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 – February 28, 2013

Here’s a photo interpretation puzzle for you.

Last Saturday, I was hiking through the fresh snow in a small local prairie when I found this interesting print. 

An interesting print in fresh snow.  Leadership Center Prairie - Aurora, Nebraska.

An interesting print in fresh snow. Leadership Center Prairie – Aurora, Nebraska.

Clearly the print was made by a bird, but what kind, and what was it doing?  Judging by the size of the wing print, the bird was about the size of a robin.  There were no other tracks or prints in the snow nearby, other than the small streak just to the left of the bird print.

Here’s my best guess – see what you think:

I think the print was made by a small raptor; probably a sharp-shinned hawk.  My guess is that the hawk was swooping down after a sparrow, which was flying low to the ground.  As the hawk neared the ground, the sparrow spotted it coming from its right, and was just able to evade the hawk – barely dragging its tail along the surface of the snow as it dodged away.  Meanwhile, the hawk flared its wings to avoid hitting the ground, and flapped hard to regain the air – and both wings made slight contact with the snow as it did so.  Its narrow tail also left a mark.  The hawk’s feet scuffed the snow twice – once in the middle of the print, and again where the “head” of the print is as the bird lifted back into the air.   

Agree?  Disagree?  Ok, what’s your guess, and why?