Golden Eagle Survey Time Again!

First, an interesting news story that popped up over the Holidays: According to a story in The New York Times blog in the last week a red-tailed hawk was picked up in New York and eventually made its way to The Raptor Trust.  Turns out that the hawk is over 27 years old!  I was curious if this was the oldest wild red-tailed hawk recovered in the's not.  According to the Bird Banding Lab the oldest known wild red-tailed hawk was 29 years and 9 months old.  Interesting was that this bird was also recovered in New York.

Since it's now officially winter, it's getting to be golden eagle season along the Upper Mississippi River.  The National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN will hold its annual Winter Golden Eagle Survey on January 15, 2011.  The above photo is one that I took during the survey last winter. I took a route near our beehives and ended up finding 3 golden eagles.  If you do not feel comfortable with your golden eagle vs immature bald eagle id skills, the National Eagle Center offers seminars to teach you how.  These are helpful because they show the habitat you are more likely to find a golden eagle than you would an immature bald eagle.  The next seminar is on January 8.  If you are in the area, you should sing up.  It's beautiful country in the winter and at the very least, you'll see lots of bald eagles, if not a few golden eagles.

Rainy Weekend At The Hawk Banding Station

rainy view from the blind Minnesota was a little on the dry side this summer and autumn appears to be hell bent on making that up.  It is non stop rain and that was certainly the case at Frank Taylor's banding station this weekend.  Not that I mind, last weekend was great and we got in a good number of birds and we got to watch some great hawk flights and dives.  And at the end of the day, a slow and rainy day in the blind beats any day behind a desk (and wearing uncomfortable government pants) so I was just happy to be there.  The camaraderie was great and Frank let Amber and I sleep in his trailer.  There's nothing quite like hearing the patter of rain on the roof to put you right to sleep.

male merlin

I thought for sure with the rain that we would get a peregrine in the nets--or at least see one, but alas we got skunked on the peregrine front.  We did see a few merlins and one little tiny passage (hatch year) male came right in--and he was literally half the size of the pigeon.  Ah, young males, so impetuous, they think they can take on the world...or at least a ginormous pigeon.

merlin ready to go

As we were about to let the merlin go, the rain picked up again--you can see it bead up on his head.  He looks like he's screaming, "Okay, you have your darned photos, let's get this show on the road.  Let me go!" And we did.

Adult Sharp-shinned Hawk

We did get in a few sharp-shinned hawks like the above adult male.  I think we banded a total of four birds while I was there all day Saturday and for half the day on Sunday.

Sharp-shinned getting processed

This sharp-shin is about to get a band on its leg.  Considering how few birds we saw on Saturday, that wasn't a bad average.  The rain kept raptors out of site.  We did have a TON of migrants around us.  The woods were still chock full of red-breasted nuthatches, yellow-rumped warblers, black-capped chickadees, ruby-crowned kinglets and palm warblers.  You can see photos of some of those birds at my buddy Amber's blog.  They were very responsive to pishing.  I stood in the woods behind the blind, pished a little and the whole mixed flock dropped from the trees and eyed my warily.  One red-breasted nuthatch landed briefly on my hat...of course, I did not have my camera with me.  We also had a bunch of lapland longspurs flying around in front of us and it was amazing to watch them disappear into the grass when the flock finally landed.  American pipits called frequently from overhead as they too worked their way south.

dark shin

Adult sharp-shinned hawks are a thing of beauty with their orange fronts and dark blue backs, accented by a red eye.  Even though we did not get many in, the few adults that landed in the nets were a treat to see up close.  Normally, when we let birds go, I like to lay underneath the releaser and get a shot of the bird in flight from below.  Usually, the releaser opens their hand on a count of three and the bird bolts.

Sharp-shinned release

This particular sharp-shinned hawk wasn't ready.  It paused, just for a moment.  I love the way it's looking behind, as if to say, "What now? You thought you wanted me to flap on five?"  Don't worry, true to accipiter form and this bird's folk name of Little Blue Darter, it flapped in plenty of time and dove into the woods.

Shin release

This was a passage (hatch year) male.  Look at his little chicken legs!  These hawks are so tiny in hand (blue jay sized) and are really skinny--like David Bowie circa Diamond Dogs skinny.

I hope I get to make it up one more time...I did not get a good goshawk fix at the blind.

