American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7609A forecast for strong NW winds in Duluth, blew me right up to Hawk Ridge earlier this week. Northwest winds pushes south bound migrating raptors towards the shoreline of Lake Superior. But the hawks don’t want to fly over the big lake…No thermals to ride, no food, no resting spots. So they funnel down the North Shore of Lake Superior right over Duluth and Hawk Ridge. Strong winds also keep the birds low, which is important for photography.
A photographer from Chicago had put his self-proclaimed “feather duster” owl on a tall pole on one of the overlooks at the Ridge. The thought is that some feathers waving in the wind will add an element of realism to a very rigid decoy. I had brought my plastic owl as well, but “Earl” stayed earthbound this time. The idea is that since hawks HATE Great Horned Owls, they’ll pause, fly over, and maybe dive bomb the faux owl, giving the photographer a fighting chance at capturing an in-flight hawk photo.

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7620

American Kestrel male Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7611Kestrels have always eluded me… Just try stopping alongside a perched kestrel and see what happens. Off they go, with their back to you. But today, finally, SUCCESS! Tracking these mini-jetlike falcons is extremely difficult, but the 400mm f5.6 locked on this time and I got nice sharp images. Key to this success were my camera settings: I knew I needed a shutter speed of about 1/2000 of a second to freeze the motion of a speeding raptor, and I knew I didn’t care so much about the aperture (even at f5.6 the entire bird would be sharp), and there was plenty of light. These 3 factors led me to set the camera to Tv (Shutter Priority) at 1/2000 of a second and auto ISO.

Sharp-shinned Hawk adult Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7634Sharp-shinned Hawks really find owls irresistible, and several made attacking passes at the owl. My goal is to get images showing the uppersides of the hawks, ideally with either a blue-sky background or a back drop of fall colors. Shots from underneath are a dime-a-dozen…Great for identification but pretty boring shots. Note that the dark bluish back and tail, and deep red eye, signify that this is an adult bird.

Sharp-shinned Hawk adult Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7660I love being able to shoot down on the hawks as well. The turning fall colors makes a nice backdrop for this migrating Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Golden Eagle juvenile Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7581My first Golden Eagle of the year! A few hundred migrate from eastern Canada south over the Ridge each fall. You can tell this is a juvenile by the pattern of white underneath…dark underwing coverts and white at the base of the primaries and secondaries. Adult Goldens would be all dark under and juvenile Bald Eagles would show some white on the underwing coverts.

Sailboat Lake Superior Duluth IMG_7698Recent heavy rains caused red clay sediment from the St. Louis or Nemadji Rivers to wash out into Lake Superior.

Sharp-shinned Hawk adult Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7638A white-cloud background gives this Sharp-shinned Hawk portrait a unique look. I purposely let the whites blow out so that the hawk looks as if it was clipped from its real background.

Owl decoy feather duster IMG_7590Here is the “feather duster” owl decoy. He earned his pay today! And nary lost a feather.

Broad-winged Hawk Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7516The last few stragglers. Broad-winged Hawks are specialists on frogs, snakes and insects…so October 7th is pretty late for them. This is one of 3 that soared over early in the day. Note the banded tail of this adult.

Sandhill Cranes Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7556You often hear Sandhill Cranes before you see them…and that was the case here. A small flock of 4 soared effortlessly over the Ridge…Probably on their way to wintering grounds in Texas.

Red-bellied Woodpecker Hawk Ridge Duluth MN IMG_7669A rare visitor! Red-bellied Woodpeckers breed mainly south of Duluth, but this one made a brief appearance at Summit Ledges. We first heard it calling.

We also had a Merlin and Northern Goshawk (juvenile) dive on the owl, but I missed all those shots. This is a low-percentage endeavor! Turkey Vulture, Red-tailed Hawk and Bald Eagle also flew by. Meadowhawk dragonflies were also very common.

[All images shot with Canon 7D and Canon 400mm f5.6 lens: Most at Tv (Shutter priority) 1/2000 second and Auto ISO (resulting in shooting at f5.6 for most]

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