Rough-legged hawks (Buteo lagopus) visit Northeastern California (Modoc County), where we live, in the winter after breeding in the Arctic during the summer. Leonard and I always watch for the arrival of the first rough-legged hawk each fall – one of our signs of the approaching winter.
This year our first sighting of a rough-legged hawk occurred on November 5th, although Leonard thought he may have seen one a day earlier, but could not be absolutely certain. We keep a close watch for the first rough-legged hawk each year so our observations are probably fairly accurate. We both thought the return date was early, but checking we found in 2011 the rough-legged hawks were here on October 30th. This year was the second earliest return since I began keeping note of the hawks’ arrival dates seven years ago.
A recap of our first rough-legged hawk sightings:
2007 – November 9 2011 – October 30
2008 – December 4 2012 – November 9
2009 – November 9 2013 – November 5
2010 – December 15
This rough-legged hawk was photographed along Modoc County Road 90. A large, dark carpal patch can be seen on the underwing, a good field mark to distinguish a rough-legged hawk. The wide, dark subterminal tail band, legs feathered to the toes and a head that appears whitish are also visible .
Although their return presages the snows to come, the return of these winter residents is welcome.