They call it Bird "Watching", not Bird "Seeing" for a reason.
A few nights ago, I ventured on my 25 minute walk to one of my favorite spots in the park to photograph birds. Amongst the sandpipers, red tailed hawks, turkey vultures, seagulls, and even a nearby oyster catcher there is a pair of peregrine falcons. They are magnificent to watch. They can reach speeds of 200mph as they stoop toward their prey. I have photographed this pair over the course of a few seasons and have become addicted to catching these speedsters in flight.
During this time of year, you are very likely to see these amazing birds as it is nesting season. With some patience and persistence, you may even witness one of the coolest behaviors of all birds of prey. The male falcon will consume half of a meal and when done, he will call to the female. They will often meet mid-air where the male will dangle the half eaten bird from its beak and the female will swoop in and take it from him. It is truly extraordinary to watch. I have only seen it twice in my life, but with patience and persistence, I feel anyone can witness the event.
As exciting as all this is, it is not the point of this blog post. More often than not, I seem to spend most of my time watching one or both of them simply perched on the cliffs. Last week's visit was a prime example. I did the 25 minute walk and found what I believe to be the male sitting on the cliff. I was excited as I had 2.5 hours of daylight left and hoped I may catch a glimpse of this action. But it didn't happen. And because it didn't happen, I learned so much about this animal that I did not previously know.
One great example of this new learning came from watching other birds pass by. Red tailed hawks, seagulls, and turkey vultures passed by regularly at different distances. I remember a previous trip when a turkey vulture flew along the cliff face. Its distance too close for the falcon's comfort, the falcon flew off the cliff face seemingly shot from a rifle. It closed the gap on the vulture in mere seconds. You could see the terror in the vultures movements. It rolled, flapped, and jolted like it had a feather stuck in a light socket as it flailed wildly to get away.
As I continued to watch this perched falcon last week, I could truly watch it decide if it should take off in defense of its territory. It seemed he had a different tolerance for each species that flew by. At times it seemed the trespasser was just inches from the 'safe zone'. Two more inches and it seemed it would have bombed it. I watched it pick up an oncoming bird from an amazing distance. Its head followed it in. If far enough away, he'd simply watch it fly by. Too close and it would crouch as if to burst into action. I watched it happen with about 15 birds. And each reaction was slightly different than the other.
No doubt, it launching from its perch would have made for the best photo opportunity. But I truly feel I learned something very valuable. On future trips to shoot these guys, I feel I'll know the distance to be EXTRA ready for action. And in the photographing falcon business, the smallest sliver of a second can be the difference between nailing it, and missing it.
So take the opportunity to "Watch" it. Don't just "See" it. Learn a behavior over just capturing a moment. Your deeper understanding of any animal will benefit you, anyone you share your new found information with, and likely the animal itself.