On the Road is a weekday feature spotlighting reader photo submissions.
From the exotic to the familiar, whether you’re traveling or in your own backyard, we would love to see the world through your eyes.
On the Road: Week of Feb 15 (5 am)
Albatrossity – Winter in Flyover Country #5
Gin & Tonic – Stockholm #1
?BillinGlendaleCA – Year of the Ox (Huntington)
UncleEbeneezer – Southeast Asia Valentines (Part 1): An Lam, Saigon River
TheOtherHank – Raptors
? And now, back to Albatrossity!
Looks like I have at least one more post in this series of winter birds in flyover country, since it is still winter, and then some! As I write this, the forecast for the next week looks distinctly unpleasant, as a fickle finger of frostbite has penetrated the polar vortex, and is poking into the Great Plains right now. Apparently it plans to stay here for a while. So I doubt I will get out much for photography in the next week: highs in the teens, lows below zero, and windchills that remind you how nice it is to be indoors.
A while back we had an interesting morning of hoarfrost on the upland prairies here. Hoarfrost is basically the frozen equivalent of dew. Water vapor in the air is deposited on surfaces that are cooled below freezing, skipping the water droplet stage and going directly to ice. Depending on the relative humidity and the speed of cooling, it can be quite spectacular. It seems that our upland prairies were in the clouds that morning, since there was no hoarfrost down in the river and creek bottoms. This is one of the vistas that greeted me as I drove up and out of the Kansas River valley town where I live.
More hoarfrost along a fenceline.
This is my favorite picture from that morning, but that might be because of what it means to me. The Flint Hills, where I live, have never been plowed because the soil is too thin, overlaying rocks that are usually only 1-3 inches below the surface. Nevertheless the grasses find purchase in that thin soil and send down amazing root systems to get to the groundwater below. On a hoarfrosty morning this scene lays bare all that things that make the Flint Hills special.
Some birds were out and about that morning as well. Here is a charming female Merlin of the paler prairie (Falco columbarius richardsonii) subspecies, perched on a frosty wire.
Spring is on the way, however. The Bald Eagles (Haliæetus leucocephalus) have started working on their nest redecoration projects, and some other pairs are even incubating eggs already. This large nest, photographed from several hundred yards away, has been occupied for at least the past 6 seasons, and it looks like young eagles can be expected there sometime within the next couple of months.
Rough-legged Hawks (Buteo lagopus) continue to be plentiful here, unlike some years. That might be due to a combination of factors, including a hefty rodent population here this year and/or fewer rodents in the prairie states north of us. This handsome dusky male found an old farm implement to perch on for his portrait.
Another male Rough-legged Hawk, but a lot more pale than the one above. He was hunting over some CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) grasslands, and came over to check me out when I got out of the car to photograph him. A video of this bird hovering, which is a standard hunting technique for this species, can be found here.
Red-shouldered Hawks (Buteo lineatus) are familiar to folks east and west of here, but have really only been making incursions into the plains in the last couple of decades. Now they are common birds, year-round, and this youngster probably hatched out right here in Kansas.
Finally, a couple of Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis). This bird is a candidate for “Red-tailed Hawk with the darkest bellyband and whitest chest” award this year. She is a representative of the northern (abieticola) subspecies, and a fine representative for sure.
This light-morph Harlan’s Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis harlani) has the prettiest and funkiest tail colors and patterns I have ever seen. And I’ve seen a lot of them. I want a t-shirt with this pattern!
Thank you. I love the birds in flight photos and marvel at your ability to distinguish between morphs and ages of hawks.
The best hoarfrost I’ve ever seen was on a winter float trip on the Meramec River. It was also the coldest winter float I’ve ever endured. My boots froze to the bottom of the canoe and I almost fell on my face when I stood up to get out of the boat. We didn’t have a thermometer but the lows that night hit -12 F in STL, so probably -17 or lower in the river valley. When we got up in the morning everything was covered in a 1/2″ or more of hoarfrost. Ice had grown out from the banks and the river itself was full of what I called slush bergs, a foot or better in thickness. The sound of them flowing downstream, scraping by the ice along the banks was a little frightening. The ice in the water gave the river a vibrant shade of turquoise I had never seen before or since.
