Light morph Swainson’s Hawk juvenile in low light

Light morph juvenile Swainson's HawkLight morph juvenile Swainson’s Hawk – Nikon D810, f9, 1/500, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light, not baited

While in Montana earlier this month I had several opportunities to photograph juvenile Swainson’s Hawks that were close and approachable but I didn’t always have great light. The light was some times plain awful because of storm clouds and spitting rain coming through the Centennial Valley and Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.

Stormy weather over Wigeon Pond, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife RefugeStormy weather over Wigeon Pond, Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge – Nikon D200, handheld, f16, 1/45, ISO 500, +0.7 EV, Nikkor 18-200mm VR at 18mm, natural light

The weather at times just plain sucked but those beautiful Swainson’s Hawk juvenile just couldn’t wait because of cold weather coming in (it got down to a low of 11°F a few days later) I thought the Swainson’s might migrate soon. I believe the cold did affect the grasshoppers which are the main prey of Swainson’s Hawks during their time in the northern hemisphere because I saw large flocks of ravens walking slowly through the grasses where they were most likely eating grasshoppers like we eat popcorn while watching a movie along with smaller flocks of Swainson’s Hawks.

Head on stare from a light morph juvenile Swainson's HawkHead on stare from a light morph juvenile Swainson’s Hawk – Nikon D810, f9, 1/400, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light, not baited

Even though the light conditions weren’t the best I knew my opportunities with these juveniles were limited and I wanted to photograph them despite the poor light. This particular Swainson’s juvenile seemed to ignore passing pickups, cars and SUV’s and didn’t even flinch when they would rumble by just six to eight feet from it, maybe even closer. We could just park on the other side of the dusty road and photograph them without disturbing the young hawks.

The out of focus background in these images show dried grasses at the lower edge of the frame then the darker gray/blue area above it is distant mountains and above that in light gray is the stormy sky.

Light morph Swainson's Hawk juvenile with its eyes on the skyLight morph Swainson’s Hawk juvenile with its eyes on the sky – Nikon D810, f9, 1/500, ISO 500, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light, not baited

Whenever a bird is close to me I feel honored that they allow me into their world where I can see the details in their plumage, the light reflecting in their eyes and watch their behavior through my lens. I know just how special that is even when it happens in cruddy light.

Life is good.

Mia

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Interior West White-crowned Sparrow

Interior West White-crowned Sparrow perched on Western ServiceberryInterior West White-crowned Sparrow perched on Western Serviceberry – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Bird photography isn’t easy and for smaller birds like this adult White-crowned Sparrow it can be challenging and require more patience than when photographing larger birds. I saw this sparrow fly in to a Western Serviceberry near Red Rock Creek where it was hidden behind the foliage and my hope was that it would pop up on top of the bush and eventually it did.

White-crowned Sparrow with a Western ServiceberryWhite-crowned Sparrow with a Western Serviceberry – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I was a bit frustrated that there were out of focus leaves on the sides of the White-crowned Sparrow that were in the foreground (note the larger size of the leaves) but after reviewing the images on my monitor I decided they added to the image and didn’t detract from the bird. I also liked and appreciated that the sparrow had one of the berries in its bill.

Adult Interior West White-crowned SparrowAdult Interior West White-crowned Sparrow – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 500, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

After eating the berry the White-crowned Sparrow flew to an old fence post near the Serviceberry bush and I was able to get a few images of it there with a dark background caused by the willows being in a shadow. I’m always delighted to photograph smaller birds such as this White-crowned Sparrow.

There are currently 5 subspecies of White-crowned Sparrows and this one is an Interior West White-crowned Sparrow (Zonotrichia leucophrys oriantha) which is also sometimes called the Mountain White-crowned Sparrow. We have them here in Utah where they breed in the mountains then they migrate south to winter in southern Arizona and northern Mexico.

Mia

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The Earth

Stormy weather, mountains and golden grassesStormy weather, mountains and golden grasses of the Centennial Valley, Montana

I can not help but to feel a sense of wonder or be enchanted by the wild majesty of the Centennial Valley in southwestern Montana. No one image can convey everything that it is because there is so much to see. It humbles me to be a part of it and it a part of me.

The earth, like the sun, like the air, belongs to everyone — and to no one. — Edward Abbey

The earth that we enjoy now doesn’t just belong to us who walk upon it today, it also belongs to those who haven’t been born yet.

We need to take care of it for ourselves and those to come.

Mia

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Close up of a Red-tailed Hawk in flight

Close up of a Red-tailed Hawk in flightClose up of a Red-tailed Hawk in flight – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/2500, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light, not baited

There are times when the birds I want to photograph are too far away and then there are times when the birds get too close, this Red-tailed Hawk got too close. I photograph this Red-tailed Hawk on September 4th in Utah County and created the image as the hawk lifted off from a power pole across the road. If I had turned my camera vertically I may have been able to avoid clipping the left wing or if I had been a bit farther away it might not have been an issue.

I decided I like the image despite the clipped wing because of the fine details, great eye contact and the pose of the hawk.

Mia

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A Pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Centennial Valley

Calling male Sandhill CraneCalling male Sandhill Crane – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I was delighted to find quite a few Sandhill Cranes in the Centennial Valley of Montana last week and this pair were close enough to photograph. The male is nearly finished molting and has become mostly gray compared to the reddish color they have during breeding season when they stain their feathers with soil.

Mated pair of Sandhill CranesMated pair of Sandhill Cranes – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

During my time in the Centennial Valley I saw several flocks ranging from 10 to 26 individuals. It is nearing the time when the Sandhill Cranes will migrate south for the winter and perhaps this pair will pass through Utah on their way to their wintering grounds.

Female Sandhill CraneFemale Sandhill Crane – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

The female appeared more stained than the male but she is no where near as red as she would have been even a month ago. I was disappointed that this pair did not have young with them, they may have lost their chicks due to a cold snap during the incubation period or lost the chicks to predation. Young Sandhills generally stay with their parent for around 328 days and if this pairs young had survived they would have been nearby.

Sandhill Crane pair callingSandhill Crane pair calling – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

This image shows the difference in the cranes stained plumage well I think though I am not sure why the female shows more of the reddish stain than the male.

Male Sandhill Crane behaviorMale Sandhill Crane behavior – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light, not baited

The male did some dancing, jumping and calling while I photographed him. I am not sure though if that was because of our presence or if it was to maintain the pair bond.

Dancing male Sandhill CraneDancing male Sandhill Crane – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/2500, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR, natural light, not baited

I have never been to the Centennial Valley of Montana where I didn’t see or hear Sandhill Cranes and for me it would be very strange to be in the valley when the cranes aren’t there. Any day now though they will leave the valley until early next spring when their calls will once again trumpet in the valley.

Mia

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