These pictures are dedicated to LB and West County Hawk Watch – much love and respect for your passion, dedication, mentoring, generosity, trust and expertise. One of the first FEHA’s that I ever saw was with Larry, and to this day, every time I see one, I think of you my friend.
These birds have arrived to take up residence for the winter from their summer breeding grounds in the plains, and I am always excited to see them – largest of our native hawks.
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!)
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.
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.
Sunday was a warm and clear day on the coast, strange weather for January – it felt like summer (well, summer anywhere besides the coast and the Bay area). We started the day by witnessing some interesting behavior by a couple of deer that caught our attention. The deer, which appeared to be doe and a yearling (nearly the same size), were standing with heads raised and their focus on something in the chaparral to the north of us. The yearling took off trotting, then bounding, right towards the path we were on, seemingly unconcerned with our presence. It then stopped and turned around, bounding back to its mother. The two of them then started a slow walk in the direction of the threat, with the mother in the lead. Shifting our position back down the trail, we were able to see what was causing the concern …
I was only able to catch the tail-end of the bobcat as he disappeared into a coyote bush (for the moment now a bobcat bush) – a large male that uses this particular territory who’ve we’ve tracked and seen around here before. Although I think it’s rare for bobcats to take down full grown deer in this area, fawns are fair game. This particular young one is probably big enough to be safe, but given the respect that the deer on this day showed towards him, and on another occasion when I witnessed his presence disturb them, I’d say he is still viewed as a threat. He seems to be a large bobcat based on his tracks and scat.
The most interesting part of this whole interaction was when the deer started to FOLLOW the bobcat – the doe literally walked right to where the cat had disappeared, and she seemed to be chasing HIM out of the area! Good stuff.
On the way in to the lagoons, I spotted an American bittern in a small pond along the pathway – I’ve seen one on the far shores of the larger lagoon, but never one so out in the open here. It was shaping up to be another good day, with lots of live animal sightings. Later in the day on the return trip it was still there and posed for some pictures in the beautiful light.
As we approached the lagoon, a resident great-blue heron was hunting in the shallows.
There were quite a few sets of trails and tracks on the dunes, but the striped skunks were most prevalent. This is their mating season, during which they really seem to be wandering around outside of their normal areas with higher frequency – sadly it is also marked by the large number of road kill skunks at this time of year. Notably absent was the female bobcat that usually patrols this area. It is also breeding season for the cats, so her daily patterns are likely interrupted by the breeding impulse. I also spotted at least one golden eagle soaring above the hills, only the second time I’ve seen one in this particular area. Along with a ferruginous hawk sighting (a somewhat rare winter visitor in this area) and the great view of an intermediate morph red-tailed hawk, we had some great raptor and other bird sightings. During the day at various times the family of otters was visible on the upper lagoon, but I never really was close enough for any pictures. Just their presence is a joy, watching them even from afar is so fun.
As we were resting by the lagoon, a pie-billed grebe made it’s way out of the shallows by the cattails with quite a prize – after straining to identify what it was, we realized it was a small bass! The grebe paddled around with the fish in its beak for at least five minutes, occasionally shaking it and twice losing it in the water, but diving down and quickly recapturing it. Finally, after almost ten minutes, it downed the fish whole!!
Another great day out there, I’m so thankful for that place and to be able to wander in it. Thanks also to Richard Vacha and everyone who participated in this Marin Tracking Club excursion for making it a fun and educational day.
All across the Bay area baby birds are taking flight, and many of the peregrine falcon nests in the region are already empty. Last week, the three peregrine falcon nestlings that are in a cliff side nest a few hours north of San Francisco were practicing their flapping when we stopped by. Tightly gripping the left-over sticks from the old raven nest that makes up their eyrie high on the cliff, they they pumped their wings as if ready to fly into the sun.
I always find it to be such a profound metaphor of our own developmental processes in life. In what ways are we flapping our wings but still clinging to the nest, afraid to let go and fly? To use our wings for their true purpose, to allow us to fly in whatever way is appropriate for the unique feathers that we each wear?
The winds were blowing hard, as they often do in that area by the ocean, but the fog was attending to its business far out at sea so we were treated to a rare sunset right into the waters as we sat with the birds and the thousands of small sand hoppers that had erupted to take over the tidal zone of the beach.
Saturday when I stopped by, one of them had fledged. I learned later that it was the male (based on his bands, the birds had been banded earlier to help track them – there is one male and two females). He had positioned himself on a nearby ridge to the north, but when the female brought food into the nest, he had a strong incentive to battle the high winds and make his way back. It’s an endearing sight to see the perseverance of this little being who is still trying to figure out how to work his own body, and I find myself cheering him on as he awkwardly makes the short journey in little flights and hops from one ridge to the next, then up the cliff face. It’s comical at times, because they are like toddlers learning to walk – and with the strong winds, it made the effort that much more challenging.
After a few stops and breaks, he finally made one last noble attempt, leaving the safety of the cliff side and doing a few circles in the air to gain some altitude to get into the nest for his final meal of the day. Just before he took off though, he seemed to gather himself in a dignified manner and assume a regal pose just before he leaped. Again, I was struck by the analogy to moments in our own lives, when we gather ourselves closely around that light inside us and recognize having the strength, courage, and belief in ourselves to make that leap. I was grateful to bear witness and share that moment with him.
One of the adults, it looked like the female, came into the scrape to join them for dinner as I was leaving for the evening.
It’s quite a privilege and a gift to get to witness this, and to photograph it and share it is an honor.
Rough-legged, that is.
Last Saturday I helped lead a raptor tour at Lynch Canyon for Solano County Land Trust with Larry Broderick of West County Hawk Watch … and I don’t think anyone was disappointed. Two rough-legged hawks made an appearance along with the many resident red-tailed hawks, white-tailed kites, kestrels, northern harriers, red-shouldered hawks, turkey vultures, and a pair of golden eagles. We also had two peregrine falcons soar over us. Good day. Rough-legged hawks breed in the Arctic and it is uncommon to see them this far south, though this year there seem to be more of them than usual during the winter here in the Bay Area.
white-tailed kite / Elanus leucurus
There’s something other-worldly about these birds … an ethereal white body like an angel combined with coal-rimmed eyes of deep shining red, they float and dance in the air like a flower petal caught in the wind moving from one invisible island to the next. To get so close to one perched was exciting.
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 …
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.
juvenile red-tailed hawk *** oakland, 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.
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!
(the following picture was added after the original post)
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.
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).
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.
Yes. It was. I know all of you are flabbergasted.
Actually, it was my first (conscious) sighting of a Swainson’s hawk. During the winter they migrate to South America, around April they are found in the Central Valley of CA. I was surprised to see one so close to the coast, it was quite a treat in addition to the beauty of Pt Reyes.