How close do you have to be to something, say a hawk maybe, in order to get a decent photograph with a 300mm lens.

I see hundreds of photos all over photography boards of closeups of raptors, and when I ask everyone insists that you can get the shots with a 200 or 300mm lens. Some people say you have to get close but they don't say how close, and there's no way to get closer to something that's up a tree or flying over head unless you can fly as well.

The only thing my 300mm lens seems to be good for is getting better shots of dragonflies that I can't get close enough to with my shorter lens. Otherwise it seems to be completely useless for anything.

I have taken photographs from my balcony of birds on neighbors balcony (I'm on the third floor, they're on the second). Those aren't so great either. I could probably crop them and have an OK shot but the neighbor's balcony is a mess and ruins the images no matter what you do.

Nothing out here is tame - you can't just sit and wait for them to come up in your lap, it's never going to happen. The minute you move they're gone. The birds that nest over the air conditioner won't even fly up to it if I'm sitting on the balcony or standing at the door.

The other advice is to learn your subject and learn when it's best to get those great shots. Well I know my subject, they sit in trees or out in the fields ... they fly around all over ... they are anywhere and everywhere but where my 300mm seems to reach.

Everyone says birds are hard to photograph and yet at the same time they say it's so easy - "set up a bird feeder" "you can get good shots with a 200mm lens".

Well I'm sick to death of asking questions about this on boards specific to nature photography - all they do is confuse me. I'm sitting here looking at some shots I took last Sunday and they're simply a waste of film and effort. The bird is too stinking small and I can't imagine how cropping and enlarging would help (though that too has been suggested).

Am I just clueless? Am I missing something - like I need to take a ladder with me into the wilderness?

I don't get it. I really don't. My thinking is a 600mm lens would double the focal length and double the size of the subject and that still wouldn't produce a shot worth getting excited about - not when comparing to the results I've gotten. It seriously looks like you have to be within 10 to 20 feet of your subject and I don't see how that's possible unless your shooting animals at the zoo.

Any clarification on this matter would be appreciated.