Photo of the Week- "Fly Over"

March 26, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Fly OverFly OverSubject- Prairie Falcon

Image is copyrighted and cannot be used for any reason without expressed written consent by Steve Hinch

This week, I've been working on a project that's taking me to a few new places in MontanaWith the weather forecast looking good for my intended images, I work up early and headed out the door.  The morning was colder than it had been, but that's probably because it was clear.  The sky was still quite dark and the stars bright.  With no clouds in the sky, I knew I wouldn't be distracted with wanting to be somewhere in time to catch the morning light show but instead my goal was just to catch some pretty morning light across the landscape.

After a few hours of driving, I arrived at my destination, parked my car, and grabbed my gear.  This shoot would require some hiking and exploration and I could already tell a late afternoon or early evening shoot might have worked better.  But as the sun crested a nearby ridge, it's warming rays melted the frost on the brown grass.  I worked slowly, capturing a few images here and there as I went along.  One of the beauties of nature is the lack of human made noises.  There was no engines revving, no radios, just the sound of my boots as they hit the trail.  Even though the likelihood of seeing a bear in this area was slim, I had my bear spray anyway and was alert for any big brown shapes.  I was, after all, in Montana.

Finally, I crested the ridge and the sky opened above me.  A slight sweat was on my brow after the short but steep climb, so I took off my jacket and fleece hat before continuing on towards the bluffs where I started photographing again.  And then I saw it flying low from a nearby bluff.  The dark face markings immediately made it recognizable as a falcon.  For the first time on this hike I was glad I carried my larger telephoto zoom lens and quickly fired off a few shots.  Prairie falcons occupy a different habitat than the very similar peregrine falcon though both utilize cliffs for nesting and both can fly at extreme speeds to hunt their prey.  Prairie falcons have been known to fly well over 100 miles per hour in pursuit of prey and commonly fly at 45 miles per hour or more.  And I thought it was hard to track and photograph other birds!  After a few minutes of flying around, the falcon landed on the cliff opposite where I first saw it and I saw that a second falcon was there.  Most likely a mated pair, I watch for a few minutes and then decided to move on, leaving them on to the important task of creating the next generation.  The downhill hike was pleasantly more easy than the ascent and several early arriving sandhill cranes serenaded me as I made my way back to my car.  Mission complete but I also came away with an unexpected but wonderful encounter.  I purposely left the location out of this story to protect the potentially nesting falcons.


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