Red-tailed Hawk on the red rocks of the Centennial Valley – Finally!

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Finally! A bird on the red rocks!Finally! A bird on the red rocks! – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 640, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Since my first visit to the Centennial Valley of Montana on June 18, 2010 I have wanted to photograph a bird; preferably a raptor, on the reddish orange lichen covered rocks found throughout the valley. On this last trip that finally happened!

Red-tailed Hawk - I waited for this!Red-tailed Hawk – I waited for this! – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

On Wednesday morning as we headed west through the valley I spotted this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk resting on a lichen covered rock close to the road, we had nearly passed it and needed to back up to get a good angle and light. The problem was that another vehicle was coming towards us and we thought the bird would fly away before we got the chance to photograph it. Once the pickup passed the young hawk we were ready to move slowly into position and wouldn’t you know it  another pick up hauling a trailer crested the hill to the east and we sat there holding our breath as it passed the very tolerant Red-tailed. It didn’t fly even with all that traffic near it!!

A very calm Red-tailed Hawk juvenileA very calm Red-tailed Hawk juvenile – Nikon D300, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The immature Red-tailed Hawk didn’t show a single sign of alarm as we moved into a good location to photograph it although there were a few cows close by that had gotten out of the fences pastures and were moving towards us grazing on the roadside grasses and mooing very loudly, I guess they thought we had some food for them. Our focus though was on this handsome young raptor. You can see a bit of left over food on the hawk’s bill.

Such a serious looking juvenile Red-tailedSuch a serious looking juvenile Red-tailed – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 250, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The bellowing cows drowned out any chance we had of hearing Elk trumpeting in the Centennial Mountains to the south but the young Buteo calmly surveyed the area around it as our camera shutter buttons clicked away. I bumped my ISO down to capture more fine detail in the plumage and the rock. I don’t think I have been close to many Red-tailed Hawks that were as tolerant of humans than this one was.

Red-tailed juvenile fluffed up because of cows that are close byRed-tailed juvenile fluffed up because of cows that are close by – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 250, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 357mm, natural light, not baited

Then I realized that the hawk’s crop was full (you can just make that out in this frame) and it was sitting on the rock digesting its food which may have accounted for some of its tolerance. It must have caught its breakfast not long after the sun came up because it was still early when I photographed it.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk surrounded by cowsJuvenile Red-tailed Hawk surrounded by cows – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 250, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

Even as the cows came closer the young Buteo just stayed perched on the rock although one time it fluttered its wings as if it were going to lift off and then settled back down again. In this frame you can see one of the cows in the background that had walked within less than 20 feet past the Red-tailed Hawk. I don’t think I have ever seen a Red-tailed so at ease around cattle.

Juvenile Red-tailedJuvenile Red-tailed – Nikon D300, f11, 1/300, ISO 250, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

The plumage on this Red-tailed was so lovely, crisp and clean, unlike some of the adult Red-tailed Hawks I saw that were in the process of molting. In this frame the cattle were getting what may have been a little too close to the young Red-tailed, it fluffed up and showed signs that it might lift off. Mind you at this point the bellowing cattle were loud and very annoying even to us.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk on a lichen covered rockJuvenile Red-tailed Hawk on a lichen covered rock – Nikon D300, f7.1, 1/500, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

When the hawk lifted off it had its back to us and oddly enough one of the calves took off and started to chase the hawk, it was a very strange sight. The hawk landed on another lichen covered rock just briefly before the cattle annoyed it once again…

Back view of the juvenile Red-tailed HawkBack view of the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk – Nikon D300, f8, 1/500, ISO 400, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 200-400mm VR with 1.4x TC at 400mm, natural light, not baited

And flew up to the top of a fence post and watched the cattle pass by. It felt magical to be in this young raptors presence and to finally create the images I had formed in my mind years before. I hope it doesn’t take another 4 summers to get more of them!

It was a wonderful trip up to Montana but it was cut short because of bad weather moving in and with bad weather comes poor light so reluctantly we decided to leave. The last trip to Montana each year is bittersweet because it will be months before I see the Centennial Valley, the Centennial and Beaverhead Mountains and the amazing nature that the area contains again.  Still, we had two full days of shooting and as always Montana delighted and enchanted me.

Mia

14 Comments

  1. Omnitrigger September 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Great series of photos! I enjoyed them very much.

  2. Julie Brown September 15, 2013 at 5:53 am

    What a gorgeous bird, Mia! The combination of chocolate-brown and white is so pretty. The rock is a bonus-so much detail. How wonderful for you to be able to spend time with so many magnificent species.

  3. Hummingbirdlover September 14, 2013 at 8:10 am

    I so love all your photo’s! This group of wonderful shots take a persons breath away! I miss living in the country where you can see so many of the beautiful critters God created. Have a good week of pictures.

  4. Sonja Ross September 14, 2013 at 4:37 am

    Hi Mia, I tried to leave a comment on your White-crowned Sparrow post but when I click on comments, it opens and says “What you are looking for isn’t here”. It’s a lovely bird anyway, one that I was looking at in the field guide last night, and thinking “What a great looking Sparrow” so specially nice to see it in the flesh.

  5. Sonja Ross September 14, 2013 at 12:24 am

    A lovely series. I like the way the red lichen compliments the colours of the bird.

  6. Wally September 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    What a great opportunity! That lichen certainly compliments the hawk’s beautiful plumage. Amazing series considering all the challenges!

  7. Montanagirl September 13, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Fabulous photos as always! I enjoy reading your narratives.

  8. Elephant's Child September 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am wondering whether a full crop had something to do with this gorgeous bird’s calm demeanour.

  9. Merrill Ann Gonzales September 13, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    Pure enjoyment! What a gift you have given us today! So many thanks I can’t count them!!!!!

  10. Loekie van der Wal September 13, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Awesome pictures Mia and happy for you that the bird stayed on this rock for a long time, so you could take many pictures. 🙂

  11. Cheryl Valdez September 13, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Great pictures and an amazingly cooperative subject! Beautiful valley. Took our first trip there this year thanks to your posts. We’re headed for Yellowstone today. Hope we get at least some decent weather.

  12. Jerry Liguori September 13, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous!!!!!

  13. patty chadwick September 13, 2013 at 7:43 am

    Wonderful shots…interesting comments.

  14. judy watson September 13, 2013 at 6:35 am

    Just beautiful!!

Comments are closed.