I often see bald eagles and hawks where I live. I’ve seen hawks resting on power lines and swooping low over the road. I’ve seen juvenile bald eagles circling over the Buffalo Creek in winter.
When I see a bird of prey, I feel like I have to stop and watch them for as long as I can, if at all possible. More than once I’ve pulled over to the side of the road to watch a hawk stare at me as she sits, warming her feet on a power line and shuffling the snow from her back. It’s humbling to know that she sees me way more clearly than I could ever see her.
I don’t know if it’s my propensity for short walks in between jobs along a river or the fact that I scan trees and power lines as I drive (it’s probably both). Also, I swear I’m a safe driver.
Today I’m working with photographer Robert Rear to talk about birds of prey, conservation, and the importance of photography. He’s an incredibly dedicated photographer of birds, and I admire how his work drives him to get to know the lives and habits of many bird species. In my mind, this is where art, personal exploration, and conservation intersect.
Robert, when did you start photographing birds of prey?
I have just recently started taking pictures of raptors. They have always piqued my interest; I just didn’t have enough time to invest time wise into finding high numbers of them to photograph.
How long have you been studying birds?
Only a couple of years. As a matter of fact, I have only been using a full-frame DLSR for a couple of years. I have always loved nature and had a great respect for it. In order to get the photographs you want, you have to spend a lot of time studying the birds you want to capture. It has taken me months, if not longer, to get the photograph that I felt was worth taking, let alone getting them in the right light, positions, background colours, etc.
You get incredible shots of bald eagles and hawks. What’s your process like? Do you get to know individual birds?
I start out by figuring their food source. We all have to eat, so that makes the most sense. Then you spend a lot of miles and hours on the road finding the birds. Once you do that, then comes the really hard part. You have to get someone to allow you on their property. Next, you spend hours watching them come in and feed, figuring out what direction they come from, and deciding on the best place to set up your equipment. You want to get the best light, get close enough, but not pressure the birds so much that you drive them out of the area. This is especially true with eagles.
I’m looking forward to getting to know the different eagles pairs this year by watching them nest and raise their young.
What have been some of your favourite moments in watching the lives of birds?
I have loved watching birds since being at my grandfather’s and grandmother’s place as a child. They always had lots of feeders around their house in the county. More recently, I’ve sat in an old civil war cemetery where the Eagles roost. I’ve heard them call for each other right as the sun comes up in the morning. It’s eerie and amazing at the same time. It’s also amazing to watch close to a hundred birds come from all over to feed.
Why do you think photography is important for species conservation?
It gives us a record from which future generations can learn. It can teach future generations what was here and what is still being discovered. Through photography, we are discover different species, even species we once thought were extinct. How exciting would it be to discover and photograph a species once thought extinct?
Tell us about the role that birds of prey play in the wider ecosystem.
For the most part, they are scavengers, which was very surprising to me. I always thought of them as big and mighty hunters. In my experience, they are opportunists looking for easy meals instead of hunting for their next catch. That in and of itself helps our ecosystem: they clean up and help make sure that nothing is wasted in the wild.
If you had to pick a favourite photograph you’ve taken, what would it be?
That’s a hard one because of all the different bird species I have captured. Probably my Northern Cardinals, because I believe they are visitors from Heaven, or the majestic American Bald Eagles.
What are your photography goals for the coming months?
Since the eagles here are going to start nesting soon, I want to spend as much time as possible photographing a couple of eagle nests that I have found.
Where can my readers find you?