Swainson’s Hawks in Montana – And the chase is on

Swainson's Hawk in its first springSwainson’s Hawk sub-adult – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

I’ve just returned from spending six wonderful days photographing in western Montana, the weather was lovely, the scenery spectacular and the birds; as usual, were awesome including these two Swainson’s Hawks. On the last evening we came across two Swainson’s Hawks on the way back to the campsite, the sub-adult Swainson’s Hawk was chasing the adult while at the same time some people in a small pick up seemed to be chasing us to see what we were looking at. Using a vehicle as a mobile blind works great but having two vehicles in close proximity did make the hawks more skittish.

This sub-adult Swainson’s is on its way to getting its adult plumage but it isn’t quite there yet. Who knows, I may have photographed this bird on another trip to Montana after it fledged.

First spring Swainson's Hawk lifting offSub-adult Swainson’s Hawk lifting off – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The people in the small pickup were making it difficult to photograph the Swainson’s Hawks and they were making both of the hawks a bit nervous, the sub-adult bird had enough of it and took off flying to the south. I wish I would have had a bit more of a head turn towards me as the young hawk lifted off.

Perched adult Swainson's HawkPerched adult Swainson’s Hawk – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/800, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The adult Swainson’s perched on a post after the people in the pickup left and relaxed, it lifted one foot and may have spent the night perched there but in the distance I could see a huge truck rumbling towards us and I knew that the hawk would take off when it got closer so I took as many close up portraits of the bird before the approached.

Swainson's Hawk with blood from its meal on its bellySwainson’s Hawk with blood from its meal on its belly – Nikon D300, f8, 1/500, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

This adult Swainson’s Hawk still has some blood on its belly from its last meal. Unfortunately when the hawk lifted off from its perch I wasn’t able to maintain focus but I am still very pleased with the portrait images I was able to create.

In the days or weeks to come I will be posting more images from my six day journey in Montana. As usual I was exhausted but elated after spending time in the wilds of Montana!

Mia

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About Mia McPherson

I am a nature lover, wildlife watcher and a bird photographer. I first become serious about bird photography when I moved to Florida in 2004 and it wasn’t long before I was hooked (addicted is more like it). My move to the Salt Lake area of Utah was a great opportunity to continue observing their behavior and to pursue my passion for photographing birds.

18 Comments

  1. Beautiful chest feathers on the adult! Your trip sounds wonderful-can’t think of a better way to spend six days.

  2. Beautiful photos, Mia! I love the last photo!

  3. Montana seems to be the home of beautiful birds and silky smooth backgrounds. Wow!

  4. Gorgeous shots of one of my favorite hawks Mia! We don’t get to see them very often in California so I love seeing your exceptional images here. The first image of the adult on the post is my fave. Love that speckled white belly! Did you visit any National Wildlife Refuges on your Montana trip? There are 28 National Wildlife Refuges in Montana! If so, I can’t wait to get a report ;-)

    • Larry, Swainson’s Hawks are such handsome raptors. Thank you for your comment on these images.

      I knew Montana had more NWR’s than we do here in Utah, I didn’t realize that there were 28 of them!!

  5. beautifull portraits, i like the second picture, just before the take off, well done mia ☺

  6. I love the detail of their bellies and neck in the last two, don’t always see this part of the body that clearly. In one case, I saw a fellow walking down a path while a Swainson’s was swooping down from behind him,very close, within two feet, and repeated this a few times while the guy was walking,oblivious to this. There was a nest in the vicinity.

    • Jane, your story made me chuckle, I wonder what would have happened if Oblivious Guy turned and saw a large hawk swooping towards him! Thanks for your comment.

  7. This is a beautiful hawk! Great images!

  8. Mia, awesome shots of the Hawk! Montana is a beautiful place to visit and the wildlife is abundant. I am looking forward to seeing more of your photos.

  9. Very Envious of your time in the wilds of Montana!!
    Beautiful images in a beautiful ‘big sky’ country!
    Nicely done, looking forward to other images once you
    recoup from the trip.

    • Thank you Dick, the wilds of Montana are a balm to me, it refreshed and elates me at the same time. Getting home and unpacking, culling, organizing and getting caught up though is tiring!

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