Photo of the Week – September 16, 2016

NOTE: This post originally misidentified this hawk as a juvenile ferruginous hawk, but after some helpful comments from readers and confirmation from a couple other experts, I have edited the post to make it clear that it is, indeed, a red-tailed hawk. 

A juvenile ferruginous hawk

A juvenile red-tailed hawk in a prairie dog town.  Garden County, Nebraska.

As I’ve said many times, I am not a wildlife photographer.  I stalk insects and flowers, and try to take a few scenic photos, but I don’t have the equipment, time, or patience to be a real wildlife photographer.  Thus, I don’t have a lot of photos of birds, deer, or other wildlife.  The few photos I do have of those wildlife species come from opportunities I don’t really deserve, but am lucky enough to get anyway.  For example, I posted about an evening photographing prairie dogs back in July when, for no good reason, a prairie dog and her pups let me get within about 15 feet of them with my camera.

Last month, on a trip to the Nebraska Sandhills, I got another inexplicable chance to photograph wildlife without really trying.  I didn’t set up a photo blind weeks beforehand, crawl into it in pitch darkness, and spend fruitless day after fruitless day waiting for a red-tailed hawk to land in the right place at the right time.  Nope.  Instead, I saw a hawk and drove over to get a closer look.

I drove slowly, watching for signs of agitation so I could stop before it flew off.  There was no agitation.  The hawk just stared at me as I drove within 25 feet or so, BACKED UP in a half circle to get a better angle, drove a little closer, GOT OUT OF THE VEHICLE, crouched down next to the vehicle, and took some photos.  It wasn’t right, it wasn’t fair, it shouldn’t have happened, but it did.  As a result, here are some photos I took of a red-tailed hawk this summer…

Ferruginous hawk

The red-tailed hawk staring at me as I knelt on the ground with my camera and took its picture from 15 feet away.

The hawk didn’t appear to be injured in any way, and I saw it fly and land in the spot where I photographed it.  The only justification I can come up with for its behavior is that it was a young bird, but even that doesn’t really make sense.  Even a young bird should be afraid of a noisy vehicle driving toward it and a funny looking bipedal creature emerging from the vehicle holding some kind of black object.  I hope the hawk changed its attitude toward strangers before meeting a coyote, for example, that wasn’t quite as innocuous as a surprised and grateful photographer.

 

Photo of the Week – November 20, 2015

Early last week, a group of us spent a couple days enjoying the Nebraska Sandhills at Calamus Outfitters, a working ranch that also offers a number of outdoor recreation opportunities.  Here are a few photos from those days.

Sand bank on the Calamus River. Sandhills of Nebraska near Burwell.

A steep textured sandy bank on the Calamus River, a beautiful river that flows out of the Nebraska Sandhills.

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Sharp tail grouse feather. Sandhills of Nebraska near Burwell.

Sharp-tailed grouse feathers on a hilltop often used as a lek (courtship area) in the spring.  Calamus Outfitters provides viewing opportunities for both sharpies and greater prairie chickens.

It’s great to see entrepreneurs like Calamus Outfitters provide people a chance to explore the Nebraska Sandhills – one of the great grasslands of the world.  Since the majority of the Sandhills is privately owned, it can be difficult to find places to hike, hunt, birdwatch, photograph, etc.  I don’t think hosting numerous outsiders on their land is an idea many ranchers find attractive ( most of those I know list solitude as a big reason they enjoy ranching) but I applaud Calamus Outfitters for doing so.  The most important role they play might be to put a face to ranching so that visitors from cities or out of state can see ranchers as thoughtful, caring land stewards.  It doesn’t take much talking to Bruce, Sue Ann, Sarah, and Adam for that to become clear.

TNC Nebraska staff at Calamus Outfitters. Sandhills of Nebraska near Burwell.

A jeep trail ride across the Sandhills was one of the high points of the trip.  Even in November, the landscape was beautiful.

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