Probably the last of this waxing moon we’ll see this month, due to the coming storm. Beautiful night.
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.
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.
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.
rounded termination of the tail feathers (versus more straight across in sharp-shinned)
dark “cap” on the head feathers (versus more of a full hood on a sharp-shinned hawk)
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)
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”).
She relocated to a place on the power line closer to the red-tail to get a better look …
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.
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).
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!
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.
Awesome to see these birds and witness this close encounter!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you Klamath Basin!
Links to more information on Klamath Basin:
Winter Wings Festival – being held this Feb 11-14th 2016!
No, they weren’t misbehaving.
Bald eagles take five years before they grow their adult plumage, and in the early years many people can mistake them for golden eagles since they don’t acquire the characteristic white head and tail until adulthood.
One bird was perched on a branch very close to the road, and we spent a long period of time together at a very close distance. The bird preened and seemed relaxed (which let me know I wasn’t too close, something I’m always ultra-sensitive to – I try to always be far enough away that the wildlife feels comfortable and not threatened). This bird appears to be a young bird in its second year of life (now approaching its second birthday) – wearing what is referred to as a Basic I plumage (1st year, or hatch year is called a “juvenile,” second year is Basic I, then Basic II, Basic III and adult). The feather pattern for each year are variable but generally unique, combined with beak and eye coloring, and help to distinguish the age.
Nearby was another young bird, and this one had plumage that was different than the first – indicative of Basic II plumage (a bird in its third year of life).
Along this same part of the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, there was a solitary treeline that had almost 15 bald eagles in it – along with many red-tailed hawks and one golden eagle. A ranger I spoke to said that two weeks prior, he counted over 60 bald eagles (and a golden eagle) in the immediate area of the treeline! The density of birds makes it such that species that usually don’t tolerate each other in close proximity end up roosting right next to each other, as did many bald eagles and red-tails that I witnessed over the two days (though occasionally a red-tail would go after an eagle, just to remind it who was in charge).
Being in an area like this really allows for a deep study into field identification of birds because there are so many species in the area.
A great time of year to visit is in February during the Winter Wings Festival – events are planned over a long weekend catering to raptor viewing, including guided trips in the Basin, education programs, vendor displays (optics mostly), and more. This year it takes place the weekend of February 11-14, 2016.
The Klamath Basin area is home to multiple National Wildlife Refuges (six of them!), and is a major stop-off for migrating water fowl along the Pacific Flyway during the autumn and spring. This flat high desert area (around 4000 feet elevation) straddles the border of Oregon and California and is just east of the Cascade mountain range. It is also host to a lot of agriculture, using waters diverted from the Klamath River to irrigate fields. The Basin sits in view of several volcanoes that are part of the Cascade range, and the area is of volcanic origins. It is truly a magical landscape. Recently it has become even more exciting as there are now two small wolf packs that call the Cascades just west of the Basin home (one of which is the famous OR-7 wolf, who at one point traveled to California and became the first confirmed wolf in CA since the 1930’s)!
The wetlands themselves are estimated to be only 25% of what they once were, due to appropriation of land and water to agriculture. Many interests share this region, and it is often the subject of debate on how to best share the resources among all them, including Wildlife/Plants, Indigenous People, agriculture, hunters, birders, fishing folks, etc.
During the winter months, there is a very high population of raptors that migrate here to wait out the winter due to the availability of prey (and it should be noted that agriculture fields that are dormant often provide a home to many rodents, thereby attracting more raptors). Here during the winter can be found the highest density population of bald eagles in the continental U.S. outside of Alaska! I have been there previously and seen around 50 eagles in one 360 degree view! Not only that, there are a lot of northern migrants such as rough-legged hawks and ferruginous hawks, species not often seen this far west or south. Those in addition to golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, assorted falcons, many owls and more can be seen here.
I braved some cold temperatures, especially the first day – it was near 0 deg F. A ranger I spoke to said that in the morning he had seen a northern pintail (type of duck) that came out of some reeds and couldn’t get its wings to extend – they had frozen to its body during the night! That’s cold (it eventually did free its wings). Needless to say there weren’t many people out there besides me, but I was able to see some amazing sites and sights (which I’ll highlight over the next few blog posts).
A few of the birds during the trip:
My final picture of the first day is a great summary of the area. The sun had set over a half hour before I took this picture – I saw these birds sitting in a tree as I was driving out. My old jeep was not doing a great job of keeping the cold out, but despite my numb fingers and toes I got out to snap this shot. As you can see, the area does not have many trees, so they are coveted by many different birds. Because of the density of prey and lack of trees, often I see multiple species sharing a tree or telephone pole – a necessary truce. The large forms in the tree are a bald eagle on the left, and a red-tailed hawk on the right! They are buddies! At least for the night (usually I see red-tails chasing and harassing bald eagles). Sprinkled among mostly the tree on the left are many red-winged blackbirds as well.
