in wildlife rehabilitation as well as providing natural sciences education. It’s also a great place to visit, with many animals, displays, and several hiking trails. The techs at Sweetbriar examined the baby owl and found that it was dehydrated and a bit underweight. They kept it for about 24 hours, during which time the owl was hydrated and “fed many mice.” Yum, yum.

The following afternoon, the baby owl was judged ready to be returned to its parents. The hope, and the general plan, is that its parents will find it and continue feeding it till it can fly and forage for itself. Luckily, Great Horned Owls are very dedicated parents. In the past we’ve even been able to add an extra owlet and the parents take care of the newcomer as well as their own babies. That’s how strong their parenting skills are.

John Scarola and I transported the owl back to where the owl had been found. The two homeowners who had called the Smithtown Animal Shelter were able to show us the exact spot. We selected a nearby tree and John secured a new “nest” about twenty feet up. This new nest is actually a re-purposed drugstore shopping basket that has been lined with pine branches with needles. Pine needles, not drugstore needles. Sweetbriar is a rehab facility and we make sure all animals are off the stuff before releasing them. Then we hoisted the owl up in the bin we had transported it in and John placed it in the makeshift nest.

With the two homeowners to watch and be sure the parents returned for their baby, which they did, our work was done. This beautiful baby owl was saved, not just by us, but by a whole team of folks working together. Without the homeowners who found the owl, or the folks at the Smithtown Animal Shelter, or the volunteers and techs at Sweetbriar Nature Center, this story never happens. JK