The year is 2023, marking the seventh consecutive year of observing this family of Swainson’s hawks in Calgary, Alberta and 20 years since we first saw these birds of prey in our neighbourhood. This also means that it is likely that the Mama Hawk we see here is the same one from at least 2004 (as seen in a really bad photo). Something worth celebrating if indeed that is the case.
When I refer to “first baby” or “first sighting” here, it is my personal experience with the babies (seeing and or taking photos of), not necessarily when they have actually fledged or been sighted elsewhere.
Fun tidbit: Each year, we wager guesses amongst ourselves as to how many babies there will be in that particular season. This year I remained steadfast in my belief that there would be two, despite everything seemed a little off this year and some doubting there would be any babies at all.
NOTE: This is not a scientific journal. However, I am fully aware that once the birds have left the nest, they aren’t “babies” anymore. By the time we see them out and about, they would more accurately be called fledglings and juveniles. I will use baby/babies/young ones/littles/juveniles interchangeably when referring to the offspring of Mama and Papa hawks.
AUGUST 6, 2023
The presence of at least one baby was confirmed by sound today. I had gone for a walk near the nesting area, and sure enough, I could just hear the young one’s distinctive cries. I inched closer, very aware that Mama and/or Papa could be around. Heard another baby, off in a slightly different direction. And right then I saw Mama soaring above so I quickly exited the area.
No hawk photos today.
AUGUST 7, 2023
This one’s a little disturbing. We see a hawk fly by our window and up to the top of the light standard nearby. There’s a lot of noise from a lot of crows and magpies. Mama hawk is squawking. What is going on?? She has caught a bird but we can’t yet identify what species. Mama abandons her catch and flies off after about 5 minutes of harassment from the corvids.
There were a few magpies still hanging around. All we could see for certain from down here is a foot and some tail feathers partially hanging off the edge of the light standard. A few hours later the wind must have blown the dead bird to the ground where I could confirm it was indeed a magpie.
AUGUST 8, 2023
Upon review of the photos I had taken of Papa Hawk, some things really stood out. For one thing, he looks obviously different than Mama’s previous years mate. His lower chest and belly is so much lighter. Even more surprising: he has a leg band! There is definitely a new papa in town this year.
This is somewhat baffling to me given that near the end of last year’s nesting season, it was Mama Hawk that was a going concern. She had seemingly been favouring one leg and it sometimes dangled when she flew. Now I’m obsessing about getting a clear photo of that leg band* of new Papa!
* See the resource page for more info (coming soon)
AUGUST 10, 2023
One baby hawk sighted! The little one was hanging out on the power lines. First photos taken.
AUGUST 11, 2023
I have mentioned many times here the numerous run-ins we have had with Mama Hawk in the past and the resulting animosity. This encounter made me laugh probably a little too much…
While on my daily excursion I see Mama Hawk on a light standard. She has something in her mouth that I can’t quite make out. I point the camera her way and see that it’s a small branch with a few leaves on it. Wait a minute… is this… a peace offering? I laughed, and laughed. Why on earth would she be holding that? The nest is built, the kids are out – what could it be for?
Speaking of kids… There are two!
Sidenote: Last year (2022) I started doing my daily baby hawk observations by vehicle. It’s just a few blocks to the area but Mama hawk clued in to the fact it was me on my bike in 2021 and wasn’t happy about it. Therefore, to lessen the chance of stressing everyone out, I started taking a little drive and parking near enough to the young ones that I could still watch them and get some photos. Just in the last few days however, Mama has apparently discovered that it’s me in the vehicle. No disguises left for me!
AUGUST 13, 2023
We’re already starting to see the babies perched on the light standards more often. They often stick to hanging out in the alleys or on homes for a couple of weeks before venturing out to higher perches in more exposed open areas.
No photos today.
AUGUST 14, 2023
No parents around today. Unless otherwise specified in my daily accounts, when I head out to observe the babies, it is from the safety of my parked vehicle.
AUGUST 15, 2023
I bought a brand new camera – a Canon EOS 90D – older model (2019) but right up my DSLR alley. By the by, this new camera purchase comes exactly 5 years since I upgraded to the Sigma 150-600mm telephoto lens.
This camera will have the Sigma 150-600mm lens attached full time. The T2i will still be used for other photo ops.
Oh hey baby hawk, can you pose for me please? Unfortunately I had to leave right after getting the shots because Mama Hawk came over to give me a warning.
