Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Commuter Hawks, part 2

As I posted yesterday, I happened upon an exciting opportunity on my way to work last Friday morning: a pair of red-shouldered hawks hunting in a nearby field.

Leaving for home that afternoon, I decided I would swing by that same location — just in the off chance that I might get so lucky again. And as I turned down the two-lane road, my hopes were rewarded. Perched atop a streetlight across the way was the unmistakable outline of a large hawk.

Driving slowly up from behind the dark figure, silhouetted by the late afternoon sun, I first assumed it was one of the hawks I had watched earlier that day. I quickly started looking around for his mate. But as I turned a corner and got a good look at his profile, my mouth fell open in surprise and excitement. It was immediately obvious that this was a different breed altogether!

red-shouldered hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk from morning

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afternoon hawk — totally different!

Considering that only that very morning I'd had my first opportunity ever to photograph a hawk in the "wild," and here I had found my second hawk the very same afternoon... Well, "excitement" doesn't begin to describe my feelings.

But what kind of hawk was this new fellow?

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Moving past his manmade perch, I was able to turn around and get some better shots of this beautiful raptor.

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The pale reddish streaks on his bib and the barbed streaks on his undersides had me guessing. Wrong coloring for a Swainson's hawk. Wrong shape for a Sharpie. Too big for a Broad-winged Hawk. Hmm... could it be?

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After about ten minutes of ignoring my quiet admiration, he suddenly launched from his metal roost and my suspicions were immediately confirmed.

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Bingo! Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis).

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Okay, so it was probably painfully obvious to most from the very first picture. But give me a break — I'm still pretty new at this!


KatDoc said...

LOL at the "painfully obvious" line. Of course, having a red tail is the primary field mark for RTHA, but the white belly and streaky belly band is the other one. Otherwise, RTHA can sometimes be a challenge, because they can vary so much.

I don't know about Texas, you probably have other resident Buteos in your area, but in Ohio, we don't have a lot of other choices. RT is my default hawk, even without the red tail. Any big hawk is automatically a RTHA until proven otherwise. "Freeway hawks," perched on signs and poles along the highway are *always* RT. And, as a trip leader told me once, "Any white-breasted hawk in a tree is a Red-tailed. Unless it is a Kroger's bag."

Nice photos and a great find. Imagine - 3 hawks without any effort - a pretty good day, I would say.


Kyle said...

Kathi -- thanks. It was an excellent birding day, considering that I spent most of it at work!

As for the field marks, I'm slowly learning. Got these two down pat now, at least! I've always enjoyed watching birds (and other critters), but have only recently begun to learn how to ID them. And doing it in the field is a lesson that's coming rather slowly. Yet another reason I take my trusty Canon with me to work every day. If I can "shoot" it, I can always try to identify (or at least verify my first guess) later.

Susan Gets Native said...

Thanks for visiting my blog!
Don't sweat the "painfully obvious". A few years ago, I used to blur over hawk ID's because they all looked the same. Now I'm a raptor educator. That's something I am proud of.
The red-tailed hawk is so variable across its range, it can confuse even seasoned birders. They can be very very pale...or very very dark. Some of them are almost completely black!
Great photos, by the way.

LauraHinNJ said...

Hey Kyle! Thanks for stopping by my blog.

I have to laugh at KatDoc and Susan - they sound like such darn experts!

Watch hawks for a while and you get to just know what redtails look like, despite their endless variety.

(That's me trying really hard to sound like an almost expert.)


Great pics, btw. What type of camera do you use?

Kyle said...

Susan: Thanks for stopping by -- I've been enjoying your raptor (and other) posts for quite a while. I've seen red-taileds plenty of times overhead (far, far overhead), but never before so close up that I could actually see field marks. Here's hoping I'll have lots more opportunities!

Laura: Thanks for the encouragement. Loved your recent "tickling the ivories" post -- brought back lots of memories of growing up in a music-filled home.

And yeah, they do sound like experts, especially knowing just how little I still really know! One of the reasons I usually just lurk around blogs like y'all's and Julie's and others. I don't feel like I know enough to contribute, other than to just say "Wow!"

Oh, and I've got a Canon Rebel XSi -- birthday gift from my wonderful wife, and my first foray into digital after almost 30 years of wasting film. ;-)

2sweetnsaxy said...

Wow. It was great that it hung around long enough for you to get these wonderful shots.