Some great resources to learn more about the area:
Winter Wings Festival – http://winterwingsfest.org/
This February weekend (this year it is Feb 11-14 2016) focuses on raptors in the Klamath Basin area and attracts many people to the area. Tours and guides are available, as well as many other events. Definitely worthwhile!!!
Lava Beds National Monument is nearby, and Mount Shasta is not far to the south. The whole area is really magical, any time of year.
More to come …
What an absolutely amazing place – the Oregon / Cali border, specifically the Klamath Basin area. I did my own version of a takeover of a National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon the past two days, but it was all peaceful, and I think much more exciting.
One of the especially amazing sites from my trip … just your typical scenario of a coyote and a golden eagle randomly next to each other (story to follow soon):
The quantity and diversity of raptors found in this one area during the winter is astounding!
Happy New Year – more pictures and details on this trip coming soon …
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!
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.
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).
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 …
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.
It was really fun to see all the Vultures, the Eagle and the dark Red-Tail on this beautiful NorCal “summer” day.
beautiful day up on hawk hill, filled with friends, hazy blue skies, and a good number of migrating birds and butterflies.
as i arrived there we had a great look at a merlin that flew not too far overhead (a merlin is a type of small falcon, larger than a kestrel but smaller than a peregrine falcon) – it appeared to be a juvenile. they are fairly uncommon here in the bay area, but they pass through during migration time from their breeding grounds to the north – and in the time of short days we get a boost in the population as some choose to spend the winter here.
the humans congregated on top of the hill with their scopes and binos, calling out every moving bird within a couple of miles. it’s a rather bizarre experience, to see all these people perched on the high hill for hours at a time every day for three months of the year, but wonderful that so many committed volunteers take their time to do this. as everyone was focused afar, two resident ravens, a male and female pair, landed very close by to watch the watchers.
we chuckled as we realized that i was watching the birds, who were watching the other people, who were watching the other birds! these two hung around for quite a while, intrigued by the activity of the people (and likely looking for some dropped food as well). occasionally they would come very close to each other, making quiet croaking noises as one of them would groom the other’s face area. it was so endearing. and at such close quarters, in the bright sun, i could really see the intelligence in their eyes. amazing, beautiful animals.
we saw a lot of accipiters today, as expected, but were also treated to a number of ferruginous hawks, several merlins, and some late-in-the-day peregrines. after most people had packed up for the day and i was leaving the hill, a red-tail floated overhead to hunt the area and allowed for some really fun pictures …
the colors on this bird are amazing, and for an adult it has a very light eye (iris). so beautiful. thank you, my good friend!
as always happens when one packs up to leave, birds start showing themselves and tempting you to stay. as i started down the trail, one last juvenile northern harrier tried to keep me on the hill.
Beautiful day out by Salmon Creek in Sonoma County – a bit of sun before the marine layer rolled in thick like a fluffy down comforter over the beaches and dunes. Lots of red and gray fox track and sign, even more striped skunk track and sign. Almost no new rabbit sign. I’m beginning to think that perhaps the area is like an animal beach-condo timeshare – evidently the skunks have it this time of year and the rabbits are vacationing elsewhere.
This red-tailed hawk has some really interesting plumage, it reminds me of a bird I saw once in the high desert in Washington. You can see there is tan mixed in with the brown and white on the back, and its head and especially neck feathers are really light. Beautiful bird, very striking.
This osprey and I were able to see eye-to-eye today on composing this photo. Much appreciated! Their eyes are HUGE compared to the rest of their head.
We watched a coyote hunting from across the creek for quite some time, it seemed to be stalking through the high grass, occasionally stopping to dig or pounce. Sometimes it would get really excited and stand with its ears facing the ground, while its tail whirled around like a helicopter blade behind it! It made a short trip to the waters edge, but all the water fowl were already tuned-in to its presence. A doe and two fawns watched it with interest from within 50 feet – the coyote didn’t even give them a look. Rodents and insects seemed to be on the menu today. So fun to watch this guy hunt!
We had quite a few nice red fox trails to study today, this is a good example of a classic red fox track (front foot on the bottom). The diagnostic “bar” in the metacarpal pad of the front foot is very evident in this track – it’s not always clear, but if it is it can be one helpful sign (of many) to differentiate red fox tracks from coyote tracks.