AUGUST 16, 2023
A quick outing. Oh my gosh those baby hawks are sooo adorable when they’re looking right at you while you’re taking a picture. Mama not so much.
AUGUST 17, 2023
Took a chance on a drive for some observing. Saw both babies – one on a light standard, one on a wood power pole. No parents around today… well, that’s not exactly true, is it, Mama?
Early in the day, I walked out of our yard to see if anyone was around. I was standing on the edge of the greenspace when out of nowhere, Mama comes flying at me. FYI – never turn your back on a hawk. I stood my ground and waved my arms as she flew over. About 20 minutes later, I’m now armed with my camera on the tripod in about the same spot. A few minutes later she flew at me again. I really tried to get some shots but I lost focus as she got closer. That was enough of her for me today.
Sidenote: It was one of the hottest days of the year today at 34°C.
AUGUST 18, 2023
An overcast day. Saw one baby for sure. When they fly away, it’s sometimes hard to keep track of where they go. There was another sighting but I’m not certain if it was the same baby or the other. No parents around. I wonder if maybe papa takes one baby out for the day and Mama takes the other. Many bird species keep the young ones separated to ensure higher survival rates.
AUGUST 19, 2023
It’s a cool but sunny Saturday early evening. I see one young one at the top of a tree. I can hear Mama, somewhere close. Took a few pics and left.
AUGUST 20, 2023
Picture this… It’s around 9:30am on a Sunday morning. You’re sitting in your office, drinking coffee, going through your photos of this family of hawks… and the blue jays, don’t forget all the photos I have taken of blue jays.
Speaking of blue jays, there’s a blue jay outside your window right now and they’re trying to tell you something. Did you know that blue jays can mimic the sounds of other birds? So much so that our local jays have tricked us into thinking there is a hawk close by. Well imagine that. There is a hawk nearby. In fact, if you just look out your second story window at the top of that tree across the street, you will see the baby hawk.
Not sure I’ve run so fast to get the camera. The young one was there at least 15 minutes. The odd magpie swooped close. I could hear one of the parents somewhere close. For a split second, I was distracted and missed baby flying away. These are the most elusive shots for me – a flying hawk. Oh sure, I’ve taken a good number of shots of these hawks flying. But they are rarely focused and/or in frame, most of the time because I’m not using a tripod. And that lens is heavy. One day…
After everything calmed down again, I had a look outside and there was Papa flying over. Managed a few not-so-great handheld shots. Really gotta try and get a good shot of his leg band.
AUGUST 21, 2023
It’s starting to feel like groundhog day. Almost the exact scenario as yesterday morning except for a couple of things: there was no blue jay, it was magpies making a racket; and yes, there was a baby hawk – on a pole rather than a tree; and… another dead magpie.
I can’t say for certain what transpired today. Did Mama hawk kill the magpie and bring it to baby for breakfast? Was baby eating and maybe dropped it? I wonder about this last bit because the dead magpie was not far from the pole where I saw baby. Or… did Mama just kill it for the sake of killing it? I think this is unlikely.
You know, before this month, I didn’t even know hawks ate bigger birds like magpies. Yes, I know, I saw her take one away last year, but I really thought that was a one-off. Two weeks ago she killed another. Is there a shortage of gophers?
AUGUST 22, 2023
I honestly wasn’t expecting another encounter with our local hawks but I’m here to tell you, there was indeed some excitement in the neighbourhood today.
Once again our blue jay was making the call, telling all who could hear that there were hawks in the vicinity. I posted a video on my Mastodon timeline if you want to hear that. It was easy to spot mama hawk. She talks a lot and she unexpectedly flew in my general direction from a tree across the street.
Turns out, the direction she was coming from was where at least one of her babies were, up in a pine. Mama flew up to the top of the same tree she was in yesterday and she squawked and squawked for about 20 minutes. I did manage to get a few shots of the young one, and Mama too of course.
AUGUST 23, 2023
This is the 4th day in a row that I didn’t have to leave my house to see the baby hawks. Thankfully though, there was no alarm bell from the blue jays or the magpies and crows. Today’s head up was the distinctive sound of baby hawk talking, alerting me to look outside.
