Saturday, January 18, 2014

More Macro Birding: Looking for the Big Birds

Winter time is prime time for what I call macro birding. It's when I cover large areas in a short period of time looking for large birds. I find it relaxing and rejuvenating to cruise rural roads and highways looking for hawks and whatever else might be presented by nature. I can forget about daily responsibilities and get space from the traffic of daily interstate commutes. There is no doubt that I'm missing the micro birds when I macro bird. I'm okay with that because I love looking for the birds of prey during the winter months when it's relatively easy to locate them. It's also the time of year when we get northern birds of prey such as Bald Eagle, Merlin, and Rough-legged Hawk.  Winter raptor prowling allows me to hone my skills for identifying species, age, and sometimes the sex of a bird from a distance and/or while they fly. The many hours of micro birding I do during spring, summer, and fall hone my skills for spotting and picking out some of the more distant raptors and hidden owls during the winter months. I get a kick out of hearing a common question that comes from my non-birding friends after I point out a distant raptor or hidden owl. It's almost always the same question asked in utter amazement, "How the heck did you see that?"

This morning I decided to do more macro birding at the southern end of Utah County. I was able to see the following birds of prey during the morning as I covered over 100 miles:

Great Horned Owl (a breeding pair that I saw in the same location last winter)
Golden Eagle
Bald Eagle (including juveniles and adults)
Western Red-tailed Hawk (light and dark morphs)
Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk (dark morph)
Ferruginous Hawk (all four were beautiful adult light morphs)
Rough-legged Hawk (one beautiful adult dark morph and numerous light morphs from juvenile to adult)
American Kestrel (these are a dime a  dozen in Utah)
Prairie Falcon (three separate individuals)

I was surprised I didn't see a Merlin or either of the typical accipiters (Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks), but that is how birding goes sometimes.

Most of the birds I saw along the road were skittish and took flight as soon as I pulled over to get a photograph, but I did manage a few images from my macro birding this morning. The first was what I believe is a second-year Bald Eagle.

Young (probably 2nd year) Bald Eagle in Goshen, UT
I didn't take photos of the Great Horned Owl pair today, but here are images from when I found them with a friend last winter in the very same location.

One of my favorite hawks to see is an adult light-morph Ferruginous Hawk. I love the clean look of the underside of these birds and was able to capture one image this morning that illustrates the clean look. The top side is quite colorful compared to the under side so I'll share an image of the top side of an adult light-morph Ferruginous Hawk I captured recently in southern Utah.

Adult Light-morph Ferruginous Hawk Near Elberta, UT
Adult Light-morph Ferruginous Hawk Near Santa Clara, UT
As I was making my way home along SR 68 on the west side of Utah Lake I noticed a small white dot on the top of a low cliff edge. At first it seemed like it could have been some sort of trash discarded by someone. I decided to pull over and check it out with my binoculars. It turned out to be my third Prairie Falcon of the day. It was hunkered down and looking over the valley toward the lake. I made a short hike toward the bird in hopes of getting a photo. I saw it change its posture from relaxed and hunkered down to more alert. I prepared for it to fly and hoped it would fly in my direction. It looped close enough to get some decent images. I could see that its crop was bulging. It probably just enjoyed a meal of one of the micro bird species I had been overlooking for the morning, a Horned Lark.

Prairie Falcon Near Saratoga Springs, UT
Prairie Falcon Near Saratoga Springs, UT


  1. Great shots Jeff. The GHO pics are amazing!! Josh and I were down that way today too. Nno Prairie Falcons for us but lots of Golden's!

    1. Thanks, Jonathan. I'm sorry we didn't see each other. We'll have to get out together soon.