The Rough-legged hawk is a close relative of the red-tailed hawk that many people are familiar. The Rough-legged hawk (Buteo lagopus) travels to the northern reaches of the globe, and spends the summer on the arctic tundra and in the taiga forest of the far north. It’s a large hawk, with both light and dark forms common. The bird has feathered legs, all the way to the toes, and this is the derivation of its common English name. the only other American hawks feathered all the way to the toes are the golden eagle and the Ferruginous hawk.
Not being too much of a birder, when I saw this bird in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I thought (hoping against hope) it might be a gyrfalcon. I even named all my digital files accordingly, which is kind of a bummer. I haven’t yet renamed them all – that stuff’s kinda boring. Anyway, some folks told me that these birds are in fact hawks, not falcons, and I stand corrected. I’ve looked at various guide books and they are pretty clear my photos are of Rough-legged hawks.
Regardless, they’re super cool birds. I was able to get pretty close, as they nested on cliffs above the Canning River, which we were rafting on. It’s always a dilemma approaching nesting birds, as I don’t want to frighten them off the nest. I tried to approach slowly and carefully, and stay as innocuous as possible while taking photos. Sometimes the birds would pay me no mind, and sometimes they’d seem a little more upset. I found simply lying face down in the tundra seemed to calm their nerves a little, and they’d settle back down. After a period of time, they appeared to be OK with my approaching closer, and I managed to get some decent shots. Next time I’ll definitely take a blind with me, and use that when I want to photograph birds like these. I didn’t take one, because when we set out from Anchorage, we originally had been planning a backpacking trip, so I carried as little gear as possible. En route, we changed plans and decided to do a rafting trip, which meant I could’ve (and should’ve) brought extra “stuff” – all good photographers have plenty of “stuff”. 🙂
I promise I’ll only post a few more pictures from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before moving on to another series – I’m not sure what that’ll be. I’m open to suggestions.