I saw one of the juveniles on a power pole just down the alley, talking away. What a great opportunity for a photoshoot from a different window. Just a few moments later, one of them (unsure if it was the same one) came even closer and perched on a light standard. Oh, look at that! Yet another window that I had to scramble to get the screen off of so I could get some shots.
Speaking of shots… The burst mode on the Canon 90D is pretty fast so it’s possible to capture action shots like oh, I don’t know, a bird pooping.
But maybe the best part of today’s photo shoot is that neither parent was around. Just baby hanging out and doing their thing.
AUGUST 24, 2023
All quiet on the neighbourhood front. No alarm calls. No cute baby hawk calls. Today was overcast and quite windy – not ideal for new young hawks learning to fly and keep from falling off of light standards in breezy conditions.
There was one moment this afternoon that I heard a baby from a distance. When I looked up, there was a baby flying homeward but really struggling against the wind and calling out a bit.
No photos today.
AUGUST 25, 2023
I took a break from the daily Hawk watch today and went to the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary for a few hours instead. What a treat to see a Great Blue Heron! And while I’m not an expert on herons, is it possible that this one was a juvenile?
AUGUST 26, 2023
The hawks were all around today. Not quite in-my-backyard-kind-of-close but very near. It was feeding time.
It can be tricky locating the birds initially, especially when their calls are coming from all directions and there’s a mix of baby and Mama/Papa hawk calls. Binoculars are super handy obviously. Once located, I will set up my camera for a potential few minutes of photo ops.
I see 2 juveniles on the same branch, right beside each other – one is eating, the other one eventually leaves. I also see Mama at the top of a tree close to those babies. She finally flies away. Magpies are very interested in what baby hawk is eating.
There seems to be something funny going on… A baby was eating in one tree, another baby was at the top of another tree, and one more baby on a light standard eating… All of the pictures I took were within the same minute according to the file info. A little while later, I watched 4 hawks flying overhead (could not get pics of all 4)… while one baby was on a pole having lunch. Is there an additional family member? Are there 3 in the brood this year? Or is one of them from last year? So many questions!
My new Canon 90D has slo-motion, 4K video and remote camera operation using the Canon Connect app. The slow motion is super smooth @ 120fps, 1920×1080 (thanks to the blue jays for that experiment!).
The 4K video is chef’s kiss – thanks to the baby hawk across the street for the live action shots.
AUGUST 27, 2023
Another quiet day on the hawk-watching front. I did see a couple of babies on the lights early this evening but not much excitement otherwise.
No photos today.
AUGUST 28, 2023
No one around today. It is possible they are making an early start south – and by south, I mean a few blocks south of their usual hanging out area. I will venture out tomorrow to see if I can spot them.
No photos today.
AUGUST 29, 2023
No action today. This is not unusual to not see the hawks around for a day or three. I did go for a long walk south of the area thinking it was possible the family is moving south incrementally. Not a Buteo soul was to be found.
Later this evening however, we did see Mama on one of the lights in her usual area. And then saw someone else fly a little south of us but I was unable to identify them for sure, maybe Papa?
No photos today.
AUGUST 31, 2023
It’s been a few days since I’ve seen any hawks around so I went for a little drive. On a whim, I decided to go north along the “hawk highway”, which is just another way of saying the alley where the hawks hang out. Nothing along the normal route, so I went even farther north. So glad I did!
I got about halfway down this secondary “highway” when I noticed Mama on a pole. Oh good, maybe the babies are around too. I kept driving until almost the very end of the alley and… there was a baby! They were sitting on the railing along the pathway. They were facing away from me and I was still a fair distance from them but I took pictures anyway.
Then I noticed someone out for a run on the path – heading in baby’s direction. Oh, this’ll be a good opportunity to get an in-flight shot because surely baby will fly off before that person gets too close… right? Wrong!
I watched through the camera as the person ran by, looking at the baby as they passed (I have blurred the person in the photo for privacy reasons). Baby didn’t budge. What the heck? Not a minute later I saw someone riding their bike in the same direction. Oh, baby will fly away this time, right? Nope! The biker passed the hawk, looking back as if to confirm what they had just seen at eye level.
Nothing seemed to phase baby and Mama didn’t seem too concerned either. A moment later, baby stretched, pooped and flew off… and I have another hawk story to tell.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2023
I saw one baby on a pole not too far away today. Other than that, it’s pretty quiet in the ‘hood.
