Posts tagged ‘Red-tailed Hawk’

Spring Snowstorm & early-returning Birds

On April 11-12 a ferocious spring blizzard hit Minnesota and affected most of the state. Winds in my home county (Carlton County) exceeded 50mph and created whiteout conditions. About 7-8 inches of snow fell but it was wet and windblown. The world was white again!

Some early migrants had already arrived in northern Minnesota. Males often arrive before females in order to set up shop in the best territories before the females arrive. But there is a great risk in arriving early in the North. You may get a great territory, but you’ll have to survive cold snaps, snowstorms, and lack of abundant food.

I decided to explore southern Carlton County to see how some of the migrants were faring. I drove along the thawed and flowing Kettle River, and also visited the brand new Wildlife Management Area called Firebird.

Red-tailed Hawk on wood fencepost in falling snow. Redtails vacate the North Woods in winter, avoiding the deep snow and bitter cold.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes arrived and began looking for food and a suitable nesting site.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

A Roughleg catches a vole! There must be an abundant population of these plump small rodents here, because there were many hawks; I saw 3 Roughlegs perched on 4 consecutive power poles! Also Northern Harriers and American Kestrels were out hunting here. I even saw an American Crow swoop down and catch a vole!

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

At least 6 Rough-legged Hawks hunted the fields and meadows of Firebird Wildlife Management Area the day after the storm. This large buteo nests in the Far North tundra and eats only lemmings. In their winter range in the northern U.S. they eat mainly voles. Though roughly the size of a Redtail, they have a much smaller beak and feet due to their dependence on small rodents such as voles. No rabbits for them!

This is the last fueling stop before heading back north for the breeding season.

[Firebird WMA; Carlton County, Minnesota]

Red-tailed Hawk in the landscape of Carlton County

Eastern Phoebe in a snowfall. Surprisingly, this flycatcher will eat fruits and berries if no insects are available. I think this guy was catching early flying insects (midges?) along the open and flowing Kettle River.

 

Carlton County, Minnesota’s Kettle River.

Common Merganser along the Kettle River. His mate was just out of frame. ALL the lakes in the county are still frozen (even as of April 18), but rivers have opened up and this large duck is taking advantage of that.

Wilson’s Snipe on ice. These “shorebirds” don’t need a shore, only wet, waterlogged ground where they can probe for worms and other inverts. But they are extremely hardy and have been known to linger in the North even into December (if there is some open water to search for food).

 

Hermit Thrushes are the SECOND thrush to return to the North Woods in spring. American Robins are the first. Both can survive on berries just fine…No need for worms and insects now.

Hermit Thrush along the Kettle River

Killdeer wondering where its snow-free fields went.

 

Sparky’s Top 10 “Wildlife in the Landscape” Photos 2018

More and more I enjoy wildlife photos that show the critter in its landscape. Portrait photos can be stunning but they often don’t tell you anything about the environment that the animal lives in…or even what the animal is doing.

Bison in steam of geyser basin Fountain Paint Pots Yellowstone National Park WYIMG_0902

Bison and “bobby sock trees” (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

I like the low saturation and placement of the Bison in relation to the “bobby sock” trees (white “socks” from exposure to the mineral rich waters in the geyser basin).

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM lens; 1/4000 second at f.8; ISO 160; hand-held]

Great Gray Owl sunrise CR2 near Two Harbors MNIMG_5801

Great Gray Owl sunrise (near Two Harbors, Minnesota) March 2018

It is sometimes hard to remember to “think wider” when taking wildlife photos. Our inclination is to put on our longest telephoto lens and get a tightly-cropped portrait. But sometimes wider is better. Great Gray Owls are often scanning the skies for any sign of enemies. They seem not to care for Ravens and Bald Eagles in particular. Not sure if this one actually saw something up in the sky.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f5.6 L USM lens at 70mm; 1/1250 second at f.8; -1.33 ev; ISO 100; tripod]

Great Blue Heron along Stone Lake Road Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_1783

Early-returning Great Blue Heron (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) April 16, 2018

The snowpack lasted a VERY long time last winter. My kids had to wear snowpants to school for a complete SIX MONTHS! (October 26 to April 24 or so). So this Great Blue Heron returned at its normal time, but was greeted with lots of snow and little open water. But it only takes a little patch of running water and some fish to make a living for this hardy heron. I have video of this guy catching fish from this open patch.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 167mm; 1/320 second at f.7.1; ISO 100; +0.66 ev; hand-held]

meadowhawk Saffron-winged Meadowhawk Sympetrum costiferum Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge NWR Polk County MNIMG_1873