A Day In Frank Taylor's Blind

passage sharpies A photo of a pair of hatch year sharp-shinned hawks (the female is the larger bird on the left, the male is smaller and on the right) means that it's that special time of year for me.  That special time when I try to cut back on where I travel to so I can have time to help out with some hawk banding.  To those who have ever participated in a well run and a good banding station, it's not only scientific research, but it's part hunting and part sports game.  You scan the skies looking for a hawk that might be in a good position to see your bait, if it comes down, it could at the last minute dart off, if it does hit the net, you have to make sure the bait bird doesn't get nailed, then you have to dash out of the blind before the hawk gets out of the net.  After all of that research, you take notes on the bird and let it go, hoping for it to be recovered again when even more valuable information can be garnered.

a hawk

Sunday was the first day I was able to go up.  I hit the road dark and early.  Watching the forecast, I wasn't sure what to expect. Websites predicted a 40% chance of rain all day, but the winds would be west in the morning, northwest in the afternoon--promising.  And at the end of the day, a slow day in the blind, is better than any day away from it.  And even to have the chance to watch the hawks on part of their journey is a treat.  No worries, it was not a disappointed day in the least, note the above red-tailed hawk--oh, what a flight to watch come in to the net.

rabbit call

Above is my buddy Frank Taylor posing with a hatch year (passage) red-tailed hawk we got in the nets.  He's also posing with his wounded rabbit call, which I must admit, I was skeptical about it. But it totally worked!  This young red-tail flew up to catch a thermal.  Rick, our master pigeon yanker, pulled the pigeon to flap a few times, and the red-tail showed no interest.  Frank grabbed his wounded rabbit call, blew loud and blew hard and the bird flapped, came out of the thermal and set towards the pigeon--it was beautiful.  It came in from far, set its wings, slowly lowered the talons and flew right into the net!  The call of the wounded rabbit was just enough to get the red-tail's attention to see the bait bird.

still staring

After we band the birds and are about to let them go, I like to try and get photos of them taking off.  My favorite way is to lay on the ground.  Normally, the birds are looking to get away.  Not this red-tail, it watched me to the whole time.


It was not interested in anything else.  I even said to Frank, "I really don't like the way this one is looking at me." It was not looking away.


Yet, when the hawk was released, it lost complete interest in me.  Whew.  When I showed this photo to Non Birding Bill, he said the hawk looked like it was auditioning for Fame and trying to light up the sky like a flame.


One of the fun parts of the blind is getting to see the local wildlife come out, not knowing that we are there.  This was a doe who came out to browse.  Although, her interest was piqued when she heard all of the camera clicks.


We had a very ballsy chipmunk come out to gather some of the leftover pigeon food to its winter stores, seemingly oblivious to the potential predators we were trying to draw in.

blue jay

Blue jays also came in for the spilled food and periodically competed with the chipmunk.  This bird was really loading up on food--look how full the crop is.  Early in the morning when fewer hawks were moving, we had time to watch the chipmunk and the hawk, but by 10am, the hawk faucet was turned on and we were too busy catching hawks and watching others fly over to pay attention to the others.

a sharpie

We got in quite a few haggard (after hatch year) sharp-shins.  Normally, we don't get too many of those until later the season.  It was such a great day of watching hawks of all sizes from far off spot the pigeon and then come in for it.

a flathead

One particular adult had us wondering about his past.  As soon as my friend Amber took him out of the nets, she noted that he had a Cooper's hawk look about him with his head.  It did look a bit flat, but he was sharpie in size and dainty bill.  As she banded the sharp-shin, he did what many hawks typically do--open its mouth and stick its tongue out.  Only, when this hawk did it, the tongue veered sharply to the right (not unlike someone with a neurologic disorder).  While Amber banded this bird, more hawks came into the nets and Reier held the hawk.  The hawk turned it's head this way and that.  When it would strain too far to the left or right, it would shake.  Reier noted that it was like someone with nerve damage.  Between the flatness of the head and the abnormalities, I wondered if this bird had flown into a window or some other blunt trauma?  It was a chunky bird, so it felt as though it had been eating well, but something happened to it somewhere.

Goshawks & Red-tails, Oh My!

Frank Taylor just sent me last weekend's banding report from his hawk trapping station in northern Minnesota. While I was busy with birding in Cape May, NJ over the weekend, he was dealing with goshawks and a double red-tailed hawk capture! So wish I had not been working and had been at the blind with him. I just love this photo! This is a red-tailed hawk getting ready to fly into the nets. But look at the great light the hawk is flying in, the sun is hitting some dark clouds in the distance and the vegetation has browns, yellows, whites and green to make a late autumn look--three of my favorite things all in one shot! You'll note I have a similar theme on my banner on the blog. That's how I imagine heaven will be (that and all the angels look like Daniel Craig).

Because Frank bands on the weekends and not during the week, the station is dependent on winds coming out of the northwest just on the weekends to get good numbers of migrating raptors moving through. The weather mojo hasn't been really been that cooperative this year, so most of the weekends have been slow going. Ah well, some years that's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.

