You do not have to leave the five boroughs of New York to see wildlife. In fact, you’re only a train, subway, or bus ride away!
For the last three years that I have been a Member, I have had the pleasure of photographing different members of the animal kingdom at The New York Botanical Garden. The garden is a wildlife photographer’s dream. Within the Garden’s 250-acres you will find a forest, wetlands, streams, and two lakes–each one home to all manner of creatures–from cardinals to wild turkeys, from rabbits to red-tailed hawks, from mallards to muskrats. One can easily go through an entire camera battery (or two) trying to shoot them all (with your camera, of course).
Here is an example of one of my recent mornings taking photos at the Garden:
Several weeks ago, I was walking down Azalea Way which is one of the garden’s main roads with camera in hand. To my left was the edge of the Native Forest and to my right the Azalea Garden. I was talking on my cellphone when I noticed the distinctive silhouette of a red-tail hawk on a tree to my right, just before Azalea Way meets with the Stone Mill Road.
I told the person on the other end that I’d have to call them back and switched my phone to vibrate so that if it rang, the sound wouldn’t scare the hawk away. I tip-toed ahead to a point where the sun was to my back and began shooting. The hawk stayed there for a bit and pretty soon I was right below him. I kept on shooting. After about five minutes, he crouched down and I knew he was going to take off. He then leaped right over me. For the second that it took him to do that he was only about four feet above my head. He glided on to the other side of the road, over the wooden fence with his talons extended, and landed on the forest floor with a light thud. I assumed that he had caught something, so I waited for the meal to begin. When a red tail captures prey, they will typically begin looking around, darting their head left and right. As the hawk was doing this with has his back to me, I slowly moved in closer all the while shooting between the fence posts.
Sometimes a young hawk will mistake an inanimate object for prey, which is what I think happened here. Eventually realizing that there was nothing there, he took a few steps and scrunched down as if to fly off again. Instead, he hopped on to the fence. I eased closer until I was about 15 feet away. That’s when I shot this. Ladies and gentlemen, look into the eyes of the natural world. He was even nice enough to let me shoot some video. As you can see, vehicles and distant sirens don’t seem to phase him either.
I shot about 50 photos while he was on that wooden fence. I’d never been this physically close to a red-tail before. I could see the color of his eyes, the detail in his feathers, his talons. I was truly in awe of this winged hunter. Further up Azalea Way I could see a group of four talking loudly. The hawk turned his head to look at them and I knew he was about to leave, so I just kept shooting. Seconds later he took off. I then ran home to look at the photos on my computer. It was there that I noticed the blood on his beak, most likely from a previous meal.
This was just one of the many events of nature that I’ve been blessed to witness during my photographic adventures at the Garden. Looking into the eyes of that magnificent raptor is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I encourage all photographers–amateur or pro, wildlife or scenic–not just to visit the Garden, but to become a Member. For the cost of an annual membership, you get unlimited entry to the grounds, the Conservatory, the exhibits in the Library Building, and all the other wonderful events that take place there throughout the year. Just don’t forget to bring your camera!
Next up: Pat gives us some practical tips for getting the most out of your photographic safari at the Garden. Stay tuned!