This fall and winter, the weather has been extremely messy in my area. Constant rain, high winds, and flooding along with a plethora of bugs have not been making it easy for me to get outdoors. I am longing for the days when I can grab my binoculars and sketching kit and head outside to explore and sketch for hours.
Though we’ve been forced to spend a lot of time indoors, I journeyed to the post office in the rain yesterday and was rewarded with a close-up peek at a Red-tailed Hawk. His beautiful buteo body was silhouetted on a gable, and when he grew bored with watching me (or me watching him), he soared down and back up. Right. over. my. head.
Red-tails have been pretty abundant in this area this winter, and they are a joy to spot. They don’t seem to be too bothered by me— they probably know they could easily take me out— so I’ve been able to get amazingly close.
I’ve only been able to make a few, quick sketches in the field, so I decided to break out my watercolors and spend a rainy day sketching some of the local beauties I've captured in photos. The biggest Red-tail I've ever run across is the one sitting on the tire pictured in the photos and sketches above. I was able to move within 10-feet of him (her?), but he never moved from me the entire time we were there. Daughter watched from afar, nervously whisper-screaming, “Mom, he has claws!”
Honey, those are talons. Breathtakingly huge talons.
I give nature sketching complete credit for opening my eyes to the amazing variety within a single species. I once believed that if I saw a deer or an otter or a Blue Jay, I had seen them all. Oh not so!
Just as every single human differs widely from all the rest, every individual hawk or muskrat or antelope is a unique individual and differs in coloration, pattern, personality, and size from his brothers and sisters.
As if proving this, Red-tailed Hawks vary widely in plumage. Adults typically show their namesake reddish-brown tail when they fly (but not always!). However, Red-tails can display an array of black, brown, and white feathers in extremely diverse patterns. I’ve even been stumped trying to identify a Red-tailed Hawk with a solid brown belly. (I’m still convinced that might have been a Golden Eagle, but my birding-expert buddy says ‘no.’)
Red-tailed Hawks are easy to spot even in urban areas. Seeing one is fairly easy— simply go on a walk or a drive and look up. Power lines, rooftops, barren trees, and fences are perfect perching spots. Don’t forget to grab your sketchbook!
And prepare to be wowed.