adventures in nature

Posts tagged “ca

2016 Oct black vulture in Sonoma Co!!

a74a4895-v1black vulture (top right), turkey vulture (bottom right, slightly in the distance), and kestrel / Bodega Bay * Sonoma County CA

Black vultures are a rare visitor here on the West Coast, more typically found in the American Southeast and South, and in Mexico. We are in the middle of the migration right now, so you never know what might show up. Though this bird must have taken a wrong turn around Tennessee. We spotted it in a small kettle that had a couple turkey vultures and an American kestrel (small falcon).

Research at this time indicates that this type of vulture finds its food by site (similar to many African vultures), as opposed to the turkey vulture, more common here in CA, which uses its sense of smell to find food. Though they are both considered vultures with dark bodies and bald heads, but you can see that the black vulture has a distinctive wing shape and short tail, combined with a dark head and dark flight feathers that make it easy to differentiate from a turkey vulture. Turkey vultures also have a silvery hue to the underside of their flight feathers, the adults have red heads, and they have slightly different flight styles as well. Very different builds on these birds, and it’s reflected in the way they soar and fly (turkey vulture has a slight “v” when it flies as viewed from head-on, and it tends to rock back and forth more – a less steady looking soar). Often it’s easiest to ID a bird at a distance based on a sillhouette and how it flies.

a74a4900-v1black vulture and kestrel

a74a4893-v1black vulture and kestrel

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20161013 calm before the storm

a74a4931-v1-2juvenile Great-Horned Owl / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park * Richmond, CA

a74a4957-v1-2almost-full-Moon and Red-Tailed Hawk hunting late / Wildcat Canyon Regional Park * Richmond, CA

Probably the last of this waxing moon we’ll see this month, due to the coming storm. Beautiful night.


20160926 coyote

a74a4738-v1coyote / Pt Reyes National Seashore CA


20160926 elk

It’s that time of year again – the elk rut is in full effect. The bulls are gathering their harems and bugling, it’s always an impress sight and amazing to hear!

a74a4754-v1bull elk / Pt Reyes National Seashore CA


20160922 backyard boyds

a74a4498-v1-2crow bros

a74a4510-v1bushtit (yes, that’s it’s name) – one of my favorites, and not just because of their name; when these tiny little birds come through in their flocks, it always brings a smile to my face

a74a4519-v1red-breasted nuthatch

a74a4524-v1-3anna’s hummingbird

a74a4526-v1western scrub jay

a74a4537-v1bewick’s wren singing!

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some of these birds are molting, so they are looking a little ragged – but still beautiful


20160916 sunset and full moon rise

Epic evening of no winds and clear skies (rare this summer here!)

The sun set almost directly behind Mt Tamalpais from this vantage, and the full moon rose exactly in between the two peaks of Mt Diablo to the East.

epic

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owl

when you see this wild eye, it can’t be anything else but what it is … and it is beautiful

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great-horned owl (adult female) / contra costa county CA

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last nap before the night

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This pair has been around for a number of years – why no young? Theories to come …

 


Cooper’s hawk

one more of the Cooper’s hawk …

IMG_1976 v1Cooper’s hawk (adult)


the showdown

As I was winding down my day while traveling in southern CA recently, I had the pleasure of watching a showdown between a juvenile red-tailed hawk and an adult Cooper’s hawk (likely a female). When I got back to the house where I was staying, I noticed the juvenile red-tailed hawk perched in a relaxed manner on the peak of the house next door, watching the sun go down.

IMG_1963 v1red-tailed hawk (juvenile)

This hawk is most likely about 1 year old, quite an accomplishment to have survived its first year (raptors have mortality rates in the first year as high as 70%!). Juvenile red-tailed hawks lack a red tail, often have lighter colored eyes than adults, and have some spotty patterns on the belly band (versus more streaking in adults). It seemed relaxed as it faced the setting sun, evidenced by its fluffed-out feathers and its left leg lifted up into its belly feathers. You can see on the right leg, there appears to be a band on this bird – possibly it was caught and banded during the migration last year.

I relocated to a second-story balcony which afforded better views of the bird, and as I stood there watching suddenly another raptor appeared on the scene! On a power line at about eye-level to me, an adult female Cooper’s hawk alighted and assumed a similar relaxed pose to the red-tail, with one foot up as it surveyed the area.

IMG_1966 v1adult Cooper’s hawk

Cooper’s hawks are part of the Accipter genus of birds in the Accipitridae family, and can be extremely difficult to discern from their close relative the sharp-shinned hawk – a smaller version of this bird. Most raptor species exhibit reverse sexual dimorphism, meaning the females are larger than the males. What makes the identification of a Coopers versus a sharp-shinned hawk especially difficult in addition to very similar plummage is that a male Coopers can be about the same size as a female sharp-shinned hawk. In the above picture, there are some really helpful features that help key this bird as a Cooper’s hawk.

  1. rounded termination of the tail feathers (versus more straight across in sharp-shinned)

  2. dark “cap” on the head feathers (versus more of a full hood on a sharp-shinned hawk)

  3. eyes are placed more towards the front of the skull (sharp-shinned hawks’ eyes seem almost in the center of their skull when viewed from the side)

  4. thicker tarsus, or leg bone (sharp-shinned get their name from having an incredibly thin tarsus)

I am not 100% certain that this bird is a female, but that is my initial guess based on size relative to the red-tail (which I thought could be a female based on her large size – but again, no great scale for reference).

The Cooper’s hawk didn’t remain relaxed for long – as soon as it spotted the red-tailed hawk perched above it became much more alert, dropping its leg down and staring intently (though, to be honest, all these birds seem to only have a single facial expression – and if there is one word for it, it is “intense”).

IMG_1967 v1Cooper’s hawk adult

She relocated to a place on the power line closer to the red-tail to get a better look …

IMG_1969 v1adult Cooper’s hawk

In the above picture, you can see the white feathers that protrude below the tail on its ventral side. This is a helpful feature to identify accipiters in the field from a distance, but one needs to be aware that Northern harriers have a similar white patch that appear on their dorsal side.

IMG_1970 v1adult Cooper’s hawk

Finally the Cooper’s hawk decided to move in on the red-tail – likely it has a nest in the area and did not like the red-tail hanging around too close. The Coop flew up on top of the chimney, and the showdown began. You can see the size difference fairly well in this photo (with the Coop on the right).

IMG_1981 v1red-tailed hawk (left) and Cooper’s hawk

 IMG_1984 v1red-tailed hawk (juvenile)

At this point, the red-tail took notice of the Coop but still had a leg up (no pun intended) and was facing away from it. In what had to be some sort of bird statement, the red-tail proceeded to slice (poo) in the direction of the Coop!

IMG_1985 v1juvenile red-tailed hawk slicing

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Casually, the red-tail then turned to face the Cooper’s hawk, then took off right in its direction flying just to the north of it. The Coop jumped off right after the red-tail and pursued! At first the red-tail tried to do some circles and gain altitude, but it eventually became a full on chase. There wasn’t much actual contact, but the Cooper’s hawk made its point and the red-tail seemed fine with relocating to a tree not too far away.

IMG_1994 v1juvenile red-tailed hawk (left) and pursuing Cooper’s hawk adult

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Awesome to see these birds and witness this close encounter!


ravens

IMG_1878 v1this pair of ravens was keen on my sunset snacks at the top of Wildcat Peak / Tilden Alameda County CA

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