Tag Archive | raptors

Schoolyard Swainson’s

Last July, right before I moved to Texas, I was treated to an incredible sight: a dark-morph Swainson’s Hawk perched on a fence in a school parking lot. This hawk was incredibly close to the sidewalk and allowed for some great photos, all the while sitting calmly on its perch.

 This hawk didn’t seem to be injured, it just seemed to be very tolerant of people. Supposedly, Swainson’s Hawks are accepting of human activity and tolerate even more in areas where this activity is more frequent. This species will often become accustomed to disturbance from humans, thus the higher level of tolerability. This hawk, however did still seem to be giving me the evil eye!

After a couple minutes, the impressive raptor, slowly turned away (above) and resumed its activities as if I wasn’t even there.

This is not the first time this year that a Swainson’s Hawk has allowed me to get very close to it, back in May, while we bloggers were doing the Big Sit, we observed a Swainson’s that allowed us to watch it from merely several feet away https://birdscalgary.wordpress.com/2011/05/15/swainsons-hawk/.

This was definitely one of the cooler birding parts of the summer!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Wintering blackbirds in Texas

Winter leaps upon us in a flash. One minute, it seems, it is a very distant shape looming faintly on the horizon. Suddenly, before we know it, winter has struck, leaving us wondering where the summer went. In Texas, the same seems to happen with wintering birds. One day, only the year-round residents who call Texas home can be seen. The next day, countless wintering birds of all shapes and sizes are everywhere, confusing even the most attentive eye.

Countless blackbirds flock together during the winter

On a recent trip to Brazos Bend State Park here in Texas, about an hour southwest of Houston, we observed some spectacular flocking in action. Literally thousands upon thousands of blackbirds; Red-winged Blackbirds, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Common Grackles and European Starlings congregating on some farmer’s fields. They swarmed and swirled, seemingly in perfect coordination, lifting off and landing as a unit. And yet, this is not a sight you can readily behold on these bird wintering grounds. You don’t see flocks of thousands of these species doing this in the summer, so why do they do it in the winter???

These blackbirds have quite a few reasons for doing this in the winter but these flocking habits also have numerous downsides. First of all, on the positive side, foraging is greatly improved by the large flock as opposed to a single bird or a small group. The more eyes you have working together, the easier it is to find food! More eyes can also mean more safety from would-be predators, and trust me, there are a lot of them!

This brings us to one of the downsides of wintering flocks. Predators. Lots of them. Where there is food, there are consumers, waiting to, well, consume the food. Raptors see these blackbirds as one huge buffet just waiting to be sampled. In a small farmer’s field, we counted up to 20 raptors: about 10 Caracaras, many Red-tailed Hawks, several White-tailed Hawks, a Turkey Vulture and a couple of Northern Harriers, all exploring the delightful opportunity of a full stomach all winter long. If these hawks were to stick with the group of blackbirds, they could potentially always find one or two to pick off from the pack. The more birds in a flock, the more noise and commotion they make, rendering them easily visible targets.

Large concentrations of any living thing invariably bring with them two other depreciating factors; disease and competition. Avian diseases can be spread very quickly in such large flocks and may sometimes ravage a great portion of the local species. More birds might find better food sources but if there isn’t enough to go around, there simply isn’t enough. Weaker, slower and sick birds often will be the first to go hungry as they cannot compete with the healthier individuals.

It was definitely a neat sight to behold, especially when a raptor would plunge into the center of the throng, sending up explosions of blackbirds. One of the White-tailed Hawks that we spotted, an immature, had a very full crop (a muscular pouch near the throat used to store food), showing us that it had been eating well recently.

In the end, the advantages of these congregations greatly outweigh the disadvantages and it is a bewildering sight that will continue to captivate many a fortunate observer.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Revering a Raptor

From the day that I first laid eyes on the species, gliding on broad wings over a coniferous forest in the Rocky mountains of Alberta, I have always looked with awe at it, astounded by its sheer magnificence. Many people have soft spots for raptors. I have a soft spot for one in particular: the Northern Goshawk.

I first saw a goshawk just over a year ago. It was early October 2010, and I had signed up for the Mount Lorette Golden Eagle field trip with Nature Calgary. I went out on my own to explore the area right around the location of the watch, and, while out on the path, witnessed an adult goshawk rise up from the spruce trees and circle away. From that moment on I was always looking for goshawks; every chance I got, I would go searching for them.

Rising up out of the forest; my first views of a Northern Goshawk

Several days later, on a biking trip to Fish Creek Provincial Park, I came across an adult Goshawk perched high up in a poplar, sitting and gazing at the world around him. I stood and watched this magnificent raptor for more than half an hour, pointing the bird out to anybody who came near. Many of these were joggers or were merely walking their dogs. They took little interest in this bird, that is somewhat tricky to spot in the city of Calgary. I was rewarded though by the few who did pause to look up at the goshawk and comment on his size.

“What did you say it was called?”

“A Northern Goshawk”, I would reply eagerly, ” it’s somewhat unusual here in Calgary.”

