Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yellowstone Raptors

With an army of ground squirrels, chipmunk, pika, marmots and other rodents as well as lakes, rivers and streams filled with fish, Yellowstone is a paradise, as well as home, to many raptors. On our trip this year we spotted 7 different types of raptors.
A common raptor around Yellowstone, as well as most of North America, is the red-tailed hawk. Most of the time you can see red-tails perched in trees surveying the fields for rodents. On Monday night, as we were heading home from taking pictures of the wolf, we spotted this red-tail perched on the side of a small cliff. We almost missed it since we are not used to seeing them perched on the ground.
We caught this male kestrel out in Lamar Valley not far from the Lamar River. Kestrels are one of the few raptors in which you can distinguish between the sexes by their coloration. They are usually seen around fields, often hovering in place, looking for mice and insects. It is believed that they can see into the ultra violet spectrum, which enables them to follow the urine trails that mice leave so that they can find their way home. I spotted this kestrel on a dead tree not far off the road. I stopped at a nearby pull out and walked back. Unfortunately there was a rock ledge that rose up from the hill that was blocking my vantage point of the tree until I was almost even with it. I was able to stand on my tip toes and get off a not so great pic before he took off. I kept walking around the ledge to try and see where he was flying off to when he flew to this spot almost directly in front of me, where I got the pic above. This is the first good kestrel pic I have where the kestrel is not perched on a wire.
On Friday, our last full day in the park, we were driving across Blacktail Deer Plateau on our way out to Lamar when Michelle spotted this bird perched in a lone tree out in the field. At first she thought it was a kestrel, it was quite a bit further away then in the picture above, but I could tell by the size that it was not a kestrel. It was pretty obvious that it was a type of falcon and with the terrain and its lack of bold color I guessed that it was a prairie falcon. My guess was right on. We were both pretty excited because neither of us had seen a prairie falcon before and there are not many North American raptors that are not yet on our life list.
We saw some other raptors also, like both types of eagles, Bald eagle and golden eagle. We also saw some northern harrier gliding low over the field, but we did not get any good pics, and osprey. Unfortunately the osprey nest that I photographed last year was abandon this year, which was too bad because it was situated such that you could stand on the hillside and be almost even with the nest. We did see a couple of other osprey nests but they were too far away to get any descent shots.

7 comments:

Shellmo said...

I love the colors of the kestrel - beautiful photos!

John said...

Beautiful kestrel! I hadn't noticed a kestrel with a golden crown before. Is that a western feature?

troutbirder said...

prairie falcon... now that's something special

Ecobirder said...

Thanks Shellmo I think that this is my best kestrel pic. Good eye John, I did not even notice that. I will need to look into it further and then let you know. Troutbirder we sure thought that it was special, although people who live around Yellowstone may think that they are ordinary but they would go nuts over a northern cardinal. It's all relevant.

Mary C said...

I'm visiting via I and the Bird. Those are beautiful photos of the raptors you saw in Yellowstone. I love how the detail of their plumage shows through.

Larry Jordan said...

Hi Ecobirder,
Great post and photos. I am a BIG fan of bird photos and I really love the Kestrel. I am lucky enough to be friends with a gentleman who monitors 78 American Kestrel nestboxes in Central California and I have been able to see them close up. They are gorgeous birds and the males do have a light brown "cap" on the top of their heads. Keep up the good work!

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