Monday, December 24, 2012

Sunday afternoon raptors

Last week we had just an hour or so before sunset to go birding, and headed to look for raptors in Adams County. We focused on part of the DIA Owl Loop just south of Barr Lake State Park.

Our raptor run indicated in red. Adams County. December 16, 2012.
Right off the bat we got great looks at a beautiful Rough-legged Hawk. The light was a little dull, so we were pushing our camera to the limits with 3,200 ISO. Some cameras handle high ISO conditions better than others, and our Canon SX40 HS certainly does a better job than any of our previous cameras, but it's still grainier than I'd like.

Rough-legged Hawk. 128th Ave between Tower Rd and Picadilly Rd, Adams County. December 16, 2012.
Rough-legged Hawks and Ferruginous Hawks are the only buteos that have feathered legs, which is a necessary adaptation for these Arctic raptors, and their nests sometimes contain the bones of caribou.

eBird animated occurrence map for Rough-Legged Hawk.
In flight, one of the best field marks for identification is the dark wrist patches that are clearly visible in flight, though they can be a little harder to make out on dark-morphs.

Rough-legged Hawk, showing off its characteristic wrist patches.
128th Ave between Tower Rd and Picadilly Rd, Adams County. December 16, 2012.

Rough-legged Hawk. 112th Ave between Chambers Rd and Potomac Rd, Adams Count. December 16, 2012.
We also got great looks at a beautiful Prairie Falcon, which took flight and disappeared off into the horizon before we could get the camera on it. It was probably the best perched view we've had, so despite the lack of pictures, we were still thrilled at the view.

 American Kestrels are perhaps the most common raptor we see on a regular basis, but they're so colorful and entertaining to watch, their common-ness doesn't make them any less enjoyable. We watched this Kestrel devour his supper from a power line.

American Kestrel eating rodent intestines.
128th Ave between Tower Rd and Picadilly Rd, Adams County. December 16, 2012.
The light was not great for showing off the Kestrel's beautiful plumage, but we enjoyed watching it enjoy a meal. We've seen Kestrel's on literally hundreds of occasions, but this is the best view we've ever had of one actually devouring its prey.

American Kestrel, with the last bite of its dinner going down the hatch.
128th Ave between Tower Rd and Picadilly Rd, Adams County. December 16, 2012.
American Kestrel, with the last bit of the rodent's tail visible sticking out of its mouth.
128th Ave between Tower Rd and Picadilly Rd, Adams County. December 16, 2012.
Although American Kestrels are still quite easy to find across most of North America, their numbers have been in serious decline over the past 50 years. Luckily the American Kestrel Partnership is keeping tabs on these little guys, and working to protect their numbers.
Borrowed from Matt Giovanni's guest post over at BirdingIsFun.com

Other raptor highlights of the day included a Great-horned Owl, a Bald Eagle, a Northern Harrier, and of course no raptor run would be complete without a Red-tailed Hawk.

Northern Harrier, looking particularly owl-like at sunset. Barr Lake State Park, Adams County. December 16, 2012.
Red-tailed Hawk. 128th Ave between Tower Rd and Picadilly Rd, Adams County. December 16, 2012.

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