No new species for a few days – lousy weather, haven’t been tempted to go looking and at this season there is a limited supply anyway – but the Pileated Woodpecker that I (sans camera) saw hammering a power pole up the road last week kindly visited the garden this morning to hammer even harder at a tree of ours that is not a particularly happy tree … which is why the woodpeckers like it. Even better he came when I had the camera in the room and available.
Suitably enthused, and today being relatively mild and actually with no precipitation after several days of just the opposite, I decided to do a tour of Ile-Perrot’s flat farmlands. I can’t help feeling that this year, of all years, there might be a Snowy Owl out there somewhere on the island – they are everywhere else, after all. Well, after diligent and lengthy searching I can tell you that if there is a Snowy then it was being terribly shy today but I did see a big hawk away across a field. Got the scope on it and could see that it was, indeed, a big hawk but it determinedly had its back to me and all I could see were some white marks on the folded wings of an otherwise all grey back and, curiously, a white mark on the back of its head. Grabbed some digiscoped record shots to check later and went off for more failed owling … though I did find many Rock Pigeons, a group of Euro-Starlings, an American Crow and a few DE Juncoes. Such exotica.
On the way back, I noticed that the hawk had moved to another tree and this time was showing its front but it was still a long, long way away. Carefully pulled onto the icy plough strip by the road, being careful not to slide into the icy ditch. Took some more very distant photos but this time I could see what the bird was. For a start, the white patch on its head was only the result of the wind lifting feathers to fool me – which was a relief as I mean there aren’t any hawks with white backs to their heads in this part of the world. Anyway, pale chest with band of brown streaking on the belly, yellow feet, dark head, some white on the primary feathers showing from the rear when wings folded. Underside of tail appeared pale but when the bird finally flew (away, of course) there was a glimpse of red on the upper side of the tail … so a youngish Red-tailed Hawk. Already a species that has been ticked for the year within the circle, but nice to spend some time with.
Always hard to determine size when there is nothing nearby to use as a reference so my first impressions were that it was a good big bigger than it probably was in reality.
Photographic note – the big DSLR camera with its 400mm lens was simply not up to this distance so I resorted to camera-2 and the spotting scope combination and digiscoped these photos of the hawk. There was a bit of wind and to get much at all I had to zoom the scope up to 50x so vibration was a problem … or it would have been without my $8 Chinese electronic shutter release without which $6000-worth of optics would have been producing just a blurry mess had I tripped the shutter by hand. Thank you China. If nothing else I am gaining confidence with the equipment this winter and learning a lot about technique. The scope + camera at 20x (recommended) is equivalent to about a 3000mm camera lens ( a lens which does not exist and nobody could afford – or carry – if it did) and pushed to 50X is above twice that (really not recommended unless desperate).
I still hope there’s a Snowy out there – just have to find it.