I recently visited Huntly Falconry Centre, in Aberdeenshire, and spent an enjoyable couple of hours photographing some of their birds of prey. While, clearly, not the same as photographing these birds in the wild, it did give me the opportunity to get some good shots of birds that I would not otherwise have much of a chance of seeing. It also gave me some intensive practice at capturing these wonderful creatures, experience that I will hopefully be able to use for wild birds in the future.
Harris Hawk: 1/4000sec, F5, iso1600
The centre has a good selection of different birds of prey, including several owls. So it was great to have a variety of different subjects to shoot. Each different bird offered different challenges when trying to capture images of it. The Harris Hawks are medium sized birds but fly very fast, eagles are much larger, but still have a fair bit of speed. Owls tend to be a little slower, but the Barn Owl in particular, being mainly white, can be tricky to get a good exposure especially when it is going in and out of direct sunlight.
Barn Owl: 1/4000sec, F11, iso1600
Obviously, a big attraction will always be the eagles, both Golden Eagles and a Bald Eagle. These large birds are incredibly impressive, and are highly skilled hunters with fearsome beaks and claws.
Bald Eagle: 1/2500sec, F5.6, iso1600
Golden Eagle: 1/3200sec, F5.6, iso1600
The falconry centre has quite a few birds on show and also puts on three displays a day, each of which features three different birds. I caught two of the displays, so I got to see many of the birds fly, and had a chance to capture them in their full, magnificent, glory as they effortlessly took to the skies.
Bengal Eagle Owl: 1/4000sec, F5.6, iso1600
Surprisingly, one of the major challenges I had was while photographing the Bald Eagle in flight. As it few towards me I found the speed and the white head caused problems with me auto-focus system, so capturing a "head on" shot was particularly difficult.
Bald Eagle: 1/3200sec, F9, iso1600
As well a capturing the birds themselves, I wanted to capture something of the falconers role, especially with their ability to control the animals. I didn't get many photos of the falconers, as a lot of the displays were taken up with members of the public having a go with the glove, acting as little more than a perch for the birds, under the falconers guidance, and yes I had a go as well.
The author, with a Bengal Eagle Owl. Photo by Martin Harrower
I think that the following photo is my favourite photo of the day (at least, at the moment). It captures the power and grace of these birds and also the skill of the falconer.
Bald Eagle and Falconer:1/4000sec, F7.1, iso1600
To conclude, I don't generally like to photograph captive animals, I would rather wait to get a glimpse of a wild animal (and hopefully photograph it) in it's natural environment, however, this gave me the opportunity to hone my skills, and clearly these birds have a bond with their trainers, and are well looked after.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time creating these images and I am already planning a return visit in the hope of getting some photos of one of the Golden Eagles in flight.