Raptors at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

If you visit the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge this time of year it’s impossible to miss the large number of raptors, most of which are Red-Tailed Hawks. Unfortunately, seeing hawks and getting good pictures of them is not the same thing. Most of the time they are sitting in distant trees, and, more often than not, the sun will be behind them, reducing them to little more than silhouettes, silhouettes only recognizable by the touch of red in the tail feathers.


Occasionally, though, you get lucky and the hawk will stand its branch as you approach rather than flying to a distant tree. When that happens you can sometimes manage to to get a shot that you can save in Photoshop, as in this shot.

Red-Tailed Hawk

How can such a huge bird can support itself by wrapping its talons around such small branches? They must be a lot lighter than they look.

We also saw a few Bald Eagles, which excited the locals more than it did me

 Bald Eagle

since it turns out Bald Eagles are just starting to rebuild in Northern California, though they’re quite widespread in the Puget Sound area.

My favorite shot, though, is of a much smaller hawk sitting on top of some reeds in the middle of the wetlands.


I think it’s a Sharp-shinned Hawk because of the eye color, though I wouldn’t swear that it’s not a Cooper’s Hawk, which looks quite similar. I seldom see a Sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk that’s not zipping by so fast that I can’t possibly get a shot. So, I was pleased when this one stayed put for a good five minutes while I took shot after shot.