Meadowhawk and Big Bluestem (Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota) August 2018

I like the pinks, purples and reds in this photo. I also like the placement of the Meadowhawk in the top right part of the frame…atop a gracefully curving stem of Big Bluestem grass.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f5.6 L USM lens at 200mm; 1/640 second at f4; ISO 100; hand-held]

Red-tailed Hawk CR7 Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_0915

Red-tailed Hawk in snowfall (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) April 2018

This was totally just a “grab-and-go” photo during a spring snow squall in the Sax-Zim Bog last April. It is not razor sharp but I think it works as a very “painterly” abstract photo. I like the blurred purple-red colors of the out-of-focus willows.

[Canon 7D with Sigma 50-500mm lens at 450mm; 1/160 second at f.6.3; ISO 800; +1 ev; hand-held]

Sandhill Crane with colt in flowers Pine County MNIMG_1063

Sandhill Crane in wildflower meadow (Pine County, Minnesota) June 2018

Pretty bird in pretty flowers…’nuf said?

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/3200 second at f.5.6; ISO 640; hand-held from car]

Snowy Owl Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge Polk County MNIMG_0254

Snowy Owl on fence line (Glacial Ridge National Wildlife Refuge, Minnesota) March 2018

Yes, there is an owl in this photo…Way out on the fence line. I think this photo would look really cool printed very large. A true “animal in the landscape” photo.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/800 second at f.9; ISO 100; tripod]

Snowy Owl mature male on haybale CR229-29 Dart Road Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_3986

Snowy Owl on hay bale (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) December 2018

Interesting juxtaposition…an arctic bird in a rural farm landscape. But this is where they are at home in the winter. These large farm hayfields hold large number of voles…and they mimic their summer tundra home. The haybale becomes just another hummock on the tundra.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 70-200mm f4 L USM lens at 91mm; 1/320 second at f.7.1; ISO 1250; hand-held]

Trumpeter Swan pair Yellowstone National Park WYIMG_0558

Trumpeter Swans and tree reflections (Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming) April 2018

It certainly is a strange photo. Normally I would never really love a photo where I am looking down on my subject, but I like the reflection of the dead pines in the water and that both swans are looking back towards the center of the frame.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM lens; 1/2500 second at f.8; ISO 200; hand-held]

American Bittern Things that Go Buzz, Croak, Hoot & Bump in the Night FOSZB field trip Sax-Zim Bog MNIMG_1460

Can you see me? Bittern (Sax-Zim Bog, Minnesota) May 2018

American Bitterns are masters of camouflage…when they are in a brown landscape with vertical cattails, as in the photo above. They stretch out their neck allowing their vertical breast stripes to blend in with the cattails. But this camouflage doesn’t work so well when they are in the middle of a dirt road…but they stick with their technique despite the absurdity of it.

[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/200 second at f.5.6; ISO 400; hand-held]

Tundra Swan flock staging fall migration Mississippi River Brownsville Houston County MNIMG_3283

Tundra Swan congregation (Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, Brownsville, Minnesota) November 2018

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[Canon 7D with Canon EF 400mm f5.6 L USM lens; 1/160 second at f.8; ISO 100; tripod]

Early Spring in Yellowstone 2—April 16-19, 2016

Red-tailed Hawk and moon Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4074 (1)Still Life with Redtail and Moon 1
How could I pass this up? Wish I could have set up a tripod and shot at f22 or smaller to get more depth of field and the moon more in focus, but redtails don’t pose for that long.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f20 at 1/200 second; ISO 400; -0.33ev; handheld]

Grizzly Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5794 (1)Silver Griz
This fella was our only Grizzly of the trip. Mid April is a bit early for many bears to be out of hibernation…and the high country roads are not yet open where there could very well be more bears. On our mid May trip a couple years ago, we saw quite a few Griz. But this guy was sure a beauty! We stopped, as we almost always do, when we saw a couple cars pulled over (and here’s the real key) and some long lenses on tripods. “What do ya got?” Is the standard photographer-to-photographer exchange in situations like this. They’d seen a Grizzly on the slope on the opposite side of the river, but it had moved off into some forest cover. So we pulled over, got out and helped them relocate the bear. Well nature called to Ryan, and while he was watering the early spring grass, he spotted the bear. He came back to the road and told us. I got a few handheld shots but Ryan had to go back to our car to get his camera. When Ryan got back, I went back to the car to get my tripod. But soon after I left something really spooked the Grizzly and it ran off. The only thing we know of that can spook the apex predator of the park…is another Grizzly. But while we waited another 45 minutes or so, nothing showed.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/1000 second; ISO 400; handheld]

