Rough-legged Hawk portrait. Photograph by Neil Paprocki
Our raptor for February 2014 is the Rough-legged Hawk. This time of year always makes me a bit sad as I know the Roughies are making their way poleward, back to their arctic breeding grounds. While some birds will stay on their wintering grounds into April, we won’t see most of these birds again until October or November of 2014.
This adult male was captured and banded using a mouse-baited bal-chatri trap on February 17. In addition to banding this bird, several morphometric measurements were taken to help scientists better understand the differences between males and females of the species.
Below are a series of three photos detailing the wing and tail plumage of this ATY (After-third Year) adult male Rough-legged Hawk.
Adult Ferruginous Hawk. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Well I couldn’t stay away for too long.
I gave up on the idea of continuing the 2013 52-week project into 2014 as it would have been too big of a commitment, but I wanted to do something in 2014. Instead of posting a bird photograph every week, I’ve decided to post my best raptor picture at the end of each month.
January 2014 features an adult Ferruginous Hawk (Buteo regalis), the largest hawk in North America. This individual can be identified as an adult based on its ‘rusty leggings’ and upper-wing coverts, which are just barely visible on the top-side of the bird’s left wing. Juveniles generally lack the ‘rusty leggings’ of adults, are much whiter underneath, and have less rufous in the upper-wing coverts.
Below is a photograph of a juvenile Ferruginous Hawk for comparison.
Juvenile Ferruginous Hawk. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Ferruginous Hawks are an uncommon open-country hawk whose range is mostly confined to western North America. While they are a species of Least Concern in the United States, they are considered Endangered in Canada.
Here we go: The final post of this 52-week project and I am so glad to be in western New York for this one!
The number of Snowy Owls I have seen along Lake Ontario in New York has been staggering. One day I saw 3 along the lake, each in a different location. Another day I saw 2 flying around together in my hometown of Sodus. It’s been great.
One thing I’ve been struggling with however: the influence of photographers on the stress levels of these birds. I try my hardest when photographing to disturb the birds as little as possible, but I’ve noticed other photographers acting seemingly oblivious to these rare birds they are photographing. Some try to just walk right up to the birds, and the owls end up flying away, exerting unneeded energy during the exact time of year when they are stressed out the most from limited food resources and cold weather. I know photographers are looking for that one great shot, but we need to be aware that we may be influencing these birds in a negative way if we’re constantly approaching closely them to take pictures. Sorry for the diatribe, but had to get that off my chest. Lets all make a New Year’s resolution together: to be more responsible nature photographers.
Back to this 52-week project: For the past year I’ve taken and posted a bird photograph every single week (didn’t miss a week). But now the year is over and the question remains: do I continue this project into 2014? It’s been a lot of work and part of me wants to take a break. Maybe I can continue it in a slightly different way? Any ideas out there?
Red-tailed Hawk with a Northern Shoveler. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
Turns out there are raptors in New York City too, and from my limited observations they live a pretty cushy existence.
Most folks, even non-birders, know about the Red-tailed Hawks of Central Park. But while visiting the big city last week I made a visit to the lesser known, but equally impressive Prospect Park in Brooklyn to check out the bird diversity.
While watching gulls and ducks around the shores of Prospect Park Lake, I saw three separate Red-tailed Hawk hunting attempts in little over an hour. Two of these were successful.
The first successful attempt involved an unlucky immature Ring-billed Gull out in the center of the ice. The hawk picked at the carcass for only a few minutes before attempting to fly it to shore. It dropped the carcass to the ice before making it all the way in, and did not return to feed again.
The second successful hunt involved a different Red-tailed Hawk (banded with an aluminum ring on the separate leg from the other hawk; both were banded). The hawk flew from a tree and made a b-line across the lake, hitting a lone immature Northern Shoveler on a small unfrozen piece of water near the shoreline. The duck never saw the hawk coming.
An unlucky Northern Shoveler.
I snuck around the lake to take this weeks photo as the Red-tail plucked at the duck after dragging it to shore. After 10 minutes or so, the hawk flew off out of sight and I went to inspect the carcass. The hawk had only eaten part of the brain and spinal column of the duck, leaving the rest untouched.
When animals have an over-abundance of available food, they will kill more often and only eat the richest pieces of meat. This appears to be the situation for the hawks of New York City. They have a copious supply of birds on which to prey, most of which are quite tame from their constant interactions with people.
Great to see some raptors adapting quite well to city life.
I made an unofficial rule at the beginning of this 52-week project that I wouldn’t use the same species two weeks in a row. Well we can throw that one out the window in favor of getting close encounters with my favorite bird species two weeks in a row. Totally over it.
