adventures in nature

Posts tagged “dark morph

Klamath Basin report VI – Butte Valley Finale

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Cowboy boots ‘n mountain buttes
Pick-up trucks ‘n luckless ducks
Hungry hawks ‘n too-thin socks
Saw eagle with coyote, like I was on peyote
So comes to a close, my trip to the Klamath Basin

Ha!! Ah jeez. Not my best work there.

Regardless, some of the best action on my trip was saved for last. As I left the area, I stopped off in an spot that was reported to have large numbers of ferruginous hawks, a species that I had seen scant sign of in the Klamath Basin just to the north.

Initially I wasn’t seeing any raptors at all as I drove along some of the roads in the snowy flat lands that consisted primarily of ag fields or open, high desert ecosystems. Thee wild areas featured primarily rabbit brush and desert sage, with the occasional juniper tree. There were jack rabbit and coyote tracks all over the place.


Butte Valley CA


Butte Valley CA

I was shocked that there didn’t seem to be ANY raptors around an area that seemed like it would be full of prey. The reason? They were all in one spot. Literally. When I finally found the raptor swarm, there must have been over 100 birds of prey in the 360 degree view around me – and two coyotes! They were in a number of adjacent ag fields that hadn’t been plowed. The mice/vole/ground squirrels populations there must be outrageous. Everyone was there for lunch!

There was a line of telephone poles along the country road, and on almost every other pole there was at least one raptor – but sometimes as many as five on one pole! And sometimes multiple species! I had never seen anything like this.

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Five! raptors on one telephone pole – (from left): 2 juvenile red-tailed hawks, 1 juvenile ferruginous hawk, one adult red-tailed hawk, and one dark morph ferruginous hawk) / Butte Valley CA

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same crew as the above picture, but with an adult ferruginous hawk doing a fly-by! / Butte Valley CA

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immature bald eagle on the front pole, and raptors on almost every pole thereafter down the road / Butte Valley CA

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and more …

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“If I ignore him maybe he won’t see me …” – juvenile FEHA (ferruginous hawk) on left, juvenile RTHA (red-tailed hawk) on right / Butte Valley CA

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“Wait, does he know I’m here?”

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“Well hello there” (juv RTHA on left, juv FEHA on right)

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immature bald eagle (Basic I?) with juvenile RTHA / Butte Valley CA

There was an irrigation wheel line with eight segments on it, and I counted 19 raptors on it (including bald eagles, ferruginous hawks, rough-legged hawks, and red-tails)! In the immediate area were a lot of red-tailed hawks mostly perched on something, and all over the ground in the fields there were ferruginous hawks everywhere (probably 50+ of that species alone)!! There were also a good number of Northern harriers, bald eagles, rough-legged hawks, and at least one golden eagle. Plus the two coyotes. It was unbelievable.

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dark morph FEHA / Butte Valley CA

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dark morph FEHA / Butte Valley CA

What an incredible finale to my trip. It often happens that way – as if the Spirits of the Land are trying to get me to stay. I will certainly be back there soon.

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red-tailed hawk on juniper / Butte Valley CA

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red-tailed hawk on doug fir (?) / Butte Valley CA

Thank you Klamath Basin!

Links to more information on Klamath Basin:

KS Wild

Winter Wings Festival – being held this Feb 11-14th 2016!

Klamath Audobon

Klamath Birding

Klamath Basin National Wildlife Complex

2015 Oct 11 golden eagle, dark morph red-tail, and vultures

I was driving down a road in Sonoma County today and noticed a large kettle of turkey vultures flying above an agricultural area – probably numbering almost 40 birds! It was somewhat unusual, and certainly not something I’ve seen yet this year. I pulled over to take another look, knowing that often golden eagles will “hitch” a ride along with a group of vultures. As I was counting the vultures, boom!


IMG_1380 v1Golden Eagle in a kettle of Turkey Vultures / Sonoma County CA

I followed the kettle, which conveniently for me also was following the road in my direction! I made a number of stops as I followed it, and during my final stop the Eagle was kind enough to turn around and do a fly-over for me.

IMG_1339 v1juvenile Golden Eagle / Sonoma County CA

Such a beautiful bird –  as I observed it I noticed that it lacked any under-wing white patches, but its uniform feather coloring and uniform-length flight feathers indicated that it was probably a first-year hatch bird. It appears it has lost one of its left secondary feathers, which initially made me think perhaps it was older and undergoing a molt, but I still think this bird is a hatch year bird (meaning it hatched this spring).

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As it glided back past me and rejoined the group of vultures, a dark morph Red-Tailed Hawk took exception to its presence and launched after the Eagle from its perch among a grove of eucalyptus trees, screaming loudly as it flapped quickly towards the larger bird …

 IMG_1367 v1vocalizing adult dark morph Red-Tailed Hawk / Sonoma County CA

IMG_1369 v1adult dark morph Red-Tailed Hawk / Sonoma County CA

The Red-Tail launched into the kettle and did a few dives at the Eagle, but they were half-hearted attempts – more bark than bite. The kettle of vultures, with the Eagle still flying in it, slowly floated away from the Red-Tail’s territory as it retreated back to a perch in the trees.

Here in the West, especially towards the coast it seems, we have more frequent occurrence of “dark morph” Red-Tails (they have a very diverse variety of feather patterns and tones), and often I’ve seen people mistake these birds for Eagles. To the untrained eye, this is totally understandable. But when you see the two together, there is little doubt about the ID. Golden Eagles are quite a bit larger, have distinctly different plumage when observed closely, different wing shapes, and different shapes/silhouettes when viewed from below. Turkey Vultures are only slightly smaller than Eagles, and both can hold their wings in a slight dihedral shape when soaring – to the naked eye they can appear very similar – but upon viewing them with binoculars, they also have very different silhouettes and feather colors, and an experienced observer can distinguish the two from each other even without binoculars.

IMG_1372 v1“bird on a mission” – adult dark morph Red-Tailed Hawk / Sonoma County CA

IMG_1322 v1nice comparison of a Turkey Vulture (left) and a juvenile (but full-size) Golden Eagle (right) /Sonoma County CA

It was really fun to see all the Vultures, the Eagle and the dark Red-Tail on this beautiful NorCal “summer” day.

IMG_1361 v1juvenile Golden Eagle / Sonoma County CA

2015 mar 31 – dark-morph swainson’s hawk

dark morph swainson's hawk / yolo county ca

dark morph swainson’s hawk / yolo county ca

dark morph red-tailed hawk

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i ran into another old friend on friday … a dark morph (or rufous/intermediate morph) red-tailed hawk that has spent the last few winters in berkeley. it’s fun when i get to know an individual animal, and this one has been around for a few years but i just saw her for the first time this season about a week ago. i was happy to see her again.

when i first saw her we gave each other a little wave (ha!)

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right about the time that i saw her, a huge flock of crows was moving through the area and it didn’t take long for some of them to spot her too. crows love to harass red-tails, and today was no different. first one or two took up the chase, and soon there was a flock of close to 50 crows escorting her out of the area.

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the mob goes wild

the mob goes wild

i’ve mentioned this before, but there are some corvid researchers (i can’t remember who) who say that this mobbing behavior could be a corvid “right of passage” – which makes some sense to me because there is very little reason that i can think of for the birds to do it other than fun or to establish social ranking.

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