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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Red-Tailed Hawks: North Pair

Today was another gorgeous warm day, so I headed back to the south end of the island to check out some birds. I had three goals. 1) Try to get some photos of the red-tailed hawks that hang out down there, 2) Look for the western meadowlarks, and 3) Find a northern shrike. Guess what? I accomplished all three!

View of the bluffs above South Beach

I walked along the hillside above South Beach on a trail I amazingly hadn't ever been on before. Sure enough, there were at least 6-8 meadowlarks swooping along the dunes. Most of them were females, but I saw at least two vibrant males. There were also lots of robins and starlings down there, but suddenly I caught sight of something in flight with a very long tail. It perched momentarily atop a bunch of brambles, and I was able to confirm it was a shrike. It's only the third time I've seen a shrike on the island, and it was especially satisfying to see because I've heard of other recent sightings but it had been a miss for me on the last several attempts.

Male western meadowlark perched in some brambles

Finally, the red-tailed hawks. I hadn't seen any on my walk along the cliffs (although I saw a beautiful adult bald eagle perched on a bluff), but once I got back to my car I ran into Jason who was out looking for the hawks too. He had a scope set up on one of the perched red-tails, and over the next half hour or so I was lucky to get a couple of flyovers while I had my camera in hand.

There are definitely two pairs of red-tailed hawks around Mt. Finlayson at the south end of the island, and I'm going to call them the north pair, which is closer to South Beach, and the south pair, which is closer to Cattle Pt. lighthouse. The rufous morph red-tail is part of the south pair, and has so far been unphotographable. What I'm really interested in finding out is if it's possible to ID the other three light morph individuals by their markings. I'm pretty sure but not 100% positive that I had flyovers from both members of the north pair today, and pictures are below. What do you think - are they the same bird? Look at the dark brown streaking on the stomach, the dark shoulder patches, and the splotches near the "wrists". And does the top bird have some black on its beak missing in the lower bird?

This second photo just takes my breath away. What a beautiful bird....


The K said...

I think they are different birds. The angles are a bit misleading since one has more outstreched wings than the other. But, when I look at RedTailHawk1, the left wing (the bird's left, not the picture's) it appears as if the 7th feather from the top shows a gap in the black tips. Also, the amount of dark on the third primary (counting from the top) is greater than on RedTailHawk1. Bird 2 also seems to have a white indent on the dark "hood" around the head while 1 doesn't. The leading wing edge dark patch on bird 2 is definitely larger than on bird 1. That's my view.

Vickie said...

I think more observing and wonderful photos are in order. That last one is spectacular and shows off the rich colors.

Rainsong said...

I saw your hawk yesterday! Well, one of them anyway. Yesterday was our Valentines Day and we spent it on SJI going to our favorite places. We were actually delighted with our "luck" (my valentine had to work on the 14th). We did not get out and walk nearly as much as I like because of my husband's foot condition that is getting worse with age AND because of a 13 week old puppy that we brought with us, but it was a great day for a lover of soft breeze and birdsong. Haven't stuck my card into the port yet so I have no idea what we got, but I truly doubt it will come close to what you posted. I don't care, it was a GREAT day.

Monika said...

The K - I think you're right, though...

Vickie - I agree, more observations and photos are in order. I'll see what I can do!

Rainsong - I'm so glad you had such beautiful weather for your trip to the island! It was a great day for bird watching. I look forward to seeing some of your photos!