I didn’t get a picture, but we observed what we believed to be two or three pomarine jaegers (a type of flying sea bird) offshore attacking some elegant terns out at an area where many birds were feeding. It was my first sighting of this species, and evidently it’s uncommon to see them from shore (usually they are seen from boats further out to sea). There were quite a few dead murres along the beach, these are also ocean-going birds, but curiously they come onshore almost exclusively to die. Often people see these birds on the beach and try to save them, not realizing that they are already doomed. Many a kind-hearted person has been confused and heart-broken trying to help these birds. I photographed one last year down towards Moss Landing near Monterey. They look a bit like penguins when they are sitting or moving out of the water.
Down on the beach there was a large flock of marbled godwits feeding in the surf line, using their long beaks to probe in the sand for crustaceans – occasionally they would flush and fly down the beach all together.
Great day out on the coast, very thankful to live close by to such natural beauty.
There is nothing quite like seeing young animals play, and it has been such a treat on my sunset/twilight wanders lately to see a pair of fledgling red-tailed hawks in Wildcat Canyon cavorting in the strong winds up in the hills for the past week or two. They are still sometimes unsteady as they soar in the air, and during their landings – wheeling awkwardly in the winds, or alternating repeatedly landing and taking off from a hilltop trying to ride fast moving gusts, like a feathered, bouncing ball. Sometimes their parents were silhouetted in the background above them, unmoving in the strong winds as if hanging from an invisible thread in the sky as they hunted. For the first week or so, every time the two young ones were in the air, they were loudly vocalizing non-stop, as if shouting “holy shit I’m flying, holy shit I’m flying!!!” That’s how it felt, watching their exuberance in the sky.
Despite their awkwardness at times, there were other times that they seemed to be quickly mastering flight in the high winds – chasing each other over the hills and around tree tops, stooping and diving on one another, locking talons in the sky, and pushing each other off of perches – even “barrel rolling” in the sky like ravens often due (an acrobatic maneuver during which they flip over on their back for a few moments in the sky). Sometimes I forget that I’m without any wings as I watch them, feeling like at any moment I could jump up and join them. It looks like just about as much fun as any living thing can have.
Hopefully this pair will survive longer than last year’s young – there were three from what were likely this same pair of adults, and none of them survived more than two weeks after fledging. Once night comes, it is the domain of the great-horned owls … and there are a lot of them here. It’s encouraging that they’ve lasted this long, soar on young ones!
still as breathtaking as ever
brother to Owl
light to dark
day to night
this is a pair of red-tailed hawks, likely mates, soaring over the cliffs in Western Sonoma County CA
one of them had particularly beautiful plumage, with very fine barring that can be seen with a picture enlarged …
also seen was a vulture prowling low along the cliffs over the Pacific
I was walking through Union Square in New York City this week. The city had its seasonal holiday vibe happening, despite the relatively warm weather and steady rain that was falling. As I strolled from the subway in the park with the many other people, in this man-made clearing among the tall buildings around it, I suddenly had an impulse to turn around and look up. I turned almost fully around, and above me, a flock of rock doves (pigeons) was in determined flight – and in fast pursuit was a familiar form that at first didn’t register with my brain due to the surroundings. A red-tailed hawk!
The hawk made a reasonable attempt at grabbing one of the pigeons in flight, then it alighted on top of one of the “canyon” walls at the north end of the square. It was a comical sight – the red-tail was sitting on the east side of the building, its head turning back in forth in what seemed to be bewilderment, and about 30 pigeons sitting on the west side of the building about 40 feet from the hawk. It was as if there was an official “time-out,” and the players in this game were on the sidelines waiting for the next play.
It seems I was the only person to see this happen, but luckily my spinning around in the middle of the square watching birds flap around, and staring up in the rain at what probably seemed like nothing to the casual observer, was just a minor crazy behavior in this place. I couldn’t help but smile at the whole scene. Since before I can remember I’ve had a connection with Red-Tailed Hawks, and to see one here in amid the concrete and steel was like seeing an old friend. What made me turn around? I don’t know, but I’m thankful for it.
Red-Tails are adaptable animals, but they have been one of the more recent additions to the city-scape, joining some of the other animals that have been able to survive in the shadows of intense human development like Raccoon, Opossum, Rat, Mouse, Bat, Fox, Crow, Pigeon, Gull, Peregrine Falcon and Others. It made me think about one of the first documented red-tails that came to call a city, this city, home – a hawk named Pale Male.