“Really? Wow! Look at how big he his!” After staring up at him for several more seconds, they would smile and move on. Hopefully the Goshawk had made an impression on them though.

While I watched this large, strong accipter (agile, forest dwelling hawks with short rounded wings and long tails) it scratched its head withs its talon, giving me glimpses of those wicked sharp utensils it uses to tear apart its prey. Eventually, it lifted off and disappeared amongst the trees.

Goshawks are among the largest, strongest and most audacious of the hawks of North America. In November 2010, a little over a month since I first observed this species, I got an excellent opportunity to view this audacity. I was riding my bike home from Fish Creek and was running slightly late. I looked down for a moment as I pulled onto a dirt path going around a storm water pond, and, when I looked up again, there, sitting merely yards away from me in a small tree no taller than 10 feet, was an adult goshawk. They now seemed to be everywhere I went! I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could and screeched to a stop, panting breathlessly. Pulling out my camera, I marveled at how close this bird had let me get. I stood watching him, he stood watching me, this went on for several minutes before he abruptly flew away.

Taken with a 200mm lens and no crop; I could see every detail in the feathers

Instead of leaving altogether though, the goshawk started hovering over a field, pulled up, started hovering again and then pulled up once more. Then, with a sharp turn, he came whizzing right at me and flew by me at a distance of about 4 feet! The raptor was so close that my lens couldn’t focus on it!

These incredibly neat personal experiences combined with an amazingly beautiful species, have come to make me love the Northern Goshawk.

Posted by Matthew Sim

Bird Profile: Red-tailed Hawk

Chances are you have seen this species before; this large hawk is one of the most widely distributed, numerous and commonly observed raptors in Canada. With a wingspan of up to 1.4m (58”) the Red-tailed Hawk is a highly variable buteo; soaring hawks that have wide tails and long, broad wings. Circling high up in the air, the Red-tailed Hawk can see mice scurrying about on the ground from 30 m (100ft) up .

This particular hawk in the photo appears to have done just that; he saw a mouse and then caught it, bringing the unfortunate rodent away to eat it, flying right over my head in the process of carrying off the mouse.

As mentioned before, the Red-tailed Hawk is a highly variable hawk with at least 14 recognized subspecies; ranging from the dark ‘Harlan’s Hawk’ to the ‘Krider’s Hawk’, a very pale subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawks love woodlands near open country; therefore, their habitat is diverse and they can be seen almost anywhere in Calgary. In summer, we tend to see light-colored morphs of the Western calurus the most and in migration and winter, we usually see dark morph ‘Harlan’s Hawks’. Also, in the southern part of Alberta, we have some krider’s Red-tailed Hawks. However, no matter what subspecies you see, they are still very impressive, especially when you get a good look at those talons!

Posted by Matthew Sim

Swainson’s Hawk

While we were at Inglewood Bird Sanctuary doing our Big Sit, we came across a very interesting sight. There, perched on the ground, maybe ten feet off the path, was a dark-morph Swainson’s Hawk. The dark-morph Swainson’s Hawk has a dark-brown colour over most of its body; the more common light morph has a brown bib contrasting with white underparts. This particular hawk had a Richardson’s Ground Squirrel clutched in his claws and was regarding all the photographers and interested visitors with a haughty look.

This Swainson’s Hawk intrigued many visitors to Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.

And there he sat; for over an hour we were told, he had stayed in the same spot. He finally got tired of all this hustle and bustle, deciding to try to find a quieter place to enjoy his meal in peace. However, he had not counted on catching such a heavy meal…

 Attempted take-off

After he couldn’t achieve lift-off by taking a running leap, he tried a different tactic: taking off from the spot where he stood.

Flap!!!

Well that didn’t work either…

The hawk then decided that, seeing as he wasn’t going anywhere with his meal, he might try to eat it right then and there. And that’s what he did. He hopped back a couple of feet with his meal, to a slightly more secluded area and began to eat.

 Here, he shields his meal from potential thieves.

Hopefully his meal didn’t weigh him down too much after he ate it; otherwise, he might not be able to take off again!!!

Posted by Matthew Sim

The Osprey Cam – They’re Back!

For over 16 years, a pair of nesting Osprey has built their summer home on a platform constructed by the Calgary Zoo atop a pole erected by ENMAX Power Corporation. The platform is located at the extreme east end of St. George’s Island.

Birdwatchers have access to a bird’s eye view of an Osprey nest via a high-resolution webcam, thanks to an arrangement between the Calgary Zoo and ENMAX Corporation.

The live streaming camera captures in full cycle the birds’ dramatic seasonal milestones, from nest building and mating rituals, to egg laying, incubation, hatching, feeding and fledging, a period of intense activity that is all centred at the nest between April and September.

Watch the Osprey nest camera live, 24 hours a day (If you click the icon in the bottom right hand corner of the video, it will go to full screen size. To leave full screen view, hit the Esc key on your keyboard)

There is also an Osprey Blog following the action in this nest

Posted by Pat Bumstead