adventures in nature

raptor

los vaqueros reservoir

I haven’t been lucky enough to see a jaguar in the wild yet, but I did see this fella (lady?) last Thursday at Los Vaqueros Reservoir in Contra Costa County just after sunset.

bobcat

bobcat

Hiding just out of sight was this little one, probably trying to avoid being a bobcat breakfast.

brush rabbit

brush rabbit

It is a surreal landscape here – large mountainous hills that grow out of the flat grassy planes East of Mount Diablo, south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta. It is almost completely devoid of trees, other than a small riparian area at the dam outlet, but once atop any of the peaks that surround the reservoir, there must be thousands of giant wind turbines in sight. It’s staggering the number of turbines in view, for as far as the eye can see in some directions, over land that has been cleared for grazing.

Los Vaqueros Reservoir

out in “nature” – Los Vaqueros Reservoir and a small portion of the visible wind turbines

Ironically, this general area has the highest concentration of nesting golden eagles in the world. It is home to many raptor and bird species, and has also been shown to be a main migration route for birds in the Autumn and Spring. It probably goes without saying that wind turbines and soaring birds don’t go well together (not for the birds, certainly). The mortality rate of golden eagles in this region is high due to collisions with the wind turbine blades, and is probably under-reported.

golden eagle / Mount Diablo Nov 2011

golden eagle / Mount Diablo Nov 2011

It’s hard to determine visually where the wind farms end or if they are part of different farms – to the north is the Shiloh Wind Power Plant, and to the south is Altamont Pass Wind Farm (of notorious history, for its vastly negative impact on raptor and other bird species). They are two of the four largest wind farms in CA. I’m not sure who owns the ones pictured above, I suspect it’s part of the Altamont Pass Wind Farm. The picture below shows a view to the north from above the reservoir – if you look closely you can see a LARGE number of turbines stretching across the horizon. I suspect these are part of Shiloh Wind Power Plant. It’s hard to differentiate where they start or end though because the turbines seem to be concentrated densely there to the north, then they sporadically  run from that point far to the north all along the eastern edge of the Diablo range, then southeast towards Altamont Pass and out of sight.

distant wind turbines

distant wind turbines

Despite the jarring visual impact, these turbines are “green energy” and certainly have a lot of benefits over other energy production techniques. They are part of the compromise that we currently must make in our effort to satisfy energy demands while still attempting to minimize our impact on the environment – both to the creatures who live there now, and in a global capacity long term. No easy answers. No black and white.

Every day the sun rises though, and the cycle of life continues. Coyote doesn’t care so much about politics.

coyote tracks

coyote tracks

hunting bobcat

a hunting bobcat after sunset


free!!

Haya was released successfully on Monday, it was quite a day.

Good luck Haya!!!

Haya 1

Haya 1

the toss!

the toss to freedom!

Haya 2

Haya 2


dark morph extravaganza

Lot’s o dark morphs lately! Delicious.

The rains have passed and the light was perfect for a few more shots of the intermediate/dark morph in Berkeley …


day of the dark morphs

We saw a dark morph ferruginous hawk in Sonoma County the other week (!!), it’s been hanging around with a light morph ferruginous hawk in an area that also has at least one dark morph red-tailed hawk (probably the one that I photographed and posted here from last year).  A rare treat in Sonoma County to see ferruginous hawks of any plumage – the largest hawk native to the United States.

dark morph ferruginous hawk / Sonoma County CA

dark morph ferruginous hawk / Sonoma County CA

dark morph ferruginous hawk / Sonoma County CA

dark morph ferruginous hawk / Sonoma County CA

dark morph ferruginous hawk / Sonoma County CA

dark morph red-tailed hawk / Sonoma County CA

white-tailed kite / Sonoma County CA


back in the skies!

Happy news for our falcon friend from Oakland that was shot along with two of her fledglings a little over a year ago (see link and link) – she is scheduled to be released back into the skies! Whatever destiny is hers to follow, it will be on her own wings and flying free. Good luck Haya! Many many thanks to all the people who worked so hard to make her release possible.

