Raptors ‘R’ Us – Part I


A cold Tuesday morning here in San Angelo as I begin writing this post.  We had below freezing temps and freezing rain overnight.  A hot drink type of day.  So, I am sitting here,  cussing and discussing in my mind what to write about.  I believe that since I recently wrote a post about the tiny, cute birds, I will focus on the big guys this time.  The raptors that are found in Texas. I think I will do this in two parts, as I found going through my images, that there are quite a few of these species.

In my mind, the word raptor conjures up images of large flying creatures with fiery eyes, giant claws and smoke coming out of their noses.  Of course, in reality, that is not so.  Many of them are very small birds and quite cute.  I may be questioned about this, but my definition of raptors is any bird that is aggressive in it’s hunt for live prey.  Take the innocent looking Loggerhead Shrike.  He may have that Lone Ranger mask, but trust me, he is not looking to save the pretty girl and ride off into the sunset.  He has the heart of a killer.  He catches his prey and impales them on sharp cactus spines or the barbs of a barbed wire.

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Loggerhead Shrike

But let’s begin with the largest birds.  The eagles, i.e. the Golden Eagle and the Bald Eagle.

Out here in west Texas, eagles are scarce so I don’t get many opportunities to photograph them.  But I did get lucky, getting my very first Golden Eagle.  We were on a recent trip to the Davis Mountains.  We were given a tip that if we drove the highway 505 from the Davis Mountains south towards Valentine, Texas, there might be some of those eagles along there.  Sure enough, we had gone only a couple of miles along that road and we came upon a Golden Eagle munching on some roadkill.  It took me by surprise and the eagle was equally surprised.  It took off and headed for a fence post, only about a hundred feet from me.  I immediately stopped the car.  I was shaking and in a sweat, and I scrambled to get my camera lens on him.  I couldn’t believe my luck, as I sat there clicking away and getting several exposures before he took off.  I had never been this close to one of these gorgeous birds.  But alas, in my excitement, I forgot to check my camera settings and I came away with some over-exposed images.  I could only try to salvage what I could out of them.  Here is what I got.

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Golden Eagle

Here is a photo of a juvenile Golden Eagle that I photographed back in about 2008 when I was visiting relatives in Michigan.  It was about 40 feet up in an evergreen tree.  I had to set up my tripod about a half block away to get an angle from where I could shoot and capture the image with my Canon 500mm f4 lens.  He was a young bird, and was scrambling around the nest, just getting ready to fledge.

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Golden Eagle, juvenile

There was a pair of Bald Eagles that nested along the highway near Llano, Texas.  We decided to take a drive down there to check them out several years ago.  It was a very cold morning, but there were several other photographers there toughing it out.  We were impressing each other with our big lens set-ups.  The eagles were quite far away, but I manage to get a few shots, including this image of one of the pair leaving the nest.

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Bald Eagle leeving the nest.

The only other time I had a chance to photograph a Bald Eagle was on a trip to Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.  What a wonderful place that is.  All types of birds, waterfowl, raptors, etc.  Anyway, I liked this photo of a Bald Eagle that I captured.  He was far off and had his back to me.

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Bald Eagle

At one point, we were observing some Northern Shovelers swing along in some wetlands of the Bosque, when a Red-tailed Hawk tried to pounce on one of them.  From out of nowhere, a Bald Eagle swooped down and grabbed the duck away from the much surprised hawk.

Moving right along here, let’s talk about the Common Black-Hawk.  It is also a large hawk that summers in some isolated spots of west Texas.  I found this one in Big Bend National Park.  Apparently, there is a pair that returns annually and nests near the Rio Grand Village RV park.  The National Park Service knows of the nest, and has the area marked off to keep people from getting too close.  With my long lens, of course, I had no problem.

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Common Black-Hawk

How about this Zone-tailed Hawk.  It is very similar to the Common Black-Hawk.  The Zone-tailed Hawk, however, likes to hang with the vultures.  The way it perches, flies, and feeds, it does look like he is emulating them.

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Zone-tailed Hawk

The predominant hawk in this area of west Texas is the Red-tailed Hawk.  It has many variations but one thing remains.  The tail is red on all of the adults.  It is the largest of the hawks here.  I have hundreds of photos of them as they are my favorite to photograph when I get the opportunity.  Here are a three of my favorite images.

I caught this one as he was in a screaming dive to catch either a rabbit or a smaller rodent.  I couldn’t tell for sure.  But he was intent on making the capture.

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Red-tailed Hawk

As you can see in the photo below of a juvenile, they are a very beautiful bird.

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Red-tailed Hawk, juvenile

This photo of an adult in flight shows you how intimidating they can be.

Red Tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

I think I will end this Part I of my raptor series right here.  Next post, Part II, will be about the Swainson’s, Cooper’s, Sharp-shinned hawks, and many more.  Watch for it soon.  I hope you have enjoyed these so far.

Happy Birding!!

The Bald Eagles of Llano


As a lot of people in central Texas are aware, there is has been a nesting pair of  Bald Eagles residing about seven miles outside of town annually for the last approximately eleven years or.  The traffic would get tied up frequently along the highway by people wanting to view then, so the Texas Highway Department graded an area along the road to allow parking.  It has been a popular spot through the years for bird watchers and photographers.

Earlier this year the huge nest was blown down in a storm.  Those nests are huge, weighing up to a ton, so that was quite a loss for the eagles.  So, the last report that I have, the pair have returned and are now building a new nest in the same area.  The average size of a nest is somewhere around 9 feet by 12 feet, and weighs over a ton.  By the way, the Bald Eagle usually mate for life, but if one dies, the other may look to find another mate.

I haven’t been down there for several years.  The first time was in February of 2008 when I got these photos.  I dug them out of my archives and reprocessed them.  The nest was about 300 yards from the viewing area.  I had my Canon 500mm f4 lens with a 1.4 teleconverter, making it a 700mm, and still the original images show the eagles as far in the distance.  Just a tiny spot  in the middle of the original photo.  So these pictures are drastically cropped.

I believe that the next three pictures were taken at the original nest.  First photo is the image before I cropped them.  Remember, this is how it looked through my 700mm lens.

Original view of Bald Eagle nest.

Original view of Bald Eagle nest.

Pair of Bald Eagles on nest.

Pair of Bald Eagles on nest in early morning sun.

Bald Eagle leaving nest.

Bald Eagle leaving nest.

Those were the only good photos that I could make good enough to post here.

We went back in October of 2008, and they were back and had built another nest, not far from the original.  Only one bird was on the nest then.  Again here is the original, followed by the cropped version.

Original Eagle on nest

Original Eagle on nest

You can see in the above photo the immense size of their nest.

Bald Eagle on nest

Bald Eagle on nest

That was the only photo that I have from that day that I considered not a throw-away.  By the way, I believe that it is this nest that was destroyed this year by the storm.

Llano is about 200 miles distant from here in San Angelo, so I don’t get down there very often.  But they are the closest opportunity that I have to see a Bald Eagle.

With my new Canon EOS 7D Mark II and my Tamron 150-600mm lens, I feel that I may get some nice images if I can get back down there.  We will see.