Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hawk Stalk

Saving the best for last, I headed out to stalk hawks today with Sheri Williamson and Tom Woods of the Southeast Arizona Bird Observatory. I know a lot of knowledgeable birders, but they were absolutely outstanding in this field. That's a literal statement, because we spent the day going from one farmer's field to another to find our hawks. Sheri taught us how to distinguish one hawk from another - Coopers from Sharp Shinned, for example, and all the different color morphs of the Red Tailed hawk.
Red Tail - light morph
Red Tail - dark morph
We found over 50 Red Tails, including a beautiful Dark Morph. Sheri is my kind of birder. She jumps up and down shouting "Ooh, ooh, OOH!" just as I do, when she finds something exciting. I told her my husband gets irritated when I do this, and she says Tom reacts the same way. We decided that all the best birders get speechless when they are passionate about finding a bird! Unfortunately, the best birds were across the field, or up in the tops of a tree surrounded by branches, so I don't have a lot of sharp pictures today. Our first stop was a plowed field, where at least 12 Red Hawks perched in trees or the irrigation pipes. Four Ferruginous hawks stood on the ground listening for gophers. Sheri says they hunt by sound more than sight. A juvenile Bald Eagle joined the crowd with his support group, the Ravens. Anywhere the Eagle went the Ravens went too. (Sounds like football, doesn't it?) Two younger Ferruginous hawks perched on the same phone pole, and tried to stare each other into going someplace else.

Our findings weren't limited to raptors, although that was my favorite part. At a lake before a dairy cattle factory, we found both Snow Geese and Ross' Geese. The Ross' have much smaller bills and a forehead. The lake at the power plant, next to the Sandhill Crane viewing area, hosted four (count 'em) Tundra Swans! This is the real Swan Lake, as they dipped their heads in synchronized swimming from one side of the lake to the other. Ruddy ducks, Buffleheads, American Wigeons and Common Mergansers were added to the total list for the day.

We tracked down a Merlin in her customary area. A single Harris hawk roamed around looking lost, but later we we found two nearby, and hope this single will rejoin the family. Meanwhile a Northern Harrier roused flocks of sparrows from the grass. It finally disappeared into the grass, and we assumed it stopped for lunch just as we had.

Thank you, Sheri and Tom, for the best day of the festival! Tomorrow we are heading to Madera Canyon, then home on Tuesday. We tallied up the birds we've seen this week, not just at the festival, and came up with 38 new birds to add to our Life List. Too Cool! After that comes the really hard part - trying to decide which birding festival to attend next time!

1 comment:

dAwN said...

I am so glad I found your blog! I have also birded with Sheri and Tom...and i too love her excitement!
I haven't been to that bird festival yet but it is on our list!
This winter we are in Florida and currently in Tittusville for the Spacecoast birding and wildlife festival.
I added you to my hugely long birdie blogroll...which i am thinking I should now divide by states!
I look forward to reading more of you birding adventures!