It's been four days since I had the pleasure of experiencing one of the most beautiful things I've ever witnessed and I finally stopped beating myself up over ruining the perfect photograph. As I am sure you have noticed, a very rare gyrfalcon has made her appearance in New York. Sunday morning, my buddy Bryan and I, arrived at the 'hot spot' at 9:15am. We parked the car, put on our extra layers on and headed out into the freezing temperatures. While unloading our camera equipment, a flock of mallards landed on a frozen pond, just 20 feet away from us. Within seconds, no more than seven, the gyrfalcon was right behind them and ready to feast on one. “That's it!!!” I screamed as I ran to the back of my SUV to grab my camera. He came down like a lightening bolt towards one of the five mallards and missed! All other mallards flew away, yet this poor little guy just sat there, accepting the fact that his life was about to be taken. He laid down on the frozen pond quaking away, hopefully scaring the gyrfalcon.
The falcon hovered above him for a few seconds before taking another dive at him. The mallard got to his feet, jetted in the opposite direction, dodged the falcon, and sat back down on the ice.
Why didn't he fly away? Again, the gyrfalcon hovered over the mallard and attacked two more times, missing every time. How could this alpha falcon miss this poor mallard four times? I've heard of a gyrfalcon taking down Rough-Legged Hawks and Short-Eared Owls, so how could this mallard laying on the ice be a challenge?
The mallard eventually decided to try flying away and saving himself. With a gyrfalcon trying to kill you, I don't know if flying away was going to help the mallards survival rate...
They flew out of my sight, yet when I ran down the road to hopefully see the gyrfalcon feasting away on this mallard, they had flown away. We thought for sure we'd see the gyrfalcon hunt around this pond again, so we hung out there for a while. It was so incredible how fast this unfolded. This beautiful hawk-like sized Arctic falcon hunting just 20 feet in front of me. I might have missed the photograph of a lifetime, but the experience will always be fresh in my mind....
Now, how did I mess up these photographs? Well first off, I was in extreme shock and awe when I turned around and saw the gyrfalcon hovering over the mallards. I've never photographed any animal while on the hunt, and here in front of me is one of the rarest birds in this area, about to feast on this hopeless mallard. I should have had my camera prepped and ready as I was pulling up to the location, that was the first issue. The reason why there's a beam across most of the images is because it's a fence. While everything was happening so fast, my only option was to shoot between the three fence beams. I couldn't move forward to eliminate them from the frame because the 6 feet of snow in front of it would have taken me out, so I worked with what I could. Should I have kept the camera on the gyrfalcon the whole time and not focus in on the prey that was about to be killed? Maybe, maybe not. My second photograph that I failed at was due to out of focusing on my part. As I was shooting between this 12 inch gap between fence beams, while trying to figure out when the gyrfalcon was going to come into the frame and kill this duck, and while trying my hardest to time the gyrfalcon coming down because I can't see him at all, I made the mistake of focusing behind the two birds- another blown shot. After seven hours of driving and over twenty hours of standing out in the freezing windy temperatures, I blew it...
Would I have loved to nail this photograph? Absolutely. However, I believe this experience taught me so much. At times, the beauties of nature should be admired in the present moment, not focusing on a photograph to look back on or focus on a photograph that will make you internet famous. The experience first hand will never be forgotten. This image might not get me 10,000 likes but it sure as hell will make a great story that I get to share with you, which is more meaningful to me.
Put the camera down sometimes and just be one with nature. Feel the connection.
Here are a few that came out pretty good:
Thanks for reading! I hope you get the opportunity to experience something similar!