Espanola Island, Galapagos
1/1250s @ f/5.6 ISO 1250 @ 400mm
The Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis) is currently listed as “Vulnerable” but only because its small population is relatively stable. With only 150 known mating pairs left in existence, this status could easily be upgraded to “Endangered” if any increased threat presents itself in the next few years. This beautiful raptor is already extinct on a number of the islands where it once thrived.
It is similar in size to the North American Red-tailed Hawk, and therefore is of pretty good size. As you can see from the photo it is a beautiful bird. It feeds mostly on insects, lava lizards, both land and marine iguanas and turtle eggs. It is an opportunistic carnivore, and will eat just about anything it can handle. Looking at its talons and beak you can see that opens up a pretty large range of prey.
While hiking on Espanola Island, and photographing a number of large land iguanas early in the morning, I heard a loud commotion above me. Screeching, rapidly fluttering wings and a flurry of motion in my peripheral vision all made me look up. There, close at hand, was a beautiful mating pair cavorting in the sky. As luck would have it they both soon landed right next to me, I mean within about 5-meters. Although the shooting conditions weren’t ideal, the morning overcast was still very thick and dark, I was able to photograph these magnificent creatures closeup for about 15-minutes.
There are times in Galapagos (quite a few in fact) when a 400mm lens is almost too long. You won’t often hear a wildlife photographer complain about having too much lens, but in Galapagos you frequently find yourself having to step back from your subjects. On a full-frame camera, like my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 400mm is about the longest lens I would consider using on the islands, and actually my 70-200mm zoom lens frequently proved to be the more practical choice. If you’re using a crop-sensor body like the 7D I would suggest you stick with the 70-200mm zoom, or possibly a 70-300mm zoom (I think you would find the 400mm prime to be too much lens in most shooting situations).
I kept my shutter speed at 1/1250s to prevent camera shake (I was shooting handheld) and motion blur (the critters were often moving). With the lowlight my ISO bumped up to 1250 even shooting wide-open at f/5.6. The 400mm provides tack-sharp crispness when shooting wide-open (one of its many virtues), and the 5D Mark II handles high ISO very well up to about ISO 3200. Viewed at 100% this image is critically sharp, and only shows a hint of noise in the background. Some people can spend two weeks in Galapagos and never see a Galapagos Hawk, and I was fortunate enough to bag two of them in one morning (with only 150 mating pairs left I was lucky indeed).
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler
Currently in South America