Pale Male (so named due to his distinctively pale plumage) made a big impact on my life, as he has on the lives of many others. I was living in New York City in 2004, on the Upper West Side near Central Park. It was a particularly hard time in my life, and I was struggling to find a connection to the Earth in the middle of the chaos of the city. I would walk through the Park, through The Bramble, almost able convince myself I was somewhere else in that island of earth and plants and animals smack in the middle of one of the biggest cities on Earth. Once through, I would go to the Boat Pond and sit, hoping for a glimpse of Pale Male or his mate or offspring. We were kindred spirits, neither born of the city, but both in it. Surviving. It was surreal seeing this large raptor gliding above the yellow taxi cabs on 5th Avenue, or perched on the railing of a balcony on an apartment building. But there he was.
And still is. Life in the “wild” is hard, and there are many perils for any animal to deal with – especially in the city. In addition to all the regular threats, city birds deal with high densities of people, fast moving traffic, and most the deadly threat, rat poison. Many animals consume rats or pigeons that are still alive but have ingested poison, and can die from acute poisoning or from an accumulation of toxins. Not only was this bird one of the first to be documented making his territory in a large city – nesting and rearing young – but he’s still around. He has had many young, and some of those birds now also call parts of the city home. It’s an amazing saga. He has seen many of his mates succumb to rat poison or other perils, yet he still calls 5th Avenue home. It’s estimated that he hatched in 1990 – making him almost 25 years old!!
Much of his life has been documented in photographs tirelessly by a fellow named Lincoln Karim – his website, palemale.com, has some amazing photos of this bird and other wildlife in Central Park. He is out there photographing him almost everyday, since 2002! When I would go to the Boat Pond in Central Park, Lincoln often had his “rig” sitting out there – a large cart that carried his telescopic lens that was the size of my torso, and a large monitor screen so that other people could see the bird as seen through his high magnification lens. Many many thanks to Lincoln for his documentation and for sharing all his work and allowing us to be part of Pale Male’s incredible life.
Thanks also to Marie Winn, author of Red-Tails In Love (about Pale Male and one of his mates) and one of the original observers of Pale Male. She has documented his life beautifully in her book and also on her blog where she also chronicles the wildlife of Central Park.
And thanks to Rachel Carson and all the people who worked (and work) hard to regulate pesticide use and raise awareness about raptors and wildlife, which has allowed Red-Tails and many other bird species to rebound to the point of repopulating to healthy numbers once again.
Was the bird I saw in the square a descendant of Pale Male? It’s very likely, but hard to know for sure.
Thank you Red-Tailed Hawk.
so many babies right now! in addition to the exciting black hawk / red-shoulder nest and eyas (in my last post), i’ve gotten to see some other fun sites.
the three eyasses at the fruitvale bridge have successfully fledged and are learning to fly. when i was there last week, they were still unsteady in their flight, and one was doing a lot of “practice flapping” while gripping tightly onto the bridge span. so fun to watch. he took a little time to stare down at the strange two-legged staring up at him. when the adult female showed up (empty taloned), one of the young kept harassing her and pushing her off her perch. they are a hungry lot!
i stumbled on a nest that i hadn’t ever seen before, after hearing the young begging for dinner. this red-tailed hawks nest near wildcat canyon should be vacant very soon – these young are looking ready to go. i saw their parents hunting until well after dark trying to keep their bellies full, not an easy job!
i’m still hopeful that i’ll get to see some young harriers soon, for surely the behavior of the the pair (pictured in some previous posts) in the marsh by the bay indicates they are around.
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.
The coyotes in Wildcat Canyon live an interesting life … living on the outskirts of a major urban area in a mixed-use regional park. They share the space with people, dogs off-leash, cattle, and nosy trackers like me. I often see dogs chase these ‘yotes, but they always seem to evade with ease. Many times though I see them flowing over the grass covered hills, using little dips and drainages as cover in broad daylight unseen, with unsuspecting people and dogs walking just yards from them. They seem to have a sixth sense for avoiding discovery. And many times they are hunting gophers in these same areas, gingerly walking over the landscape in a slow, focused and methodical way, waiting for the furry prey to disturb the soil and give away their location just inches below the surface. Given the number of individuals I’ve seen/heard in a small area so far, I’d say they are doing pretty well.
The female shown above is exceptionally beautiful, with a vibrant, glowing coat of mixed browns and grays and contrasting black fur along her spine and tail. She seemed really healthy, and she didn’t notice me as I photographed her scouring the hillside for gophers.
It is also the time for many birds to be courting, and the red-tailed hawks were out in numbers today after the brief rain, dancing and soaring through the blue skies along with two pairs of ravens. In an unusual role reversal, I saw one of the red-tails chase a raven – usually it’s the ravens/crows harassing the tails. Once the sun set, one of the multiple pairs of great-horned owls that call this area home were hooting to each other in the mixed Monterey Pine and Eucalyptus forest at the top of the hill. There is no better compliment to the still feeling just after sunset, when twilight has usurped the day and that electrical charge starts to build signaling the changing of shifts, time for the creatures of the night to start their day.