A NOTE ABOUT THIS TIMELINE PROJECT:
I’ve been working this for about a month now. In between life and house/home responsibilities and the need to get out and see Nature and recording that experience in one way or another, it has taken a long time to get to this point. It has been a real eye opener as to how much I’ve learned about these birds over the years and the utmost respect I have for them and all of Mother Earth’s creatures.
SEPTEMBER 2-3, 2023
It has been a quiet weekend on the hawk front. Have been seeing them in the mornings on the poles near us. Maybe tomorrow I will go out earlier to see if I can find them.
SEPTEMBER 4, 2023
It’s been a few days since I’ve been out and about. Not a great day for being outside today though – very smokey and overcast.
Turns out that it was a good day to go hawk-watching.
I noticed Mama first. At the top of a pole, cleaning her feathers. She looked a little rough around the edges because of the rain.
Then I saw the babies – one each on their own poles a few poles down from Mama. Yes, this is how we communicate about where we spot the hawks, something like… “Go north at the park by the green garage at the wire fence by the raspberry bush and look for the double-T pole on the hill side west of the rock formation”.
Due to the smoke in the air today, it was difficult to get crisp and clear shots.
SEPTEMBER 9, 2023
It’s getting close to migration time. Just yesterday someone posted a video of hundreds of Swainson’s hawks flying in the area between Gleichen and Bassano, Alberta. My heart skipped a beat. Oh no, are my hawks in that kettle? Also, I admit I am a little crushed that I wasn’t able to witness that amazing event in person.
Any day now could be the last day I see our local Swainson’s hawk family in the neighbourhood. I’m happy (and relieved!) to report that our local Buteos are still here today, albeit just a wee bit farther south (a few blocks) of their normal area. Not the greatest shots on the first outing but the important thing is that I got to see a least one baby.
A couple hours later I decided to go for a walk up Nose Hill as I had been seeing a few of our fine feathered friends flying around up there. So glad I did.
I was pretty sure I saw Papa flying around and now I can confirm it with some photos – leg band and all. And no, I haven’t yet got that golden photo of that leg band just yet.
While I was up there, I saw another bird flying around. Initially thought it must be Papa… but what is that white on his butt? Never saw that before. Turns out, it was a Northern Harrier. From all the photos I took of this one, it seems it is probably a juvenile due to the colouring of its breast. Though from above, could be a female. By the way, I use the Merlin Bird ID app. A lot. It’s a great resource for bird identification from photos and sound!
On my way down the hill I heard the distinct cry of the baby hawk. Sure enough, there they were, on the same light as before. But this time I have a better vantage point on the hill side and the light is in my favour, hooray! Another photo shoot. But now I’m wondering… where is the other baby? It is possible they are flying around or on a tree or post elsewhere. But I am curious now…
SEPTEMBER 12, 2023
I’ve been watching the hawks flying around the last few days. I haven’t been able to venture out for better vantage points but I was lucky to get this shot of one of the babies flying over our place today.
SEPTEMBER 13, 2023
One of the most important aspects of bird “watching” is listening. I can’t tell you how many times I will be somewhere – whether in the house or out and about – and I hear a bird… “Oh, it’s a such-and-such or OMG-I-have-to-get-a-shot-of-that!” No matter the bird, I am instantly distracted by the call/song.
Today when I stepped outside, I heard a baby hawk a bit of a distance away. And here comes to play the other important aspect of bird watching – actually seeing the bird. It didn’t take long before I spotted this little one on a light pole. It must have been feeding time because just then, there was another hawk (fairly certain it was Papa) and the baby flew away.
I had a I-can’t-see-the-bird experience with an unfamiliar bird in our yard the last few days. Every time I brought the camera out, it decided to fly off. Well, today I was finally able to get a decent enough shot – it was a Dark-eyed Junco (possible Pink-sided Junco).
SEPTEMBER 22, 2023
The thing I dislike most about this diary is admitting that the days of observing the local family of Swainson’s hawks in our neighbourhood has come to a close this year. I last saw 2 of them flying overhead on Thursday, September 14, 2023.
And so ends this year’s timeline instalment of Project Hawk. But wait, there’s (lots) more to come!
If you like what I’m doing here, please consider purchasing some Project Hawk merchandise or joining one of my Ko-fi membership tiers for discounts and first-looks at upcoming projects. But honestly, the best way you can support my efforts with this passion project is to share!
2023 the end…
<< 2022 | to be continued…