I’m not talking about John Travolta or Harrison Ford. Meet Shytran, a Saker Falcon trained by Tony Suffredini, a professional animal trainer and master falconer. Shytran is a movie star and put in an appearance at the California Foundation for Birds of Prey’s annual open house recently with flight demonstrations. One of the movies that features Shytran is Hidalgo, a 2004 feature film also starring Viggo Mortensen and Omar Sharif. I have not seen the movie and Netflix has it only on DVD so I will have to wait a while to see Shytran in action in the movies. In the mean time, I managed to capture some of her flight demonstrations at the CFBP Open House.
The Saker Falcon (Falco cherrug) is a large falcon, only slightly smaller than the Peregrine Falcon. It breeds from Eastern Europe across Asia to Manchuria. It is a popular falconry bird, especially in the Middle East, but it is now endangered in the wild. These birds are capable of diving after prey at 200 mph but their average horizontal flying speed while much slower, at 50-60mph is still a challenge to keep in the viewfinder, let alone to photograph.
I managed to get a few that didn’t clip the wings but it was not easy to keep track of such a fast flying bird circling in the relatively small space surrounded by trees. I used my Nikon D500 with 300mm PF lens. Because the D500 is a crop frame camera, I was effectively shooting at 450mm. For me, this is the perfect birds-in-flight camera and lens combination. If I add a 1.4X teleconverter, my focal length is 600mm extending the reach even further in an extremely lightweight package and no tripod needed!
I love my full frame Nikon D5 and 600mm prime lens and I will continue to use them to capture gorgeous wildlife photographs that I can’t get any other way but that combination is a monster. I must use a heavy duty Gitzo Series 5 Tripod and a gimbal head to accommodate the pair. Although the gimbal head and the tripod are both carbon fiber which makes them relatively lightweight, together they weigh just under 10 pounds and the 600mm lens and the Nikon D5 together weigh 11.5 pounds making that rig almost 21.5 pounds. Add on the teleconverter and I’m picking up 22 pounds and slinging it (so to speak) over my shoulder in search of wildlife. While I am used to and able to do that, I love having the freedom of the lightweight D500/300mm combination, a mere 3.5 pounds.