I was lucky enough to trap this adult male Rough-legged Hawk near Grand View, Idaho on Sunday. Definitely the coolest bird I have ever had in the hand. The whole experience felt a little surreal, especially knowing that this bird had just spent the summer breeding in the Alaskan or Canadian Arctic, and now I was holding it right here in Idaho!
Hope to catch more of these guys when I return to Boise in the beginning of January. Maybe an adult female next time!
It’s no secret that Rough-legged Hawks are my favorite bird, but they have continued to be my “nemesis photograph bird” ever since I acquired my Canon 7D in the summer of 2012. No longer.
I had several better photographs of different species I could have chosen for this weeks photo (including some Golden Eagle shots), but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to post a picture of a roughie. If I’m lucky, maybe all of the remaining photographs in this 52-week project will be of Rough-legs. I know I can get better shots than this one.
On a side note: while it is impossible to say for sure, this is likely an adult male given the almost complete absence of a belly-band. Adult males can have several distinct subterminal tail bands, but this bird seems to just have one. Hard to say for sure…
Townsend’s Solitaire on a Juniper branch. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
The Townsend’s Solitaire is a member of the thrush family and is quite closely related to Robins and Bluebirds. They survive all winter almost exclusively on Juniper berries that can be found in great abundance throughout the Pinyon-Juniper woodlands of the Great Basin.
While these sparse woodlands are devoid of most other songbird species during the long winter months, Solitaire’s can be found fiercely defending areas rich in berries from other species such as American Robins and Cedar Waxwings. Not to mention from other hungry Solitaire’s.
This was truly the soundtrack to which I worked and played while living in northern Arizona and southern Utah until 2010. These boisterous birds predominate in the canyons of the desert southwest, singing from rock crevasses and natural amphitheaters to amplify their amazing song.
Canyon Wren’s also range further north into the black-rock basalt canyons of the Intermountain West. I found this expansive individual this week along the Snake River Canyon within the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.
I had so many photos of this Mute Swan, but chose the one that I thought made the bird look the most evil. Not that Mute Swan’s are inherently evil, because they are definitely not, but I thought this would be a great opportunity to have a discussion about introduced, non-native, and invasive bird species which cause so much ecological devastation around the world.
Introduced, or non-native species are ones that are able to survive outside of their naturally evolved habitats or geographic locations. There are many, many introduced species in North America, and not all of them are necessarily bad. Himalayan Snowcock, a large pheasant-like bird from Asia, was introduced to the Ruby Mountains of Nevada where it has persisted in small numbers within a very small geographic location.
Other introduced species did not stay in one location after being introduced, and instead spread very rapidly across almost the entire North American continent. The most famous examples of these are the European Starling and House Sparrow. These are invasive species.
The House Sparrow, a native of Europe, was introduced in New York City in the 1850s as a form of nostalgia for those European immigrants wishing to see a familiar backyard bird. After this seemingly innocent introduction, House Sparrows quickly adapted to their new environment and in just 70 years had reached all the way across the continent to Vancouver, British Columbia. Today they are one of the most ubiquitous bird species in North America, especially in human-dominated areas.
Invasive species such at House Sparrows, European Starlings, and even Mute Swans cause a wide variety of damage to natural systems that evolved in the presence of other, native bird species. Mute Swans are more wide ranging on the eastern half of the continent, but are still found in many parks on the west coast and even into interior North America. Specifically, Mute Swans negatively affect native waterfowl species and the ecosystems they inhabit.
Adult Mute Swan. Photograph by Neil Paprocki.
For me, even though I find Swans breathtakingly beautiful, the knowledge that this species is an invasive and harmful to our native North American fauna diminishes their beauty.
I know it isn’t the birds fault, but it is the fault of those people who decided it would be a good idea to introduce a bird species to an area it clearly doesn’t belong.
Bird species that specialize within the Juniper and Pinyon Pine woodlands of the Great Basin retain a special place for me. Having spent a good deal of time in the Great Basin, I have an appreciation for the harsh, desert like conditions faced by these often little-studied and forgotten birds.
While working in central-Nevada during the summer of 2011, I thought it was inevitable that I would see large numbers of Juniper Titmice. But this was not to be, and I only very rarely caught glimpses of the species.
They have continued to elude me until I paid a visit to southern Utah and Zion National Park this past weekend. While camping outside Cedar City, Utah I was woken by a feisty titmouse calling from the top of a Juniper tree. Later that day I saw several in the dense Pinyon-Juniper woodlands that dominate the Kolob Canyons region of Zion National Park.
This photograph was taken during the early morning in Zion’s main canyon, before the sun had time to crest over the towering red-rock walls so well known to millions of tourists from all across the world. Nevertheless, two individuals decided to closely investigate my presence while I was standing atop a large boulder amidst several Juniper trees and holly bushes.
Stoked to have finally gotten so close to this awesome species!