Hatch Year Black-billed Magpies At Takeoff

Magpies along with many other birds have been relatively scarce on Antelope Island since the wildfire in July so I was happy to find a group of a half-dozen birds near one of the campgrounds three days ago. And two of them were even somewhat cooperative.



1/3200, f/7.1, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

Both were hatch year birds that haven’t completed their molt so they still look a little scruffy, particularly around the head and neck. We can still see pin feathers below the neck of this bird. At this stage they’re not as sleek and attractive as they will be soon but for me that’s no reason to ignore them as photographic subjects. In this shot I like the wing position, hanging feet and clean background.




1/4000, f/6.3, ISO 640, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + EF 1.4 III Extender, not baited, set up or called in

Even juveniles show iridescence when you’re lucky enough to get just the right light angle on the bird and I think the curved tail on this youngster enhances that effect. I also enjoy the bicolored background.

We have stormy weather coming in and I’m hoping the front brings some birds with it because the island has seemed very lonely since the fire. A little rain wouldn’t hurt either – at this rate it won’t be long until there’s nothing but dry mudflats surrounding the island.




An Extremely Tolerant Red-tailed Hawk (+ a photo of mine in Audubon Magazine)

Some Red-tailed Hawks become quite tolerant of human activities but for me this one stood out.


red-tailed-hawk-3786b-ron-dudley1/3200, 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

I photographed the young bird last week near the continental divide between Montana and Idaho as it hunted from a fence post. One of the things I enjoy about photographing birds in this area is the vast wide-open spaces in wild country that often allow me to get bird images that don’t include unnatural elements – signs of the “hand of man”. But Red-tailed Hawks are “sit and wait” hunters that prefer to sit on elevated perches like fence posts and power poles and that tendency often stymies my efforts for natural images. But I’ve learned to tolerate fence posts in my images because of the relatively low angle and there’s less chance of getting obtrusive wires in my photos than there is with power poles.

But there’s something else unnatural in the image – those two horizontal darker lines going through the image at top and bottom. Any guesses as to what they are?




1/2000, 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

They’re the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 15!

This bird was hunting amazingly close to the freeway and even though there’s little traffic that time of morning (often a full minute or two goes by between vehicles) this bird wasn’t even phased by the occasional noisy truck. In this case it’s an 18-wheeler traveling at 75 mph (they all go that fast or faster in this area) so it made a lot of noise but the bird paid it no attention.

But you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! This big rig was in the far southbound lane…




1/1250, 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

but the hawk didn’t even flinch when one of these huge noisy trucks came by in the closer northbound lane. The noise, commotion and air blast when one or more of these big rigs comes by are intense and I was surprised the hawk was willing to put up with it at such close proximity. I know I wouldn’t be able to (I was significantly further away and shooting with a super-telephoto lens).

Photographers might want to take note of the fairly dramatic drop in shutter speed in the last two images as more and more of the background became dominated by the dark truck tires and shadows. That’s just one of those things that happens when you shoot in aperture priority.

I figure there’s several reasons why this bird was so tolerant:

  • the hawk was a juvenile and young birds are less skittish than adults
  • Red-tailed Hawks are more tolerant than many other buteo species just by the nature of the bird
  • the fence post provided an elevated hunting perch and the post was close to the freeway
  • red-tails hunt where there’s prey and there must have been plenty of voles this close to the road

In this human-dominated world species that can adapt to the presence of man tend to thrive (house sparrows, starlings, foxes, coyotes, skunks and many others come to mind) while those that cannot adapt tend to end up on endangered or threatened species lists.

I’m glad that Red-tailed Hawks are in the former group because they seem to be holding their own.


PS – I can’t resist sharing one of my images of a Rough-legged Hawk that has been published in the current issue of Audubon Magazine. It’s one of my favorite raptor photos largely because I love the bird’s in-flight posture. The image illustrates an article that provides tips for photographing raptors in flight. I’m not sure I agree with all of those tips but then bird photographers are notorious for having their own ways of doing things…