Face-to-Face with an Apex Predator

Few things rival the awe and excitement of coming face to face with an apex predator. This can be fraught with fear and anxiety should that encounter happen in the wild, and many of us would do whatever possible to avoid such a thing. However, when that encounter is scheduled and performed safely and responsibly, the experience can be positively unforgettable. Such was the case during the Robin Hills Farm first-ever Birds of Prey Photography Workshop presented by professional photographer Kate Zurenko, and the Michigan Avian Experience, a wildlife rehabilitation and conservation organization based out of Brooklyn, Michigan.

Even though the last weekend of October arrived with a chill in the air, the weather was perfect for the photography workshop, especially considering that weather permitting, students would get the chance to capture birds of prey in flight on camera! Expertly coordinated between Kate and the Michigan Avian Experience, students were given the opportunity to photograph five birds of prey in both indoor and outdoor settings.

Birds of Prey Photography

Students arrived early on the morning of October 28th to cold temperatures. Fortunately, the workshop began inside of the Pasture Barn with an introduction to the birds of prey and to photography basics. Students varied in age and familiarity with DSLR cameras, but the format of the workshop was arranged so that aspiring photographers could set their own pace with the assistance of the instructor. A complimentary breakfast of bagels, fruit, and coffee seemed to give the students enough warmth and energy to venture outdoors during the first few sessions with the Bald Eagle and Red-Tailed Hawk. True to their form, both birds were majestic and in soaking up the attention. Sarah and Francie of the Michigan Avian Experience were as engaging and knowledgeable as always, and students were not ony given the opportunity to photograph these birds but learn about the natural history of the birds and of conservation issues surrounding them. Meanwhile, Kate moved from student to student, troubleshooting camera settings and offering her expertise when requested.

Sarah and Francie featured five birds of prey throughout the morning and afternoon, including the bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, american kestrel, broad-winged hawk, and the great horned owl. All were extremely photogenic, and the flow of the session went smoothly and efficiently as birds were featured both indoors and outdoors, and then switched out with the others.

The workshop culminated with an in-flight photo session featuring the Bald Eagle. The class gathered in the outdoor amphitheater for this rare and spectacular opportunity. Here, the Bald Eagle really thrived! Francie and Sarah arranged for numerous flights to give the students multiple chances to photograph something only seasoned professionals typically get the opportunity to capture. Francie was encouraged students to move around to get different perspectives and angles, even convincing a few brave students to lay on the ground while the Bald Eagle flew right over them. The Bald Eagle took each flight in stride, showcasing not only her majestic beauty, but her adaptability to the changing situations (something difficult for an imprinted bird of prey).

Students left the workshop inspired and excited, and many gathered to share their finest photos of the day. For Robin Hills Farm, we considered it a tremendous success and immediately began to plan for another one, this time focusing on “Birds of Prey Portraiture” as an indoor session during the cold winter months. Kate and the Michigan Avian Experience were only too excited to oblige! The next session is scheduled for Saturday, February 3rd, in our new Welcome Building Classroom, The Robin’s Egg. Join us!