Photographing sparrow hawks (or not)

Quarreling jays

Two jays having a little quarrel over some food. Shot with Nikon D5 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL @ 400mm ISO900, f/2.8, 1/1000

A couple of weeks ago I was at Dalen Villmarkssenter (Dalen Wildlife Centre), a great place for wildlife photography in Telemark, Norway. In the middle of the deepest woods in Norway you can find a vast number of animals here, ranging from a lot of different birds including eagles as well as foxes, beavers, pine martens, elk, deer and maybe even lynx if you’re very lucky!

When I was there sparrow hawks was the main attraction. Apparently it’s very active this time of year. I did photograph a bit of sparrow hawks in Finland, but then it was just a bonus. This time I was looking to give the birds my full attention.

I was there for two days. Day one I spent at the lake location. We got up bright and early and hiked for about half an hour. Supposedly, this place great for getting backlit shots of the birds and mirror images in the water. Unfortunately we had a lot of haze and fog on the water. The sun came just for short periods, so most of the photos turned out quite dull. Also we had no sparrow hawks. We had a massive amount of jays turn up, but no sparrow hawks. After about six hours in the hide we gave in and in stead traveled to the location by the stream to photograph squirrels.This turned out a great success and we got a lot of good shots of squirrels.

Day two we got up equally early and hiked to the hillside location. A good location for morning light and again sparrow hawks and jay the main attraction. The other team who had been here the day before reported a lot of activity and a lot of hawk, but today it was all quiet and no hawk to be seen. Meanwhile the other team now staying at the lake location reported of a lot of activity there, including jays, sparrow hawks and moose! You can’t control wild animals and sometimes it’s just not your luck. I got an excessive amount of images of jays and a whole a lot of squirrel, but not a single photo of sparrow hawk this time…

So, my gallery is not as spectacular as I had planned. Photographing sparrow hawks is not an easy task. Especially when there are no sparrow hawks around…

Photo tip!
When photographing fast birds like this or jumping squirrels you need high shutter speeds to freeze the motion and get sharp images. Probably 1/500-1/1250 depending on the bird. Also fast autofocus is an advantage, however if you lack fast AF, lock your AF at a point you know the bird will come to for instance a branch and be patient!