Black Bear Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4898 (1)Sole of the Bear
This Black Bear recently out of hibernation had the most unusual nearly white, soles of its feet. I’ve seen many many Black Bears and have never noticed this trait before. My gut feeling is that this bear just had abnormally pale foot pads.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f7.1 at 1/640 second; ISO 500; -1ev; tripod]

Red-tailed Hawk Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4790 (1)Rockin’ Redtail
The Red-tailed Hawks were certainly migrating through and returning to Yellowstone this week. We saw many, and this one posed on a picture-perfect perch long enough to get a shot.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f7.1 at 1/2000 second; ISO 320; +1ev; tripod]

Red-tailed Hawk and moon Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_3979 (1)Lunar Buteo
Red-tailed Hawks are a type of buteo…a raptor with big broad wings and short tails. They are built for soaring, scanning open country for prey. “Forest hawks” who hunt in dense woods need shorter rounded wings and long tails (to act as an “air rudder”) so they can maneuver in close quarters in flight. I love “bird and moon” shots…especially when the bird is relatively small in the frame. Of course, these images are best viewed large.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/2500 second; ISO 320; handheld]

Pronghorn Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_3793 (1)Pronghorn in the Sage
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f5.6 at 1/800 second; ISO 250; handheld, braced on outside of car]

Ryan Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_6048 (1)Ryan Marshik

Bison in campsite Mammoth Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_2864Campsite Buddies!
Each night, a small herd of Bison grazed right through our campsite, noisily munching the new green grass. It’s funny, you would never dare to get this close to them out in the park (in fact it’s illegal to get closer than 25 yards) but here they are so preoccupied, and used to people, that you can sit at your picnic table 5 yards away and enjoy the slow parade.

Sandhill Crane Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4094 (1)Sandhill Crane in its Finest
Love the “bustle” of this Sandhill Crane. It was one of a pair that had returned to nest in the park’s marshes and wet meadows.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f10 at 1/500 second; ISO 400; -0.33ev; handheld, braced on car window frame]

Dipper Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4432 (1)Dipper thinking about taking a Dip
Dippers feed on underwater aquatic critters in fast moving streams and rivers of the western U.S. They are one of Bridget’s favorite birds and so I always try and get a few shots.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f6.3 at 1/250 second; ISO 640; handheld]

falls Yellowstone River Grand Canyon Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4626 (1)Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 255mm; f11 at 1/2000 second; ISO 100; -2.33ev; tripod]

falls Yellowstone River Grand Canyon Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4622 (1)Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 255mm; f11 at 1/320 second; ISO 100; tripod]

falls Yellowstone River Grand Canyon Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4599 (1)Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 400mm; f11 at 1/800 second; ISO 100; -2ev; tripod]
All three of the above shots of the Lower Falls of the Yellowstone River were taken from Artist’s Point. The falls, at 308 vertical feet, is the tallest in the park. The light (quality and direction) was not good for broad scenic vistas, so I used the telephoto to zoom in on one part of the scene. The lone silhouetted tree really made this shot for me. Here are three variations…Which do you like?

Elk young bull shedding Old Yellowstone Road WY IMG_4529 (1)Goofy Bull
Early spring is NOT a good time to photograph Elk in the West; all the Elk at this time of year look pretty ratty. They are shedding their winter coats, and not gracefully. The older bulls are just sprouting their new antlers, growth being nourished by the blood-rich “velvet” coating them (see photo below), but the first year bulls sometimes hold their little antlers all winter instead of dropping them in late fall/early winter like the older guys.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 300mm; f5 at 1/1600 second; ISO 200; handheld]

Elk bull in velvet in traffic Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_4926 (1)Big and Velvety
These were some really big boys holding up traffic along the road. Note their height compared to the car in the foreground. Wish I could see these guys again in the fall when their massive antlers will be in their prime.
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 214mm; f7.1 at 1/400 second; ISO 500; tripod]

