The Rippers

A close-up view of a juvenile red-tailed hawk

At Ridgefield, many creatures prey on the Townsend’s voles that live in the meadows and marshes. Some predators like herons, bitterns, egrets, and coyotes swallow the voles whole. Others like this red-tailed hawk (above) and rough-legged hawk (below) have beaks designed to let them rip apart their prey and eat only the parts they desire. If you watch them on a fresh kill you’ll see them pull out parts like intestines they don’t want and cast them aside so they can get to the muscles and organs they prefer. It’s a bit gruesome and I always feel for the little voles but at least they die quickly, this is how these beautiful but deadly birds have evolved to survive.

I photographed both hawks on the same day, and in nearly the same spot, the rough-leg right as the sun was cresting the hill and the red-tail over an hour later in direct sunlight.

A close-up view of a rough-legged hawk

Is It Morning Already?

A rough-legged hawk yawns at sunrise

I had the chance to photograph this rough-legged hawk over several weeks as she was often hanging out near the auto tour at Ridgefield, but I wasn’t happy with the close-up shots as the skies were always a dull gray overcast. I arrived at sunrise on Saturday morning specifically with the hope of photographing her under clear skies, so I ignored all of the other animals at the refuge and headed straight to where I had seen her last. Thankfully not only did I get my blue sky but she was waiting on a sign post near the road. There was little traffic at the refuge at that hour so I had the chance to watch her for some time. She eventually let out a large yawn in the beautiful morning light, and I was very lucky that she turned back towards the sun when she yawned so that the sun illuminated her mouth.

I laughed to myself thinking that I wasn’t the only one who thought it was awfully early in the morning to be out and about.