Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A hawk, an eagle and a rafter of turkeys

Winds from the northwest ripped through western Wisconsin on Monday, leaving behind a crisp fall day with gray, foreboding skies.  It was so cold this morning, I had to turn the heat on in the house.  I didn't look forward to going outside.

Just before noon, I headed over to the village of Pepin, just north of where the Chippewa River delta constricts the flow of the Upper Mississippi, creating the 40-square mile "Lake Pepin."  I expected to see migrating birds of prey and I wasn't disappointed.

The sky was full of Turkey Vultures soaring high above the bluffs and coulees, their wings in a diagnostic dihedral "v," rocking in the wind.   Less than a mile down State Road 25, I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk, perched on a fence post.   I put my blinker on, pulled to the shoulder, put my flashers on and ever-so-slowly opened my window.

She turned her head and gave me a "what are you going to do" look, as I poked my camera lens out the window.  I could see a big bulge in her upper chest - a full crop.   Maybe she'll sit still long enough for me to focus and snap the shutter.  She gave me a shot, then lifted her tail to defecate.  I got one more before she took off to a higher perch nearby - the utility pole way over my head.

Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

I didn't want to harass her, so I checked the blind spot at the back of my Prius, pulled out and continued on my way, through fields of stunted and dried yellow corn, shamrock green alfalfa and dried soybeans ready to harvest.

I headed south then west on State Road 35 - the Great River Road - through what's known as "Tiffany Bottoms," the flooded woody delta of the lower Chippewa.   Both the River and the "bottoms" were the driest I've seen in a decade.  

I passed through the village of Pepin and headed up the bluffs on Jahnke Hill Road - just south of Little House on the Prairie author Laura Ingalls Wilder's birthplace - to look for raptors.

I didn't expect to see one right in front of me, in the middle of the road.  So close, I had to slam on the breaks.

But there he was:  a bald eagle, feeding on a rabbit carcass.  He looked at me, then looked at what was left of the rabbit.  I scrambled to turn on my camera and open my window.   But I was too late - he took off.  By the time I caught up with him, he was spiraling up to the heavens on a thermal.

Note the mottling, dark head, and white diagonal line and triangles under the wings.  
Looks like a juvenile Bald Eagle  (1st year bird, page 127, Sibley guide).  

I stopped off at my friend's house for lunch, and stayed awhile to help her figure out a "new" internet browser program, then headed back down Jahnke Hill Road, stopping only once.

This time, a "rafter" of Wild Turkeys jumped out from an unharvested field of corn - right in front of my car.  They were too close for photos, so I just sat and enjoyed the view.

1 comment:

  1. Finally, I read your blog. It is truly amazing!!!
    I felt like I had just revisited Yellowstone. Your exquisite pictures of the Elk during mating season are phenomenal, as was the tender photo of a young deer-like animal while nursing. The variety and quality of your photos are something to behold. Keep up the good work. I am looking forward to future posts.
    Thank you for doing this, Paula