Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mountain Landscape or Goshawk? You Decide

I was driving into the Timpooneke Campground area (Utah County, Utah) with one of my married twin sons this afternoon as part of our plan to scout out some camping areas. I related to my son that I had a close encounter with a Northern Goshawk in the area a couple of years ago, but I missed the photo op because I was taking pictures of a silly little Mountain Chickadee. I had just finished capturing a few images of the chickadee and then lowered the lens to preview the images on the screen. Right then an adult Goshawk passed just ten feet away from me. It disappeared within seconds. I couldn't believe I missed a Goshawk for a chickadee.

Anyway, just after my son and I pulled into the campground today he was marveling over the awesome mountain scenery. We pulled over to take a look and capture some images. I decided to leave my camera with the zoom lens in the truck and take my backup camera with the wide angle lens to capture a landscape scene. I captured one image and reviewed it for exposure. I didn't like it so I tried again with a few setting changes. The north peak of Mount Timpanogos, the icon of Utah County mountains, is almost disappearing in the heavy cloud cover in the background.

Timpooneke Campground with North Peak of Mount Timpanogos in Background--Utah County, UT
I heard a Raven calling from behind us and ignored it. My non-birding son noticed the raven when he saw it fly along the tree line to the left of the meadow shown above. He pointed up and asked, "What is that?" I looked up from the camera and said, "That's a raven." I was just about to look away and resume photographing the landscape when we both noticed something large and rather white looking land on a limb just outside the left edge of the scene you see above. I stopped what I was doing and honed in on what that thing was. I noticed a limb still bouncing a little and wasn't sure if the bird we saw had landed there or launched from there and disappeared into the trees. I noticed a large whitish belly showing between some branches. A second later my brain made the connection and I said, "Oh my gosh(hawk)! That's a goshawk!" I now had a choice to make. Take pictures of a mountain landscape or try to capture an image of a rare hawk. I didn't even have to think before I started running toward my truck to retrieve my better camera with the zoom lens. The truck happened to be in the same general area as the hawk. I hoped the hawk wouldn't fly before I could get my camera with the zoom lens. I also hoped my running in its general direction wouldn't spook it off. With one eye toward the bird and one toward the backseat of the truck (meaning I was really watching the bird and blindly grabbing inside the truck), I managed to get the camera and turn it on. The bird began to look like it was going to fly so I hoped the existing camera settings were ideal for the circumstances, pointed, and released the shutter a few times just before it flew. I lowered the lens and watched in awe as the hawk flew right in front of me and across the meadow. It did a quick turn and then flew down the gravel road and out of sight. My son and I shared a moment that impressed him as much as it did me.

Well, I was unprepared again when a Goshawk in the same general area (maybe even the same hawk) presented itself. I'll just tell people I was photographing a conifer when a rare Northern Goshawk happened to photo bomb that lovely image. That's why the bird was not in focus.

Northern Goshawk at Timpooneke Campground in Utah County, UT
(It took flight before I could get a tight focus on the bird rather than the branch)


  1. We do the best with what we can : )
    Still a great sighting Jeff, and better than most of the Goshawk photos floating around the blogosphere (and, of course, there aren't that many).

    1. I hear you, Laurence, but would've, could've, and should've won't leave me alone on this one. It makes me want to set up residence up there and just wait for the next encounter. Too bad we have to work for a living. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Just remember Jeff...... Birding is fun!

  3. Jeff- goshawks are a common species in many areas of the U.S. They have been moving into cities and suburbs and for many years. Please heed- The man who saw too many Goshawks- an ebook distributed by The Best - Nelson Briefer- Anacortes, WA .