Saturday, December 7, 2019

I Am "Ursa Major" - 07 Dec 2019

Also known as "The Big Dipper". When it comes to finding the Gyrfalcon, I am the Big Dipper. At least the local Red-tailed Hawks at Willow Run Airport gave me something to photograph. This one was bouncing along the fence line along the south service drive.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Red-tailed Hawk In Flight - 29 Nov 2019

The Gyrfalcon hadn't been sighted in the past two days, and a report came out of southern Ontario of a gray-phased Gyrfalcon that had been sighted. I was worried that it was our bird and that I had missed my opportunity to see it. But, I was in the area and decided to make a quick pass through Grace Lake (empty) and Willow Run Airport. I would not see any sign of a Gyrfalcon, or a Snowy Owl that had been reported earlier in the day, but did see (I believe) the same Red-tailed Hawk that gave such good photos a few days ago.

It was perched on the south fence along the s. Service Drive and took off as soon as I slowed the car, but soared across the road and landed on the north fence. I decided to try for it on the way back after checking the rest of the landfill to my left. So, I drove down to the airport entrance and turned around. On the way back it was still perched along the fence line to my left, so I slowed the car and got some frames off just as it was lifting off. It then flew a short 12 feet or so and landed again.

It then flew back across the road and perched on the fence where I left it. Pretty bird!

I got home about 3 pm and would learn that Kevin Murphy found the Gyrfalcon back at Grace Lake at 4:30 pm and got some wonderful photos. Good to hear that its still around.

Monday, November 25, 2019

No Gyrfalcon, But Still a Good Day - 24 Nov 2019

The Gyrfalcon was seen this morning at Willow Run Airport. It then flew north and disappeared. No reports since. Since the afternoon was sunny and mild I decided to drive out to Grace Lake and see if it might make an afternoon showing. It didn't.

As I drove around Grace Lake I noticed that there were no gulls on the water, or in the air. The place was quiet. But, I spotted a tiny raptor perched in a tree at the top of the hill. Severely backlit it looked like a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but as I approached it revealed itself to be a Merlin!

I parked the car and walked toward it, shooting away with the Sony a9 and 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3. Curiously, the Merlin did not seem to notice me, or just didn't care.

It gave me a chance to casually walk up the side of the hill and around to the back where the Sun was now behind me. What a difference good lighting makes.

After a short bit the Merlin took off, and I could not keep up with it as it blasted off. But, I managed a few flight shots and happily returned to the car.

I then drove over to Willow Run Airport. A loop around Ecorse Rd. to the north of the airport yielded no Gyrfalcon, so I drove down Tyler Rd. to the S. Service Drive. As I approached the landfill to the south I spotted a large falcon atop the black-tarp hill and noticed Phil Odom up ahead with his scope on the bird.

Again, the bird was severely backlit, so my immediate reaction was Gyrfalcon! However, it would be short-lived excitement as a few head-turns would reveal a large black mask and face of a Peregrine Falcon. "Just a Peregrine Falcon". When would anyone ever type those words???

banded bird w/ dark band on left tarsus and light band on right

Dave Amamoto drove by and we confirmed our suspicions. Despite the distance and lighting I still managed a few captures that I really liked of this bird. Especially when it decided to lift off and fly across the hillside before disappearing over the top.

With the wind blowing the birds tended to spend some time kiting. This would work to my advantage today. As I drove around the corner of the service drive I spotted a young Red-tailed Hawk perched on the fence to my left. Again, it was backlit, so I waited until I drove past it so the Sun was a bit more behind me.

Again, the bird didn't seem to mind my presence, so I shot away from inside the car and managed to get quite a few sharp images despite the convection currents from the car's engine (I'd been driving with the heat off and windows open).

The young Red-tail lifted off a few time and floated down along the fence line, so I followed in the car trying to get flight shots as it floated to perch after perch. Finally, it would lift off one last time and drift over the hillside.

The Gyrfalcon would remain elusive today, but the photo opps did not. I am actually glad I left the 1.4X Teleconverter home today.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Gotfredson Road Raptors - 22 Nov 2019

With the building shut down for the day I worked from home. The sun began to break so it was a good opportunity to look for the Gyrfalcon that was reported the last few days. A juvenile Peregrine Falcon was reported Thursday at Grace Lake (Visteon) but the larger falcon had not been seen (Curt Powell had it out at Willow Run Airport Thursday but only at a distance).

The Gyrfalcon would not show but the day was not a wash. Willow Run Airport produced a pair of Red-tailed Hawks and an American Kestrel at a distance, and I managed to see a fly-over Rough-legged Hawk while talking to Phil Odom. Curt had seen 3 Rough-legged Hawks out at Vreeland Rd. just prior to coming to Willow Run, so I decided to make the 10 drive out there to look for something to photograph.

A Northern Harrier was in the field to my right as I drove slowly down Gotfredson Rd south of Vreeland. It flew across the road and over the field to my left, but the Sony a9 struggled to lock focus (Tracking Wide). When it did lock focus the wingtips were captured, and focus struggled due to convection currents. Another harrier popped out over the field, followed by a pair of Red-tailed Hawks and a Rough-legged Hawk. I managed a few focused images, but lost perhaps 90% of my frames due to fuzzy images at long distances. Still, I managed a few keepers for the afternoon.

The Gyrfalcon would not show today, but it was still a nice day spent out at the 3 locations. We will see what the weekend brings.

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