From the Lindsay Wildlife Museum’s Facebook page (link):

“After spending a year and a half in care and going through three surgeries, a bone infection, countless radiographs and anesthesia, broken feathers and falconry training, it is with great pride that we announce that Haya has been evaluated

and will be released! We are hoping to release her in the next couple of weeks. Be sure to sign up for our release program for an opportunity to see her return to the wild!http://wildlife-museum.org/hospital/releasesThis has been a long and incredible journey for this falcon as well as for those caring for her. We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to all of you who have been following her progress. Without your constant support we would not be able to help animals like Haya return to their wild lives.”

Her one surviving offspring, a huge female falcon named Marina, is unable to be released and will spend the rest of her life in captivity (and I seem to recall that she is being used as a surrogate mother for captive breeding ).

I took this picture the evening before she was shot – she was feisty as ever, yelling at some of the bridge workers (for whom she had developed a distaste, since they had escorted bird banders weeks prior up to her nest to band her fledglings – she always recognized their uniforms and was proactive in “defending” her nest area after that intrusion).

Haya May 31, 2012


higher purpose

juvenile red-tailed hawk *** oakland, ca


autumn elk

elk 01 / Tomales Point, Point Reyes Nat Seashore CA

Autumn is my favorite time of year, and I’m always excited by the usual harbingers of Fall … pumpkins, raptor and bird migration, amazing light, crisp electric air, foliage color changes, bay nuts, and an instinct deep within me that drives me to figure out what ridiculous costume I’ll wear for Halloween.

There is also the call of the rutting bull elks, if you’re lucky enough to be close to some – a sound that reminds me of whale calls penetrating the surface of the water and echoing across the landscape. I love to see and hear them, especially at this time of year, when the bulls have their “harems” of cows protectively corralled close to them. If one tries to stray too far, the bull will herd her back. And if another male comes too close, a fight can ensue.

They make their bellowing, haunting calls often, seemingly to advertise their virility to the females and their dominance over other bulls -with the occasional chirping siren-like responses from the females, and other males calling back to defend their own space and ladies. It’s all about the ladies at this time of year.

On Sunday we visited the herds at Tomales Point to immerse ourselves in this Autumn rite, and though initially we were disappointed by the thick fog that enveloped just the very tip of the peninsula where the elk live, it turned out to be a good thing. Fog is one of the natural states of this area, and the landscape comes alive when it is foggy. Not only that, the fog allowed us to get closer to the elk than we would have been able to otherwise, creating a smoke screen for us as we approached from downwind to find a nice rock outcropping overlooking two small herds. And, as an added bonus, most of the two-leggeds depart with the fog!

Ironically, the best pictures I got were when we were leaving in our vehicle as a herd was milling about near the exit road. Vehicles can be the best blinds … and they’re mobile!

Oh, and the fog made a stunning scene for pictures.

elk 01 / Tomales Point, Point Reyes Nat Seashore CA

elk 01 / Tomales Point, Point Reyes Nat Seashore CA

I caught this one mid-bellow!!!!!!!!! The sight and sound was incredible.

bull elk calling!!

bull elk calling!!

bull elk

bull elk 02

bull elk 03

bull elk 03

elk 02

elk 02

bull elk antlers

bull elk antlers

As we were leaving the Point Reyes area, heading East back towards the big city, we saw a great-horned owl perched on top of a utility pole, just a shadow highlighted by the twilight. We stopped to watch it, and suddenly we heard the unmistakable sound of a begging juvenile great-horned owl very close by. Within a minute or two, it had flown up to land on the utility wires, begging intensely for its breakfast. After shredding its prey, the adult jumped over next to the juvenile and handed it over. Oddly, the young one didn’t stop begging, it just perched on the wire with the food in its talons. The only time it paused was when I mimicked its begging call, at which point it would look at me for a few moments, then return to begging. Must have been a spoiled young one … it does live in Marin County, after all.

