20th September 2018
Land of Living Skies – Saskatchewan won its nickname for restless clouds and light. But there is life on that huge canvas. I’ve found nowhere on my global travels that rivals the prairies for sheer abundance and variety of raptors – eagles, yes, both bald and golden, but the prairie has another large hunter that readily turns heads.
This is a ferruginous hawk, an enormous relative of the British buzzard. For reasons lost to history, the Buteo genus is called ‘hawk’ in North America, which is very confusing to English wildlife watchers. But it is really a buzzard, complete with a 1.5m wingspan and eagle-style feathered legs.
Ferruginous hawks have had mixed fortunes since the prairie was settled and are still listed as a threatened species. Merlins, on the other hand, have increased, and are even found in some cities – but they look best in the prairie.
As undoubtedly does the stunning prairie falcon, a cousin of the peregrine.
How many other carnivorous birds have I seen in the Grasslands area over the years? I’ve stopped my fieldwork for a lunchtime picnic and seen golden eagles lazily soar by. Struggled with the identification riddles of Swainson’s hawks and red-tailed hawks. Been watched by snowy owls on icy March mornings. Noted loggerhead shrikes perched on the prairie’s rare bushes.
All these hunters – and coyotes, foxes, black-footed ferrets, rattlesnakes and bobcats – need prey. It is true that rodents do their best to avoid their natural enemies, but nonetheless, they support all the ecological tiers above them. If we want to save raptors, we need to learn to live with Richardson’s ground squirrels and their kin, too.
Meanwhile, pronghorn watch the restless skies.
They are alive. Clouds and sun do not sleep.
4 thoughts on “Canada: Skylights”
Adele, great post! All those wonderful raptors! Lovely images!
Thanks Robin. We only had one full day in the Val Marie area on this trip but the raptors still kept my camera busy! Amazing place for birds.
First time I’ve seen merlin was in Jasper, near Athabasca river. I was not sure what kind of raptor it was, but someone who lives in the area ID’d it for me. As for many other birds, San is a great help in identifying them, also one of my colleagues who is a bird photographer. Sometimes a detail as a shape of the beak or a position of head distinguish one specie from another. I know I will never be that good 😀
LOL, yes, it is hard. Especially when one species can come in different colours. I struggle a lot with Canadian raptor ID, especially the buteo hawks. Also with prairie sparrow species, and with ducks! It must be a great help to have advice from San and your colleague.
This was my first merlin in Canada, but I recognised it because we also have them in England.