It’s rare to have a vantage point where one can shoot down at a flying bird. The typical hawk-in-flight shot is a belly-view shot of a bird passing overhead. But when strong west or northwest winds pummel the ridges above Lake Superior’s North Shore, many hawks fly low and fast. This was one of those days.
Hawk Ridge averages 94,000-plus hawks, falcons, eagles, kites, harriers and vultures tallied each autumn. But many pass high overhead. The biggest flight days are in mid-September when Broadwings pass over in huge kettles—soaring swarms spiraling on invisible thermals, pepper specks in the sky. But today was different, and I knew I had to get to Summit Ledges to enjoy the show. Cresting the ridge I spotted several low Sharpies hunting songbirds in the woods (Sharp-shinned Hawks…Another silly name bestowed upon a very cool bird by early ornithologists…And no, you can’t see their shins in flight!) and just as I reached “the Ledge,” a Sharpy careened by at eye level. For a while it was like a shooting range, Sharpies coming in low and hard, zipping by with wind-aided speed. One came right for my head and I actually had to duck! This is the first time that has happened to me in 30 years of hawk watching.
But autofocus was useless. Neither single-point autofocus nor zoned autofocus could latch on to the tiny targets. A newer lens may have been up to the task, but the old 400 f5.6 is tired. So I had to try to manually focus. In all, I shot over 300 images, of which maybe 30 percent were acceptably sharp. Of this batch, I maybe kept 30. All were shot on Manual at f8 1/1500 (to freeze motion) and ISO 400.
My two favorites are the Broad-winged Hawk above (3-foot wingspan) and the Sharp-shinned Hawk below (2-foot wingspan).
Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6, f8 at 1/1500, ISO 400, handheld and manually focused