I was thinking that seeing the Swainson’s Hawk soaring overhead was the highlight of the morning. I was wrong.
I continued on Co-120 E to Co-69 S when I spotted a large raptor soaring a ½-mile away to my left. Thinking it was a Turkey Vulture I paid it little mind until it paused to kite over the field now a ¼-mile away. Rough-legged Hawk! It continued moving in my direction so I sped up to try to catch up with it when it passed the road up ahead. I would be stunned to see it stop 10 feet over the car and begin kiting next to the road. I had time to grab the camera and take dozens of photos as it hovered just a few feet away.
The show didn’t end there. The bird, a juvenile, then dipped over the windshield of the car and landed on the wooden post on the passenger side of the car. I was able to turn the car in the middle of the road and photograph it just a few feet away from the driver side.
The young Rough-legged Hawk preened for several moments, then scanned the ditch for prey, all while I was just a few feet away shooting away w/ the camera. I was able to see what it was thinking I was that close!
When it flew back up the road to the next post I decided to grab the scope and get some digiscoped images. I managed to get several frames before it flew to a few more posts.
Since I needed to turn around I drove back the corner of Co-120 and Co-69 and took a few more photos before leaving it to (hopefully) find prey.
I always worry about seeing Rough-legged Hawks in April and May, as it reminds me of the one I found several years ago at Pt. Mouillee SGA in May 200? It also circled close to me before continuing to hunt, only to be found 2 days later dead of starvation. So, as I drove off I said a quiet prayer that it will survive to see many more seasons in the Pawnee National Grasslands.