Fall for Raptors

I’ve been seeing a large number of raptors lately, from American Kestrels to Bald Eagles. This past Wednesday, I drove around looking for raptors and enjoying the colours of fall. The day was very overcast and cool, but I saw some top-quality birds!

This American Kestrel had been hunting around our house for the past few days, finally perching long enough for me to get a photo. The photos are not the best quality, but I love the colours of the kestrel and the trees behind it,IMG_9757IMG_9755

I barely got out of the truck, opting to park on the side of the road most of the time. I live in an area where the county roads have a good deal of traffic at harvest time — combines, swathers, grain trucks, pickup trucks going to town for parts. But the roads are quiet on rainy days when farmers are at home waiting for the fields and grain to dry.

Whether rural roads are quiet or busy, I always park in as much of the ditch as I can when birding with a vehicle, and I never park on the crest of the hill. If I’m driving and see a bird sitting close to the road, I check the rearview mirror to make sure it’s safe to pull over.

Our neighbours often stop to check on me when I’m watching something from the truck, just to make sure I’m not having any trouble. Everyone knows by now that I’m birding/photographing birds, but it’s a very nice gesture and I appreciate the stop very much.

I love birding by vehicle because you can get fairly close to some birds. Ducks and geese are very cautious at this time of year, so watching birds from the truck gives me more of a chance to look at them. I took our new truck as it’s very quiet, excellent on fuel, and has ample room for my scope, two cameras, and binoculars in the front seat.

A Blue-winged Teal,IMG_9761

This summer, the American White Pelicans frequented the slough (pond) across the road. There was only one this time, accompanied by Black-bellied Plovers, Long-billed Dowitchers, Killdeer, Lesser Yellowlegs, Mallards, Gadwalls, teals, Northern Shovelers, an adult Bald Eagle; Snow, Greater White-fronted, and Canada Geese; Ring-billed Gulls, and Sandhill Cranes.

The American White Pelican and a Ring-billed Gull,IMG_9763

In the willows along the road were White-crowned, White-throated, and Clay-coloured Sparrows, American Goldfinches, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The birds were very difficult to photograph as they stayed hidden in the branches, like this White-crowned Sparrow,IMG_9774

I left the slough and headed north. A Blue Jay flew out of a neighbour’s yard and there was a Northern Goshawk sitting in a dead tree just up the hill. I was disappointed I didn’t get a photo of the goshawk, but just then, a Great-horned Owl landed in the tree in front of me.

The owl was uncomfortable with my presence so it took off. Fortunately, it landed nearby in the slough just off the road.

The Great-horned Owl flying away,IMG_9775

I quietly got out of the truck and snuck around the slough and got these photos — my best yet of the species!IMG_9782IMG_9784

After five minutes, the owl flew away, scaring a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs on take off,IMG_9789

The most interesting sighting of the afternoon was a Eurasian-collared Dove that flew out of the willows. At first, I though the dove was a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but then it came into view. I’ve never seen this species before, but their range is moving northward in Alberta so I might be seeing more of theses doves in the future.IMG_9791

The migrating geese enjoy feeding on the combined grain fields. I spent 15 minutes taking pictures with my new camera,DSC_0782DSC_0798

The building on the hill is Chatsworth School, a one-room school house between 1917 – 1953 for all the children in the area,DSC_0816DSC_0817

Playing with the exposure a little bit,DSC_0821

The sun was shining through the clouds,DSC_0829

After an hour and a half, I started heading back home and was passing by our wheat field. On a six-acre section of the field, we’re growing Red Fife Wheat, the oldest variety of wheat in Canada, originally from the Ukraine. This Red-tailed Hawk was sitting in the poplars along the field and there was a Merlin on a fence post.

Red-tailed Hawk,IMG_9803

I took these photos of the Merlin with my Nikon D610 with the 70-200mm lens. I cropped them just a bit,


All the raptor species I saw on my drive: American Kestrel, Bald Eagle, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Goshawk, Great-horned Owl, Merlin, Red-tailed Hawk, and Northern Harrier.

Book Review: “The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors”

CrossleyRaptorsWhen I heard sometime last year that a new Crossley ID guide was coming out in April, I was very excited, and even more happy to learn that it was a Raptor ID guide. I was hoping to win The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan (Princeton University Press, April 2013) through the Princeton University Press contest in March, but then last month, my mom surprised me with the guide she had ordered through Amazon back in January. I’ve been able to read through the guide and it’s wonderful!

Raptor experts and co-authors Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan have teamed up to create a great raptor guide filled with hundreds of colour photographs and very helpful text. Jerry Liguori, who is a photographer as well, has written two previous books on hawks — Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight (Princeton University Press, 2005) and Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors (Princeton University Press, 2011). Mr. Liguori has a great website — be sure to see his amazing photographs of raptors and other birds.

Brian Sullivan is the Project Leader for eBird, and photo editor for both the Cornell Lab’s Birds of North America Online, and for the ABA journal, North American Birds. Mr. Sullivan is also a co-author of the forthcoming Princeton Guide to North American Birds.

The raptor guide follows the same principle as previous books by Richard Crossley — that of pattern recognition or gestalt, instead of field marks.  I wrote a bit on that principle back in March in my review of Mr. Crossley’s Shorebird Guide. The raptor ID guide includes 101 color plates of all 34 species of diurnal raptors that regularly breed in Canada and the United States. And almost half of the book is filled with the species accounts and excellent range maps.

And just as in The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds, the photographs are very good, and the backgrounds and the amount of information are great. Even for advanced birders, raptors can be a tricky bunch of species to identify, and there are times when one can watch a raptor at a great distance or just see a silhouette without being certain about the species. So the plates, each with a variety of the same species at different angles and ages and in varying poses, are incredibly useful.

The first part of the book (more than half) is specific species plates, with each species getting at least one two-page spread; at the end of that section, there are also some multi-species plates, for a total of 101 plates. There are also a few multiple “mystery photo images” featuring a variety of unidentified species for readers to practice with (answers are at the back of the book). The second, smaller, part of the book includes detailed species accounts and range maps.

You would think with all the colored plates that the guide would be heavier and thicker, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it’s actually quite light and portable; the weight is helped by the binding, which is paper flexibound (turtleback) instead of a heavier hardover. If you’re planning a trip and you’re specifically going to watch raptors, this guide definitely deserves a place in your backpack or bag. I highly recommend this field guide!

You can buy it from your favorite bookseller or Amazon.com.

The  American Kestrel plate is my favorite from the new guide,


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I thought I would just mention that Princeton University Press has some excellent titles on birds and nature: the Crossley guides and hawk books by Jerry Liguori mentioned above, and The Unfeathered Bird (which I just received and hope to review soon). If you are interested in some of their other books, you can find them in PUP’s “Birds and Natural History 2012” catalogue, available here as a PDF.