That morning was one of the most magical of my life. I took pictures of course (Kodachrome, probably 64) but my ex threw out all my slides post separation, or maybe traded them for an 8 ball. Either way they are long gone. So too are Ken and Tim, my partners in crime that night. That morning is now just a fading memory in my head, soon enough to go the way of all such things.
Brr. These are lovely hawks and Kansas has made it onto my bucket list. Stay safe and warm, jackals. The rolling blackouts in Texas are worrisome.
Never thought I’d want to visit Kansas, but I do now.
Is it just me, or do the last guy’s feet look like three prong electrica plugs?
You capture the atmosphere so well. As a hobbyist who started studying composition in the last 3 years, I’m learning from your posts!
@OzarkHillbilly: Wonderful description of what sounds like it was indeed a magical event. Thanks for sharing that!
@Mary G: Indeed. It is -12F outside Casa de Albatrossity as I write this, and predictions are for even lower temps tomorrow . There are legions of robins and waxwings slurping down water from the birdbath. One more night for them to endure, and then we should start to slowly warm up. Hope they all make it, but I suspect my hopes will not be met.
Beautiful frost photos
Very nice. For some reason I enjoy how their little feetsies grip those wires!
A wonderful set as always, Albatrossity! I never particularly wanted to visit Kansas before, but now I think about a road trip through the plains, in the car that I don’t own yet, when we can go places again.
That red-tailed hawk is especially gorgeous.
I have been photographing flying bald eagles and hawks and I have to ask, how close do you get to those birds, and do you have to crop the photos?
Also if you wouldn’t mind, ISO, shutter speeds, aperture info?
Could add that I have the February Merlin looking at me from the calendar.
And looks like the thread is dead. Oh well.
Was just out filling the bird baths. Cold but quiet.
That last one is fun, and yes, the tail feathers are beautiful.
But my fave is the second one, probably because I have a thing for lines and pathways going into the distance. Besides the beauty of the frost, there’s also the way the land and sky merge at the horizon so you can barely tell where it actually happens. It’s like a dim, snowy day, when it doesn’t go from light to dark at the end of the day, it just gets thicker somehow.
Marvelous. Love the cover photo.
@pat: My usual distance from the bird is highly variable. As noted, the eagles on their nest were photographed from a few hundred yards away. But that in-flight shot of a Rough-legged Hawk was from 40-50 ft, as that bird came over to check me out when I got out of the car to admire him. And most are cropped to some extent, for composition purposes as well as bird portrait purposes.
I have a setting for birds in flight as one of the custom settings on the camera body. 1/2000 sec; f/stop is variable because I’m using a zoom lens and auto ISO, but usually f/7.1 or 8. Focal length also variable, but usually 600-800 mm; 800 is the top end of this particular zoom. For the eagle nest shot, I added a 1.4x teleconverter and shot at maximum zoom, which works out to 1120 mm. But since those birds were not moving, the shutter speed was at 1/500 and the rig was resting on a sturdy beanbag to stabilize it at that high magnification.
Thank you. I don’t have quite the equipment you do (Canon 400mm +1.4x), sturdy tripod). I’ll have to experiment a bit.
One of the problems I have is just getting the darned things in the viewfinder and in the focus spot. When it warms up a bit I’ll go back looking for that Golden Eagle and Red-tailed Hawk and experiment a bit with camera settings.
@pat: You can get good at shooting birds in flight with that rig; I have a friend who does that with a Canon 500mm and teleconverter. But he has years of practice! So good luck, keep practicing, and stay warm!
I saw what I think was a red-tailed hawk while hiking on Saturday. It was riding the air currents over the middle of a canyon, and we were hiking on the ridge, so it was nearly at our level. It would glide for a bit, then do little flaps to stay in one place for a minute while it wanted to check something out. It was neat to see it hover. (It was also a bit too far away for my small zoom to bother with trying to take a picture of it – and trying to get my old Olympus to focus on it.)
Love your pictures as always, they are amazing. I watched the hover video and that is also very cool. I imagine they don’t do that for very long given how much energy it takes.
Wonderful images! I’m always impressed by folks that can get these type of bird shots for their patience.
Nice photos as always and good to hear a bit about your gear. Now I don’t feel quite so bad about the crappy shots I take with a 75ish – 300 mm lens. One of the hardest things is to find them in the lens when they are flying and usually I don’t get more than a couple of shots.
Do you get ice fog (“pogonip”, the White Death) as well as hoarfrost?