I know my title sounds like a Peter, Paul and Mary song but this is a serious question that I become more concerned about with each passing day. So at the risk of sounding like an alarmist I chose to pose the question here.
Yesterday morning I drove several hundred miles through fairly remote areas of Utah and Tooele county looking for birds, raptors especially. I did see three Golden Eagles and a Bald Eagle but the absence of hawks was striking and alarming. These have been buteo-rich areas in the past and this is a trend that both Mia and I have been noticing and commenting (to each other) about for several years now.
1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in
In about four hours of shooting I was skunked. This image of a Golden Eagle is as close as I came to getting any interesting raptor photos and it will join every other image I took yesterday morning (not many at all) in the delete bin, for obvious reasons.
Winter in northern Utah has traditionally been raptor-rich so when I got home yesterday I spent several hours reviewing my images (on four different computers) taken in December over the past nine years. The contrast between the number of raptors I’m seeing and photographing this year (and last year) as compared to previous Decembers is truly alarming.
1/2000, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM, not baited, set up or called in
I photographed this Prairie Falcon along the Antelope Island causeway on a cloudy morning exactly five years ago today – Dec. 12, 2011 and I photographed other raptor species that morning too. In reviewing images taken in December of that year (and other years) I was reminded of how many Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks and American Kestrels I encountered and photographed on a typical day back then and it was usually a bunch. I also had fair numbers of opportunities with Ferruginous Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and Prairie Falcons.
Part of the apparent decline in raptor numbers in some of the areas I regularly photograph is likely due to the drought and the resulting dramatic decline in the level of the Great Salt Lake but I don’t think that explains it all. In areas far removed from the lake bed (valleys of the west desert for example) we used to see many dozens of hawks perched on power poles along the roads and freeways as I drove to and from our distant shooting destinations. Not any more. Yesterday (and on previous outings this year and last) we saw very few of them and their scarcity was a major subject of our conversation on the way home. We’ve noticed the same disturbing trend on our many summer bird photography trips to Montana and Idaho – particularly in the area around Montana’s Centennial Valley.
Ok, now to the primary reason for this post. I’m wondering if readers in other areas are noticing the same disturbing trend we are. On a recent blog post of mine one person (can’t remember who) mentioned that some were reporting declining numbers of Red-tailed Hawks in their areas and that comment made me think to ask the question above. My observations are far from a scientific study but they have been made long-term and are documented with photos. Anecdotal observations and reports can be of some value.
As a bird photographer I’m alarmed by this possible trend but most of my concern is as a resident of this fragile planet. Any related feedback one way or the other would be appreciated.
PS – My apologies if you got an ear-worm from my title. If it’s any consolation I got the damned thing too… 🙂