My First Of Year Swainson’s Hawk And A Meadowlark Singing In The Cold

My first Swainson’s Hawk of the year is always a special event for me, no matter how mediocre the resulting photos might be.

They’re probably the longest migrant of any North American raptor, spending the winter months in Argentina after a migration as long as 14,000 miles that takes them several months. I look forward to their return every spring and yesterday on Antelope Island I saw my first one after several weeks of looking for them.


1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

However the hawk, an intermediate morph, didn’t seem too happy to be here. These birds don’t tolerate cold very well, we’d had several inches of snow the night before and when these photos were taken it was 37° F with a cold north wind blowing at about 25 mph. I suspect this bird was wondering what the hell it was doing here.



1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Conditions were not good for photography. The light was variable but never good, the hawk was in a cluttered setting and I wasn’t close to the bird so these images have been cropped significantly. But it was my FOY Swainson’s so I had to share them anyway.



1/5000, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

It was a fairly slow morning for birds on the island (the wind and cold didn’t help) so Western Meadowlarks were about the only other birds I photographed. I liked the detail on this enthusiastically singing bird but once again the setting was extremely cluttered so I cropped vertically and fairly tight on the bird to eliminate as many of the sage twigs as possible.



Meadowlarks are inveterate singers even in frigid conditions like these and this shot puts it all in perspective (the same bird can be seen at the bottom of the frame). I wish you could somehow “see” the wind and feel the cold.

This latest storm front caused quite a bit of damage around here – mostly to trees whose leaves are just coming out. The snow was wet and the winds were fierce. Hopefully that front brought lots of migrating birds with it.



26 comments to My First Of Year Swainson’s Hawk And A Meadowlark Singing In The Cold

  • That poor hawk. Anthromorphism or not, it does look miserable.
    The songster on the other hand…

  • Patty Chadwick

    Our Forsythia is starting to bloom, the crocuses and intensely blue Siberian squill is up and blooming,as are the daffodils. The Virginia Bluebells and Vinca are thinking about it. The daylilies are about 5″ tall, dandelions and Marshmarigolds mix tender-green grass shoots and chives with carpets of gold. Spring peepers have been heard for several weeks now, the skunk cabbage is tall and lush, fiddle heads are starting to push up through mounds of greening moss—and the birds are belting out their spring songs.The wild honeysuckle has been hinting green snd the willows are definitely yellow. Redbuds,Witch Hazel and Spicebush will bloom soon and the native red maple buds have turned bright red…I think Spring has actually arrived! I only hope we get to enjoy some WARM weather and not get suddenly slammed by miserably hot, too-early-Summer..(as we have been the last few years–each one hotter than the last. We don’t have AC and really feel it)…

  • Chris Sanborn

    Funny, isn’t it, that a big, tough bird of prey appears so unhappy in the cold while the melodious little (by comparison) songbird is totally unfazed? Great images, Ron — but hope your winter-like weather does finally take its leave so everyone (including photographers) will be happy!

  • frank sheets

    Who knows whether that Swainsons came thru Borrego Springs. The Swainsons Hawk migration watch is a big event down there and a lot of birders are typically out in the AM and PM to do the counts. From what I understand the birds typically do not hang around unless the caterpillars are out, and this year, most of the birds passed thru before there was an abundance of the bugs, which there were two weeks ago. I mean there were so many caterpillars you could hardly walk without the threat of stepping on them. Assuming this guy came through Borrego, I bet he is saying “Shoot, I wish I had hung out in Borrego another couple of weeks.” BTW, Borrego had temperatures in mid ’90s and higher for several days. Had he only know!

    • Frank, It probably won’t be long until those summer temps arrive here too. I hope it’s a gradual warming or we’re to have big time flooding!

  • Dick Harlow

    As much as I love your great Avian shots under difficult conditions, the last one is a WOW to me. Snow covered hills and a Meadowlark singing in the bare valley is so iconic, in my mind, of the West at this time of year.
    We had a nice day yesterday all the snow is NOW gone and we have another nice day to today. Tree Swallows are mobbing all the boxes and I have to think about getting my Purple Martin gourds up. Gardens next, it is a great time of year!!

    • Dick, I always enjoy seeing “perspective” shots that put another closeup into context. Glad you do too.

      I’m glad you’re finally having good weather – it’s been a long time coming!

  • Oh these birds! They are amazing. And your blog has become one of my refuges from news of the day. I’m so glad you share these photos!

  • Marty K

    That poor hawk! I agree with you, Patty. He looks absolutely miserable — and a little bewildered — as if he’s saying, “I flew all that way for THIS? Sheesh!” The meadowlark’s song is warm and sweet enough to melt the snow soon. 🙂

    Thanks for the perspective shot, Ron. What are the specs in the wide shot? Did you crop down from that or from a more “zoomed in” image? (Now everyone can tell I don’t really know anything about photography. 😉 )

    • Marty, that bird looked miserable through my lens, too – the entire time I watched it.

      That shot was taken at 85mm and cropped very little.

      • Marty K

        Thanks. I figured it was from one of the other cameras you tote with you and not either of the two longer lenses, but wasn’t sure.

  • Patty Chadwick

    That looks like one miserable looking hawk!!! The other is a perfect image of a Meadowlark…beak wide open, blasting the isr with its joyous-sounding song…love it!!!

  • Elmer Deloso

    Amazing as usual!

  • Charlotte Norton

    It’s challenging to shoot under these conditions, but you managed to get some remarkable shots Ron!

  • Judy Gusick

    Nice! Variable spring weather always catches some birds in a place they’d rather not be – Robins in particular seem to get caught here! We’ve had 2 spring storms in the last week – good moisture, BUT heavy wet snow no fun. Our trees aren’t leafed out yet so they’ve escaped though power lines were pushing the issue!

    • Judy, my cousin Teri Dudley who lives just outside of Bozeman said that she heard her first of year meadowlarks yesterday. Even MT spring must be just around the corner…

      • Dick Ashford

        Hi Ron,
        There is Spring in MT? We have friends in Missoula who say there are only two seasons – “Winter” and “visitors”.😀
        Thanks, as always, for sharing. Love those Swainsons Hawks…!