Although Saturday Frank said, "Not much was moving in the morning and our first bird of the day was a huge second year adult female Goshawk that came in at 11:40 am." Check out how big that girl is! That's Chuck and Rick holding her. She's HUGE. She's no doubt female (in the raptor world females are larger than males and it's more noticeable in bird eating raptors like goshawks).

Frank noted that she's a second year bird, meaning she hatched in 2007. She's got her adult gray feathers, but her eyes are still quite yellow. The older these accipiters get (accipiters are a type of hawk that includes sharp-shinned hawks and Cooper's hawks), the more red their eyes become. Here's a photo I took a few years ago of an adult gos with those red eyes:

That red with that delicate gray makes them the most beautiful raptor (in the US) in my book. It also makes them look more maniacal.

They did get a passage (hatched this year) goshawk too--note the brown feathers and yellow eyes. Ug, this is so painful. I love Cape May and I loved birding and I got some fabulous digiscoping images (I still have a few more to post) but I love goshawks so much, I'm so sorry I missed this weekend at Frank's station. And as awesome as goshawks are, they also had some other excitement in the nets:

"A lot of birds started moving. First the Crows got up, followed by the Eagles and Ravens, then an explosion of adult Red-tails with some Rough-legs and Shins mixed in. At various times during the day, we could see as many as thirty birds in the air at once. What a day!!! A lot of the Red-tails would swoop in and perch in the trees over the blinds. We had to go out and shoo them away so they wouldn't scare off any of the others that were making their final approach to the nets."

The highlight of the day came when we got a double of adult Red-tails at 3:35 pm. When they hit, Rick shot out past the one in the front net knowing it was securely caught and grabbed the one in the mist net that was all but out, except for its feet!!! Chuck got on the other one right away. WAY TO GO, GUYS!!!! That was the first time we ever got a double on larger hawks. (We did get a triple on Shins once a few years back.)"

Total for Sunday - 13 Red-tails, 2 Goshawks, & 2 Sharp-shins. Total for the weekend is 19 birds. 13 Red-tails, 3 Goshawks, & 3 Sharp-shins."

Thanks for sharing your photos, Frank. This is his last weekend up at his banding station for 2008. I'll have to wait until next year.


It Was About Quality, Not Quantity

I met up with my buddy Rick and we carpooled up to Frank Taylor's hawk banding station near Duluth, MN last weekend. The plan was to have a great weekend of hawk banding, timed right during the big broad-winged hawk. I thought we were off to a bang when one of the first birds in was an early morning red-tailed hawk. This immature bird (because it's lacking a red tail) came in not long after the nets were set up. I didn't take that many photos of it, I figured more birds would come.

But not many birds were moving that day, my friend, and we spent a good deal of time scanning empty skies and chatting (still a great time). The clouds came in, the winds were not in our favor and started blowing so hard they billowed the nets, making them easy to see to a keen eyed raptor. Eventually, the clouds cleared, but by that point, the few hawks that were moving through were way too high to even consider coming into our nets.

Warblers, especially yellow-rumped warblers (like the one above) were swarming around some nearby bushes, hawking insects and sipping juice from the red berries off this bush. If anyone recognizes the berry bush in the warbler photos, please feel free to drop a note in the comments. We were thinking they were honeysuckle, but were not sure. Whatever they were, the berries were a bird magnet--we even saw a Swainson's thrush lurking among the leaves to partake of the fruit.

However, it is indeed a slow banding day if I can tear myself from the blind to go out and do a bit of digiscoping--and warbler digiscoping at that (not easy to get those little dudes to stay still), but manage I did. However, it is indeed a slow banding day if I can tear myself from the blind to go out and do a bit of digiscoping--and warbler digiscoping at that (not easy to get those little dudes to stay still), but manage I did. We closed up the blind a little early and headed over to the Lighthouse for dinner. After sitting in a blind with cold winds blowing on your face, a hot meal was in order--I ate a lovely pork chop with sour kraut and mashed potatoes (insert Homer Simpson donut noise here). It's amazing to me that I can be a good two and a half hours north of the Twin Cities freezing my tail off and the Twin Cities themselves will be close to eighty degrees. That night, I curled up in my sleeping bag in Frank's van. Again, I would like to say how grateful that despite my girliness, I can still spend the night in a van.

The more I join the guys at Frank's station in the fall, the more I can relate to deer hunters. You may not always get all the birds you hoped for, but you enjoy just being with your friends and staring at birds. There were other things to keep us amused: friend's of Frank popped in for visits (and cookies), an elder hostile showed up and Frank gave them a tour, listening for trains...

And Rick Dupont--who is the master of pulling the bait pigeon made a special friend. A Richardson's ground squirrel is living under the blind and the entry and exit hole is on Rick's side of the blind. Rick is generally a quiet guy anyhow, I wondered if he was forming a special bond with the squirrel...was it telling him things like how to pull the pigeon on the harness or that Free Masons rule the country? If you have been to Hawk Ridge, you might have seen Richardson's ground squirrels near the counting area, under the sign.

