Monday, September 15, 2008

Hawk Mountain - Take the bad with the good

I took a trip to Hawk Mountain in PA a couple of weekends ago. It's quite a day trip, at around 180 miles one way for me. I've been once before, and had roughly the same experience. It was ok, saw a bunch of birds, but no good photos, almost all of the birds were too far away to get anything with a 400mm lens.

Read on for some of those images and a take on why I don't regret going.

A couple of the reasons why I went were - the weather was good, winds were from the West / Northwest, which brings a flow of migrating birds. Also, September is when the Broad Winged Hawk migration peaks, I was just a couple weeks early. And having been just once before, I was open to having different results than my previous trip. And finally, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland, once of my favorite places to go is currently mostly closed while they do maintenance on their Wildlife Drive. If Blackwater NWR wasn't mostly closed I would have probably gone there instead (I went this weekend btw despite the closure, and it was good!).

Here are some of the things I saw, which I would normally not bother posting to my flickr account, because I try to post just my best work, and these just aren't up to that level. I'm partly posting them now to remember the experience, and share it, and to sort of build the case for being open to new places, and not letting the lack of good results get me (and you) down too much...

Entering the trail up the mountain:

Almost there after the hike, I spot some spotters:

This is probably my best migrating bird photo, of an American Kestrel that was part of a group of 4 or 5 Kestrels:

3 of the 4 or 5 Kestrels:

An Osprey flying by:

Possibly a Broad Winged Hawk (or RT):

A Bald Eagle flew by, one of a few I saw that day:

A Red Tailed Hawk that was working the mountain and was spotted a few times:

And finally a few photos of the mountain and the watchers:

And there it is. The results of getting up at 4am, 350 miles of driving, and hiking a couple of miles. A birder would probably have been happy with the day, because it wasn't like nothing flew by, stuff did. But my goal is to produce good images.

This could have been any where though. There's no way to know what you'll see in the end. I've talked to others about Hawk Mountain (photographers) and they say the same thing which is it is rarely good, maybe 1 in 10 trips is it "good". After just two visits I can agree. But It could have been an awesome day, and there's no way to know what will work when. And that's why I had to go. Had it been a great day, I would have been one of the only photographers there to see it and record the moments.

I took a similar risk the first and second time I went every where else I've ever been! If I were worried about guaranteeing results, I'd never go out shooting in the first place. If I lived closer to Hawk Mountain I'd put in more time and go there more, but it is on the distant edge of how far I can travel in a single day just to take photos. If you're thinking of going to Hawk Mountain my recommendation would be to plan your trip some time in late September or October, and keep an open mind.




fbgtlewes said...

Jon, like you, I visited Hawk Mountain last week. Enjoyed the trip and the view, but as a photo opportunity was disappointed that I could not get close enough, even with a 500mm lens. I would recommend the trip for birders but not for photographers. Bill