Elk herd Yellowstone National Park WY IMG_5111 (1)American Serengeti
Easily the biggest herd of Elk I’ve ever seen in Yellowstone…over 200 animals. I didn’t even include all the herd in this shot. Nearby were herds of Bison, Mule Deer and Pronghorn. Impressive!
[Canon 7D with Canon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 IS II USM lens at 263mm; f6.3 at 1/60 second; ISO 320; tripod (accidentally at this shutter speed because I had just switched over from taking some video)]

Flight of the Goshawk and Earl the Owl

Earl the Owl did his job! I bring Earl out only on special occasions—Mainly when the winds at Duluth’s Hawk Ridge are strong and from the NW in late September through late October. So you see, Earl doesn’t get out much. But when I put him up on his dead snag in full view of migrating hawks, he draws their ire and they come in to drive him off, and I, hopefully, get a shot of these feathered rockets before they move on. Hawks really, really dislike Great Horned Owls. It may be because GHOs, on occasion, prey on roosting hawks at night or because they are competitors for the same foods (true with Redtails). Earl, you see, is a plastic decoy Great Horned Owl that I bought (i.e. “adopted”) at a hunting store. A super-glued downy feather on his side lends a touch of realism to him.

Only minutes after I put him up, and before I was even ready to shoot, a big shadow crossed over me…It was a young Red-tailed Hawk (photo above), only 30 feet overhead, making a beeline for Earl. She dropped her talons, flared her tail (not yet bright rusty-red as in adults) and made several passes at this mortal enemy before continuing her journey south—to Kansas, or Iowa, or southern Minnesota.
Raptors winging their way south from Canada and northern Minnesota are pushed by NW winds to the North Shore of Lake Superior. But hawks would rather not fly OVER the big lake—no thermals, no updraft winds, no prey. So instead they funnel down the shoreline and right over Hawk Ridge, which is located at the southwest corner of our inland sea.

My real goal for the day was to photograph the Hawk Ridge specialty…the bird that many birders from across the country come to see..the Northern Goshawk. The “Gos” is a large accipiter (raptors with relatively short, rounded wings and a long tail) that nests in mature mixed woods of large aspen, pine and spruce. The big females (in raptors females are almost always larger than the males) specialize on Snowshoe Hares and the smaller males pick off Ruffed Grouse and Red Squirrels. Of course, like most accipiters, they also will take smaller birds. Their short, rounded wings allow them to fly through dense woods in pursuit of prey, while the long tail acts as an aerial rudder, helping in changing direction quickly. The reason birders come to Hawk Ridge to see them is because during other times of the year they are rarely encountered and if seen, it is usually only a fleeting glimpse.

And then suddenly the Gos was there, harassing Earl. I didn’t even notice the big raptor coming in. I grabbed my camera and started shooting. Autofocus was set to AI Servo (focus setting that follows your subject as it gets closer or further from you) on the center focus point (the most accurate one) and I used shutter priority (1/2000 of a second to freeze motion), Auto-ISO (a feature on some cameras that allows the ISO to vary up and down automatically…works great on bright days when there is no chance of it cranking the ISO up into the noisy range above ISO 1600) and f5.6 so the background would blur nicely. In fact, I set up so that Earl would be between me and a line of Sugar Maples on the distant hillside that had turned brilliant red and yellow. You can see the color in the top photo.

This adult Sharp-shinned Hawk can be aged by its stunning blood-red eyes…a feature that only develops in adult “sharpys”—juveniles have yellowish eyes that turn orange and finally red as they mature into adulthood. They are at the opposite end of the size spectrum of accipiters from Goshawks. Sharpys are small and live almost exclusively on a diet of small birds. Earl caused this beauty conniptions, coming in and diving on him several times. My autofocus did its job and I got this very sharp Sharpy image at very close range.

Can’t wait for the next cold front and accompanying NW winds! Are you ready Earl?

From the top:
juvenile Goshawk: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 (shutter priority), ISO 1000 (auto-ISO) handheld
juvenile Red-tailed Hawk: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 (shutter priority), ISO 1250 (auto-ISO) handheld
juvenile Goshawk: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f5.6 at 1/2500 (shutter priority), ISO 1000 (auto-ISO) handheld
bottom Sharp-shinned Hawk: Canon 7D, Canon 400mm f5.6 lens, f6.3 at 1/2000 (shutter priority), ISO 320 (auto-ISO) handheld