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Frank Hildebrand

Written By onci on Monday, October 4, 2010 | 6:04 AM

Photographer’s Higher Calling by Frank Hildebrand

This past Spring I stumbled upon a Red-tailed Hawk nest.  Nothing too unusual about that except this one was smack dab in the middle of a golf course.  I could hear the Red-tail parents scream as each golfer walked by.  That scream was a sure sign to me that there were babies in the nest.  I surveyed the area for an adjacent tree to climb in hopes of getting a lookout point to photograph the nest using a telephoto lens, and of course there was no such tree to be found.   

OK, now what.  After scratching my head for ideas on how to get some shots, I decided to climb the very tree that the nest was in.  Now remember, this nest is in the middle of a golf course and I wanted to keep a low profile.  Stealth and timing was of the essence.  After a group of golfers walked by I proceeded to climb like a Ninja, not being seen.  Not really, I huffed and puffed up the tree like the 50+ year old man that I am.  I was delighted to see two fluffy babies in the nest and I knew I just had to figure out a way to photograph them in a natural calm setting without “the scary human” looking down on them.  I scampered back down and started to develop some ideas on how to shoot from the same vantage point that I just witnessed.  

The next day I went back to the nest with a backpack full of gear – tie wire, tubing, monopod, and camera - and again like a Ninja climbed back up the tree.  I was able to jerry rig a homemade camera mount just above the nest.  I had pre-programmed the camera to shoot an image every 30 seconds.  The wide angle lens was set at focal length 14mm and was literally less than two feet away from the nest.  Now while my entire hubbub was going on, the babies were lying down flat on the nest and didn’t move, and of course, Mom and Dad weren’t too happy with me invading their home and were quite vocal about it.   I was doing my very best not to fall out of the tree. 

For several days I would go back to the golf course around 5:00pm, climb the tree and set up the camera.  I would leave the camera up in the tree for a few hours and then once again, climb the tree to retrieve the evening shoot.  Now something I have failed to tell you is that each time I climbed the tree the Red-tail parents were not happy and would swoop past me, especially the big female.  A few times she got really close to smacking me in the head.  Once I got situated at the top, they would carefully watch me and their babies from a nearby tree.  

Not every evening’s shoot was successful.   For the first 50 shots the babies would just be sleeping and not moving.  One windy day, a wind gust rotated my camera so I ended up with 300 wonderful pictures of the tree trunk.  Another time I think one of the parents perched on my camera, and again caught the wonderful tree trunk.  

It was always interesting to see what was captured on camera, and so here are some of the results.  Hope you enjoy looking at them.  I had an adventure getting them.
Frank Hildebrand

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