Monday, April 28, 2014

Rough-legged Hawks, Golden Eagles, and hoarfrost at Hill City

On January 27 there was a family medical emergency and we hit the road to go visit my parents in Rexburg. We got about a third of the way there, and had to stop to feed Nora, and found out while we were stopped that it was a bit of a false alarm, and decided not to go the rest of the way since I had work to get back to. Despite the dark overtones to the day from worrying about loved ones, it was hard not to appreciate the stark beauty of bright blue skies over a frozen landscape.

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Hoarfrost on last year’s harvest stubble near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

While we were driving through we couldn’t help but notice the area was loaded with Rough-legged Hawks and Golden Eagles, common winter visitors to this area, where despite the snow cover, the hunting is still easier than where they came from. With such bright light and so many raptors hanging out right near the road on telephone poles, we had to try to get a few good shots.

There were a few more Rough-legged Hawks than Golden Eagles, so we got more opportunities to photograph them. Here are a few highlights.

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At some point I’d love to get a DSLR camera with phase detection autofocus, which works much quicker than the contrast detection autofocus that’s common in most point-and-shoot cameras. Luckily, Rough-legged Hawks have such high contrast between the black and the white tones that even the contrast detection autofocus on our camera really dials in quickly.

Rough-legged Hawk near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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Rough-legged Hawk near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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Rough-legged Hawk near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

Thanks to our camera’s (Canon SX50 HS) Sport mode, which shoots at 13 FPS, we were able to get a couple of fun flight sequences where you can see the hawk’s wings in several different positions.

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Rough-legged Hawk near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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Rough-legged Hawk near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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Rough-legged Hawk near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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Rough-legged Hawk near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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Rough-legged Hawk near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

Golden Eagles are quite impressive too – and it can be difficult to fully appreciate how large they really are until you see one take off from 20 feet away above your head.

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Golden Eagle near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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Golden Eagle near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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Golden Eagle near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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Golden Eagle near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

Normally, this area is also good for Snow Buntings or Lapland Longspurs in the winter, where they can usually be found hanging around with large flocks of Horned Larks. For whatever reason the Horned Lark flocks have been smaller this winter, and the Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs have been almost completely absent. All we saw was a small handful of Horned Larks.

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Horned Lark near Hill City, Camas County. January 27, 2014.

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