Not quite as delicate as a butterfly (mariposa is Spanish for butterfly) this Harris hawk, called Mariposa, flew over and among the awestruck crowds watching her performances at the Caledonian Club’s Scottish Gathering in the Bay Area on Sunday. Mariposa is owned by Kate Marden of West Coast Falconry and in those three performances, she flew from Amber, her handler on the ground, back to Kate, on stage. I had nine chances because Mariposa flew back and forth three times in each show and I tried my best to capture clear, crisp images of Mariposa in flight. But, it was not an easy task for me. Each flight lasted only 7 seconds from launch to landing and all three flights were completed within about 35 seconds. Trying to focus on a fast flying bird from relatively close range, with continually changing focusing distance as the bird flew by, while maneuvering around a milling crowd in a small area, proved to be virtually impossible for me.

I started with my 80-400mm lens and quickly realized I was too close, even at 80mm for the very confined space where the show was held. And, in my first attempt, I stupidly stood with the crowd by the stage so I was thwarted in my efforts by heads, hats, and arms. For the two afternoon shows, I changed to my 24-70mm lens and I walked back to where Amber waited with Mariposa away from the crowd. I stood about 15 feet away from her but once Mariposa launched into the air and moved toward me, I was unable to capture a clear image, even using continual focus. Despite my problems, I did manage to capture a few reasonably good images, but not all are flight images. I think I need to plan a better strategy, and do some more study about photographing birds in flight, before I try this again.

Kate’s gloved hand holds Mariposa on stage getting ready to launch.
Focal Length 80mm, f/5, 1/200, ISO 640


Mariposa lands on Kate’s gloved hand and reaches for her food reward.
Focal Length 95mm, f/5, 1/200, ISO 640


Amber signals she and Mariposa are ready for launch.
Focal Length 70mm, f/3.5, 1/1000, ISO 500


Mariposa flies through the crowd.
Focal Length 70mm, f/3.5, 1/1000, ISO 500


Mariposa flies back to the stage.
Focal length 70mm, f/7.1, 1/1250, ISO 1600


Mariposa gets ready to launch.
Focal length 70mm, f/7.1, 1/1250, ISO 1600


Mariposa launches.
Focal length 70mm, f/7.1, 1/1250, ISO 1600