My last few photography outings have been focused on finding the coyote family I wrote about last week. Looking in the fields near where they were denning has yielded no results, sadly. Maybe they have moved elsewhere in their territory.

Now I must resign myself to ‘letting it happen’ which is to say loosen up and don’t be so obsessed with them. Maybe our paths will cross again and maybe not. It was purely chance that I found them in the first place.

In any case, there is so much wildlife to be seen in rural areas and it’s wise to keep your eyes open. Driving around the area on Sunday evening I braked quickly upon seeing a red tailed hawk in the freshly cut grass of a field. Its close proximity to the road indicated the hawk had just enjoyed a meal – a mouse or a vole, perhaps.

I managed a couple of shots before the hawk flew to its favourite tree. I have seen it there numerous times. The field it overlooks is quite hilly unlike the surrounding fields. I made a mental note to return later and set off on another lap of the area.

About twenty minutes later I stopped my car and counted ten sandhill cranes in a freshly plowed field.  With corn growing in most of the fields their foraging territory is reduced substantially and they are now sharing the good sites. I also saw a young raccoon emerge then quickly retreat into a corn field.  A week ago I had seen four very cute baby raccoons feeding on berries in a tree.  I expect this was one of them.

When I returned to the field where I had seen the hawk it was perched in the tree.  My timing was immaculate as I had barely parked and turned off the engine when it swooped down and caught something in its talons. Or, at least it thought it had.

For five full minutes the hawk looked all around in the cut grass as if the prey had escaped. It gave up and returned to the tree. Then it spotted something in the middle of the field – about 100 metres away – and soared across the terrain. Although I was too far away to get a decent picture I could see the hawk eating a mouse. It remained there for twenty minutes or so.

Through my camera lens I could see it scoping the field in all directions. It looked directly at me seated in my car a few times too. I was now obsessed in seeing what would come next. I was not disappointed.

It flew across the field back to the place where it had lost its original prey. I have never before seen a hawk hunt from the ground as they seem to prefer trees or hydro poles from which to spot prey. So that was a treat. It caught a mouse and turned around to eat it.

The hawk remained there as clouds rolled in making the photography more challenging. I waited for a good half hour.

Patience was rewarded as the hawk suddenly lifted off with me thinking it would fly past. When I realized it had turned slightly and was now headed directly towards me it was all I could do to maintain focus.  It was a dream moment and totally unexpected.

Normally hawks will keep their distance but I suppose it had seen me inside my car for so long it knew I wasn’t a threat.

I managed a sequence of about thirty shots of its approach until it disappeared into a dip in the field.

My curiosity got the better of me and I stepped out of the car to see where the hawk was. This was a mistake as I must have startled the bird. 

Had I cost the hawk another entree? I couldn’t see if it had missed its prey or whether it was successful. Hawks will sometimes take their prey back to a tree to feast. This one took off in a hurry because I was close.  

I was angry with myself for being greedy.  As a wildlife photographer I must always put the well-being of my subjects first and on this occasion my instinct had been to see if the hawk had caught prey. 

The fact I had seen the hawk with two and possibly three successful hunts in those hours is comforting but I regret my movement. I wonder if I would do it differently given a chance.

I am curious – what would you have done?



  1. Barb Cove

    Beautiful photos of the Ted Tail Paul. A few years ago a neighbour had a rat problem in their yard. It was March….I was packing and needed to load my car for a trip I was leaving for that day. As I walked past my window I saw a falcon swoop down and land on something in the yard next door parallel to my car. The falcon was standing on a large rat with one foot on the chest and the other on its neck. I stopped everything to watch from indoors and gave the falcon over 40 min. Slowly the rat was dying and the falcon was not in a rush. I had a 6 hr drive ahead if he and was running very late now. I knew if I stepped out of my house it would scare the falcon off. I felt horrible but had to leave. I very quietly and slowly started towards my car with my bags…the falcon took off but I was relieved to see it took its meal with it. I felt horrible for interrupting it however so I get how you felt.
    Late last night while driving home from work along Coronation BLVD a young coyote ran across the road into the golf course chasing something. It was a very young coyote born this spring. It had a slight limp but otherwise looked healthy. Looking in my rear view mirror another the same size ran across the street in the same direction into the golf course. I wandered if they were the coyote pups you photographed.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Sometimes it can’t be helped and we inadvertently affect natural acts. One winter I was driving on a dirt road near Glen Morris when a small deer sprinted across the road in front of me. I braked quickly. Then I turned to see what had caused the deer’s panic. A large and very furry coyote retreated into the woods and turned to stare at me. I took a couple of photographs before it ran off. I might have saved that deer’s life but cost the coyote its meal. The coyotes I photographed were in the area north of Paris and south of Cambridge. Lucky for you to see this coyotes in Cambridge. They are adaptable creatures and can be seen in urban centres as well as out in the country. Thanks for your note!

  2. Patricia Bruce

    Hey another another great story along with great photos. I wish I could be a fly in your vehicle to see what you are so patient to witness….
    When you asked at the end of your blog….What would you have done. I would od done the same i would of been so impatient also. Keep your blogs coming i really enjoy your blog’s.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Thanks Pat. It is very hard to resist moving since these opportunities are rare. In my reply to Brad (see below) I recounted what transpired tonight This hawk was perhaps less concerned with me than I thought. Two heavyweight harvesting machines didn’t frighten it from that tree tonight. So maybe I am overreacting. Still, I will be more cautious in the future.

    1. Paul E Gains

      Hey Brad, it’s a dicey situation for sure. I was back there this evening and watched this same hawk and one other hawk perched in the same tree. A couple of harvesters were plowing the field and making hay bales. They would approach the tree and one hawk would fly away into the adjacent field. The one hawk watched the machines but remained on the branch. Then, when it had turned around it would swoop down and hunt mice. Remarkable! Now I think this hawk may not have been as concerned with me as I had believed.

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