Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Week 39

25 Sep 2013, Wekiwa Springs State Park

Birds are supposed to fly!!!

Tell that to this Short-tailed Hawk that hung motionless in the air.  This hawk went into a "kiting" position with wings in a soaring profile, tail slightly down and head down looking for its prey.  It stayed in this position for 60-75 seconds, then stooped ... diving on its prey at a very fast speed straight down.

This image and the image below were taken after its kiting and stoop.  It is too bad the sky was so gray and bright because these two images could have looked really good with a normal sky.

This is a rare species in the USA, somewhere around 200 breeding pairs.  Except for an outlier in AZ, this species only breeds in the USA in Florida.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Week 38

19 Sep 2013, Wekiwa Springs State Park

This tortoise looks big, but looks fool you with photos ...

This is a hatchling Gopher Tortoise.  It is about the size of a 50 cent piece and was right on the road leading to Sand Lake.  I moved it off the road and I hope it survives to adulthood.

Migration continues on ...

This Brown Thrasher is a year round resident in Central Florida but I saw many more than normal this week as migrants from up north move south into this area for the winter.

16 Sep 2023, Little Big Econ State Forest

Finally, no clutter ... no, not talking about the teenager's bedroom. 

After years of trying to get an American Redstart in a relatively clear frame without leaf and twig clutter, I finally got my chance.  Mary and Eli Schaperow and I were at the Little Big Econ State Forest when this male appeared. 

Ovenbirds were right on the trail and as we entered a clearing, we saw a flycatcher doing its flycatching thing of grabbing an insect in mid-air and returning to its same spot.

It was an Eastern Wood-Pewee.  We also had the rare dark morph Short-tailed Hawk do a fly-over.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Week 37

12 Sep 2013, Wekiwa Springs State Park

Here I am, sitting on a lawn chair at Wekiwa Springs SP, gazing up into the heavens looking for high altitude migrating raptors flying thousands of feet high.  A shadow zips by me followed by a woooosh and I am then staring at the rear end of what I thought was a Merlin flying no more than 15 feet above the ground--it went right over me.

As it neared a dead snag by the equestrian area, it spread its wings as it rose up to land and the wings were so long I said to myself, "Cool, another Peregrine".  I walked over to the equestrian area and got this photo:

I was surprised--it actually was a Merlin.   See that dragonfly buzzing overhead?  That's what this Merlin did to me.

A short time later, while looking at some Black Vultures, a dark morph Short-tailed Hawk entered the scene.

Look at the leading edge of the wings of this Short-tailed Hawk above.  See how smooth they are?  In the next picture below, the Short-tailed Hawk starts kiting and the alula extends out from the wing ...

You could not even see where the alula was in the first photo.  Like slats on an aircraft, the alula assists in providing lift when the raptor slows down to kite and when it lands.

This has been a great time for raptor watching here recently--a Peregrine Falcon migrating at high altitude, Bald Eagles, Red-shouldered Hawks plentiful, Red-tailed Hawks, a Cooper's Hawk the previous week, a migrating Merlin trying to take my head off, and a Short-tailed Hawk kiting right overhead.

There is nothing special about this location that draws raptors here.  It simply has some big open sky where you can see good distances.  No matter where you live, find some "big sky", some shade to keep you cooler, pack some cold drinks and snacks and go hawk watching during the next few weeks. 

Better yet, go to a real hawk watch site where raptors funnel through in concentrated numbers.  The closest site for many of you would be in the Keys--the season is Sept 15 to Nov 15.  I'll likely go to Hawk Mountain, PA for a while (the grandaddy of American hawk watch sites) then head down to the Keys at our Florida Keys Hawkwatch at Curry Hammock State Park.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In-flight Field Marks of the Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk

10 Sep 2013, Lake Norris Conservation Area

In-flight Field Marks of the Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk
The two images below are of the same juvenile Red-tailed Hawk that I observed 10 Sep 2013 at the Lake Norris Conservation Area, Lake County, FL.  The terminology you hear and see is usually not mentioned in the typical field guides because field guides are designed to be brief.  This overview will mention some of the most common terms used when describing a Red-tailed Hawk; some terms apply to all birds.
Underside view:
CLICK TO ENLARGE; "X" in upper right to go back
A key field mark of the juvenile Red-tailed Hawk is how much darker the secondary flight feathers are compared to the primary flight feathers.  In clockwise rotation, p10 is the most forward primary feather, then you see where I noted where p6 is;  p1 is next to s1. 