🙂

juvenile great-horned owl

juvenile great-horned owl with prey


intermediate morph red-tailed hawk

rufous morph red-tailed hawk in flight / Berkeley CA

In drastic contrast to the “spirit” red-tailed hawk in the last post, I found this fella hunting here in Berkeley. Red-tailed hawks are one of the most “polymorphic” hawks, meaning they show a large variety of individual plumage within the species. This one is a “rufous” or “intermediate” morph (in contrast to light morph, dark morph, or leucistic) – it’s entire body is dark brown – with a bit of a rufous or gold hue on his chest feathers – and its underwing coverts are dark as well (in contract to the flight feathers which are still white with dark banding). These are found more commonly here in the Western U.S., and I always am especially thrilled to see one as they are somewhat rare. And beautiful.

The lighting wasn’t so good because the sun had already set behind some clouds/fog to the West. But you get the idea.

rufous morph red-tailed hawk / Berkeley CA

intermediate morph red-tailed hawk / Berkeley CA

rufous morph red-tailed hawk in flight / Berkeley CA

intermediate morph red-tailed hawk in flight / Berkeley CA

For some other pictures of a dark/intermediate morph red-tailed hawk, see my other post here.

As I was biking home after the sunset, I was stumbled on a lone great egret looking for a last fish before dark. It was chased off while I watched, by a heron that swooped in almost on top it, squawking like how I imagine a pterodactyl must have sounded. The whole scene was prehistoric and awkward, with both the birds gangling wings and legs flailing about, finally leaving me in the relative silence of twilight between worlds … and between the Berkeley Aquatic Park and Route 880/580 during rush hour!

great egret / Berkeley CA

great egret / Berkeley CA


partial leucistic red-tailed hawk

partial leucistic red-tailed hawk

(the following picture was added after the original post)

partial leucistic red-tailed hawk

partial leucistic red-tailed hawk

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 01 / Sonoma County CA

partial leucistic red-tailed hawk 01 / Sonoma County CA

Thanks to a tip from Larry “the raptor magnet” Broderick of West County Hawk Watch, I was able to see another amazing bird yesterday. Leucism is a recessive gene defect that affects the pigment cells’ development in some parts or an entire animal, causing either the whole animal or some of its feathers, fur, hair or skin to be white. It’s similar to (but different than) albinism, which only affects the melanin pigment cells. The effect can be really cool to see, as it is in this red-tailed hawk that I photographed in Sonoma County yesterday.

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 02 / Sonoma County CA

partial leucistic red-tailed hawk 02 / Sonoma County CA

Viewing the bird from the front or from underneath, it’s difficult to tell that it has different plumage than a typical red-tailed hawk, though on close inspection of it flying from underneath, you can see a couple of flight feathers that are all white. From a rear or top-down view while flying, it is obvious (and not easy to photograph!! I forgot to bring my jet pack yesterday).

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 03 / Sonoma County CA

partial leucistic red-tailed hawk 03 / Sonoma County CA

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 04 / Sonoma County CA

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 04 / Sonoma County CA

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 05 / Sonoma County CA

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 05 / Sonoma County CA

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 06 / Sonoma County CA

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 06 / Sonoma County CA

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 07 / Sonoma County CA

partially leucistic red-tailed hawk 07 / Sonoma County CA

A bald eagle that I photographed last winter also has leucism, and it was striking. See those posts with pictures again here.

Another local raptor expert, George Eade, photographed an almost completely white red-tailed hawk here in the Bay Area a few years ago, his pictures can be seen here. The bird and the pictures are absolutely amazing.


a few more eagle snaps

hatch year bald eagle 01 / New Fork River WY

hatch year bald eagle tail feathers / New Fork River WY

hatch year bald eagle 02 / New Fork River WY

hatch year bald eagle talons / New Fork River WY

hatch year bald eagle 03 / New Fork River WY

hatch year bald eagle wing / New Fork River WY