Swainson’s Hawk In Flight

We returned home yesterday afternoon from our latest camping/photo trip to Montana/Idaho.  It was another great outing – this time the weather mostly cooperated (including no smoke from forest fires to the west), we met some new friends and once again explored some fabulous new country.   We also had some memorable photographic opportunities with a variety of birds and other wildlife.

This is the time of year that Swainson’s Hawks usually begin to converge on the Centennial Valley to feast on grasshoppers and believe me the area produces grasshoppers in abundance – probably more of them than I’ve ever seen elsewhere (and I grew up on a Montana farm where grasshoppers were unfortunately one of our most successful crops).  When we’re looking for birds to photograph we often cruise the dirt roads with the windows partially open and they’re constantly flying into my pickup.  The impact from them hitting you, even at 25 mph, really stings and I’m sure that I’ll find a herd of live Montana grasshoppers in my pickup later this morning, which is par for the course for this time of year.



swainson's hawk 5099b ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4tc, not baited, set up or called in

Early on Friday morning last week we found this light-morph Swainson’s perched on an old leaning post in the valley.  The only chance I had for a shot that I really liked was in flight so I hoped it would eventually take off in a favorable direction.  Often they leisurely turn around on their perch to take off away from you but this bird…



swainson's hawk 5103 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4tc, not baited, set up or called in

was more cooperative.  I left the top of the post in the image because I don’t like to clone and because the obvious take-off posture of the hawk screams for a perch back there.



swainson's hawk 5106 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4tc, not baited, set up or called in

I was able to get two shots in flight with interesting and contrasting wing positions and no body parts clipped.  Sometimes I don’t get any so I’ll take those results.

Luck always plays a significant part in my photographic results on these excursions to Montana and this trip I had more than my share of the “bad” variety - lost focus on birds in flight, an excessive number of birds flying away from me, poor lighting angles, unfortunate timing – the list goes on.  But as I cull the thousands of images I took on this trip over the next few days I’m confident I’ll find some gems among them and I’ll be sharing those images in the weeks to come.

It was a great trip but it’s also good to be home, especially because we were greeted by much-needed rain!  .




This Is Why They’re Called “Stilts”

If you thought that stilts have the longest legs relative to body size of all bird species you’d be wrong.  But not by much.  That distinction belongs to flamingos but stilts come in a close second.


black-necked stilt 4682 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this juvenile Black-necked Stilt last week at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and as soon as I looked at the image I was once again struck by the almost ridiculously long, thin legs of the species.  Because only one of those legs can be seen and it’s so thin it almost appears to me as if the body of the bird is suspended above the shore without support as it looks back at the viewer.

And I suspect that this young bird may still have some growing to do so the legs could become a bit longer.  Pretty impressive.


Note: I’m off on another jaunt to Montana – duration unknown.  I’ve scheduled posts in my absence but I’ll be without access to a computer so I won’t be responding to any comments, though I do receive your comments on my phone when I have a signal and I always enjoy them. 

Wish me luck with the smoke from the fires in Washington, Oregon and Idaho – the prevailing wind direction is not helpful…