Look closely at the entire s1 feather (and the rest of the secondary feathers) and you see the dark coloration compared to the primary feathers; compare closely p1 to s1 to see how the primaries and secondaries differ.  This is why there is a "window" or "panel" shown in the image below.  The ten primary feathers lack this dark coloration thus creating the wing panel or translucent window.  p10 though p6 may show dark tips but the base is still light.
The counting order is simply different with the secondaries.  Think of it as a rocket lifting off.  p10, p9, p8, ...p1, then s1, s2, s3 etc. as you get closer to the body of the bird  There is no zero.
In the image below, from the topside, you will see how this "translucent window" or "wing panel" appears.
The "terminal band" on the tail is 2 to 3 times wider than the rest of the thin dark bands on the juvenile.  Some authors may describe this as the "subterminal band", meaning the second to the last band (counting toward the tip of the tail).  The tip of the tail is white.  In some raptors or other birds, if this white edging is wide enough, it will be referred to as the terminal band and then this wider band in this image, in that case, may be referred to as the subterminal band.  No need to get confused here because in nearly all cases, they are simply referring to a wider band at the tip (or near the tip) of the tail.  The adult usually lacks the tail bands but often retains a line or thin dark subterminal band.  Tail banding is usually not seen in the field, even if clear in close-up photos.
The "patagial mark" is the dark bar on the patagium, as illustrated above.  Sibley's Field Guide refers to "the dark mark on leading edge of underwing".  This is the #1 field mark in nearly all subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk.  If you see a patagial mark in Florida, you can rule out any other raptor with a high degree of confidence.  This mark is unique to the Red-tailed Hawk.  If it is not, then it is an anomaly. 

The streaking in the belly, the "belly band", is another key mark for the Eastern subspecies (certain subspecies it will be missing) but some other raptors can show some streaking here.  Usually, it is so prominent and contrasts with the clean white chest so much that it is the #2 key field mark for Eastern Red-tails.  The belly band is easier to see than the dark area on the patagium at a distance.

The white chest contrasts with the belly band in Eastern Red-tails.  Other Florida buteos usually show some streaking or spots on the chest.
Unlike the patagial mark, the "comma" is not unique to the Red-tailed Hawk.
Top-side view:

This is the same hawk as above but further away.  The "bulge" is often prominent in the Red-tailed Hawk, illustrated here by the third red line from the top.  This is a key mark.  Other Florida buteos don't show a prominent bulge.  If you note the first image from the underside, you really don't see this bulge well.  The hawk in this topside view is more into a soar with the "hand" or outer primaries pushed forward and that exaggerated the "bulge", something you will often see or hear when birders describe a Red-tailed Hawk.
Look how obvious the wing panel is, illustrated by the area between the top two red lines.  The Red-shouldered Hawk has a crescent shaped wing panel that is much smaller.  The juvenile Red-tailed Hawk has a large square shaped wing panel that, as you saw from the above image, is created by all ten primary feathers being lighter colored than the secondaries.

If you go to my Aug 21, 2013 blog post, I show a side-by-side view of an adult and juvenile Red-tailed Hawk and you can see where the adult lacks the wing panel.
Other topside marks:  The tail is not red because it is a juvenile.  The white area in the rump has thrown birders off, thinking they saw anything from a Golden Eagle to a Snail Kite to a Cooper's Hawk, to a Northern Harrier, et al.  This image shows the tips of the first four primaries turned up but that is not a diagnostic mark.  The Short-tailed Hawk more commonly shows upturned wing tips.

As a final note, new birders need to remember what a field guide is.  The key word is “field”—these guides are brief and small, designed to carry into the field so you do not get detailed descriptions and explanations of terms used.  That is what a desk reference is for or an online reference such as Birds of North America Online.  Hopefully, new birders picked up some tips here to not only help ID a Red-tailed Hawk but to know what some of this terminology means.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Week 36

8 Sep 2013, Rock Springs Run State Reserve, Lake County


My, what a big tail you have!
Juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk.

Coyote Ugly?  Only in movie titles.  Coyote nice-looking here.
Everybody says the coyotes are everywhere and numerous but I don't see them that often.  This one was close by today at mid-day in Rock Springs Run State Reserve.

2 Sep 2013, Black Bear Wilderness Area, Seminole County
"Look Mom, I have two bonus stripes."
Of the three five-lined skinks, the juvenile of the Broad-headed Skink can have seven lines like this one.  With a rainbow of colors, the juvenile is pretty attractive also.  The adult loses the rainbow.
2 Sep 2013, Wilson's Landing, Seminole County

The prettiest eyes in the animal kingdom.

If this Royal River Cruiser does not have the prettiest eyes, what does?