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.
i don’t have a lot of words right now. one morning at a place like this is the same as reading 1000 books, combined with touching 1000 textures, smelling 1000 smells, hearing 1000 sounds, tasting 1000 flavors, seeing 1000 treasures and feeling a 1000000 heart strings of life.
we were treated at the beginning of the morning just after sunrise to the five resident Otters foraging in the lagoon, and a visitor that I have never seen before in this immediate area … a golden Eagle!
the above picture was of a creature foreshadowing things to come – this red-legged Frog (?) was a precursor to SO many Frog tracks in the sand, along with many deer Mice and brush Rabbit tracks – appearing in the middle of bare sand dunes for reasons unexplained. I surmise the new moon allowed some expanded forays for these normally reclusive species who stick to the cover of the plants on the edges of the dunes during most times.
brush Rabbit tracks
Frog tracks (likely red-legged Frog)
river Otter scent marking on the dunes
Bobcat (on right) and some type of amphibian (Salamander) tracks on left – perhaps an Ensinitas?
deer Mouse tracks with tail drag
beautiful clear front tracks of a red-legged Frog (right) along with deer Mouse tracks on the left
great-horned Owl tracks leading into a take-off spot
great-horned Owl trail …
WOW! what a find!!!! the trail seen in the picture from the left is a great-horned Owl coming in for a landing (final landing spot seen in the center of the picture). you can see it’s wing and tail feather imprints in the sand. also you can see a Raccoon trail diagonally across the picture from lower right to left (occurring after the Owl), along with faint Frog tracks paralleling the Raccoon, and some two-legged tracks at the top.
another view of the great-horned Owl landing spot (along with feather marks in sand!!), and its trail leading away from the landing point – ultimately to a take-off spot around 10 yards away. again, you can see the Raccoon trail across the center, and many other tracks in the background.
great-horned Owl tracks
a beautiful black-tailed mule Deer trail
Sanderling trail (?) … though I’m open to other interpretations … and some faint deer Mice, Frog and insect trails – this was found in the lagoon sand dunes, far from the surf
more Sanderling (?) tracks
another (!) great-horned Owl trail in the sand dunes!
one of my favorites to see live (but seldom a dependable sight), there were plenty of north american river Otter tracks around
the turkey Vultures are always hanging around for a meal, and this (faint) track (among smaller shore bird tracks) showed that they are quick to come in on the remains of shore birds who are predated at the lagoon by a varied cast of opportunists …
Bobcat tracks in sediment / algae
Bobcat trail in sediment / algae
Bobcat tracks (nice shot of front and rear) – based on the size and the shape, we decided it was likely a male
likely a Bobcat scat – it contained almost purely feathers!
Osprey – one of the NINE raptor species that we were treated to seeing on this day (Osprey, northern Harrier, white-tailed Kite, Kestrel, peregrine Falcon, turkey Vulture, Red-tailed hawk, Ferruginous hawk, and golden Eagle!). My friends also saw a Cooper’s hawk as they were driving out.
Red-tailed hawk on dunes
these snowy Plovers, a highly endangered species, were using human tracks in the sand as wind breaks from the increasing gusts coming in from the ocean – it was pretty adorable
this peregrine Falcon was not welcome company for the Kestrel who was attempting to escort it out of the area
the “mud hen,” or Coot – top of the menu for many predators at this time of year here. when the Otters come by, they move to the shore and band together, waiting for them to pass
for reasons still not understood (by me), the Ravens were harassing the Red-tailed hawks as usual. perhaps it is for fun or to prove social status … fun, being something that the Ravens seem to incorporate into their lives all the time, evidenced by their frolicking in the air lifts caused by the oncoming winds into the dunes. seeing them play in the air is like watching Otters in the water, the energy is simply fun!
lots of black-tailed mule Deer around in the fields, where we also saw lots of Badger sign
a cool shot of some black-tailed mule Deer tracks in the sand (with some two different bird tracks on the right of the frame)
the only animal signs that I might have expected to see and didn’t on this day were the grey fox and jack rabbit. grey Fox sign isn’t often seen right in this area, but jack Rabbit is. curious.
what a great day out at Point Reyes National Seashore, this place is such a gift – may it be protected for all this diversity of life to thrive, always.
the remains of a red-tailed hawk / Lynch Canyon, Solano County, CA
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.
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 …