We set up the next morning and Rick hoped we would do better than the day before. I was hopeful and said that we only needed two birds and our numbers would have been twice as good as the day before. Frank has a second blind set up on his property that is run by his friend Todd. We can sometimes see birds pop up and head towards the second blind--we'll even radio over potential birds. We watched this immature sharp-shinned hawk pop up and then dive down towards Todd. Frank, Rick, and I wondered if Todd got. Ten seconds later, Todd radioed that he had a shin. There were a couple of times we watched merlins bombing across the field and then they would disappear. Just as we would wonder where the merlin went, Todd would radio a few seconds later that a merlin passed his net twice and moved on. Those tiny falcons make speed look so effortless.

As the morning wore on, the chances of getting any birds looked bleak. While watching a shin that was totally ignoring us, a harrier made a sneak attack from behind the blind and dove down on the pigeon. Fortunately, Rick is always ready to pounce was able to prevent the harrier from getting the pigeon. He harrier had no intent of going into the net, it was very much trying to get the pigeon inside this strange fence. It just didn't realize humans were that close. We debated about what time to close the blind--noon? I said we should stay until 12:30pm, something good was going to come. Well, we noticed some snipe moving through (that's something). One landed fairly close to the blind, so Frank and I thought we would head over to get a shot. We were wandered for about twenty minutes. Rick came out to join us. We looked up and a merlin flew low right above us. We were all too far from the blind and totally missed it. Doh! We walked back to the blind and debated if it was time to close shop. When we were about ten feet from the blind, Frank shouted, "Peregrine!"

I set my scope behind the blind and darted in. Rick just made it to the pigeon line and pulled, Frank whispered to freeze. I saw the large, dark bird approach from the north, it was set and made a beeline for the pigeon. The peregrine made the decent from a low angle and then dropped it's feet like a red-tail would--we call this lowering the landing gear. Usually peregrines do not do this, so it was interesting to see. Two seconds later the bird hit the nets and Rick exploded out of the blind (a peregrine got away from him the weekend before, he wasn't letting this one go).

There she is--and it's another tundrius peregrine falcon, like Peregrine 568. You can tell by this young bird having a light blond head. Other young peregrines like anatums will have a dark head. She was unbanded and tundrius peregrines come from way up north on the tundra, she could be from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (you know that place where Michele Bachmann said there's no trees and wildlife).

So, I wasn't just talking out of my butt when I told Frank and Rick that we should stay until 12:30pm because something good was coming. All told, for two days of waiting, we got in only 3 birds. But they were quality birds. A red-tailed hawk and a peregrine falcon are great birds to watch fly in. As a matter of fact, I've never watched a peregrine fly in. I've seen them after they were trapped--usually at Todd's net but never got to watch the full flight in. It was pretty awesome. I'm looking forward to making another trip. I'm hoping October will be a busier month than September, but not all years can be epic days of bird after bird flying in.

And just one more photo because she's so beautiful!

Birds Are On The Move

Hey, how about a head on hump day merlin? Anybody need any cleansing out there? This should work. Isn't that a dynamite shot? It's from my buddy Frank Taylor. It rained a ton at the blind last weekend, but they still got some cool birds in like this female merlin. I was not able to go, but hope to make it back there soon. Last fall, I had more time than money, this fall I have more money than time. But that's the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.

Frank also sent over a great shot of two sharp-shinned hawks, one adult (haggard in falconry terms) and one immature (passage in falconry terms). It's a nice compare/contrast. They had a great if not heart breaking show involving a peregrine (heart breaking because the peregrine got away): Frank reports,

"At 11:02 am Amber spotted an immature male Peregrine falcon coming right at us from the northeast. At about mid-field it started chasing a female Kestrel. It was pressing the Kestrel hard with twists and turns and when it started to close the gap, the Kestrel shot right into the woods, just to the north of us, in an effort to shake it off. As the Peregrine came back into the field, Rick pulled the lure and it came straight in and bound to it at the base of the net. Because it hit the lure and stopped right there, the net did not fall and as soon as Rick ran out of the blind, it released its grip and took off toward the north. Holy Spiccollli!! . . . What A Great Show! There was not even a scratch on the lure as it was wearing our super-dooper, extra thick, protective leather, jacket-harness."

So Frank's efforts to put his lure pigeons in thick leather harnesses really does work to save the pigeon. For more on Frank's set up, visit my Hawk Banding 101 link.

Hawk migration is well underway. I digiscoped some broad-winged hawks soaring over the MSP Airport this morning. We don't quite see the numbers in the Twin Cities that they see up at Hawk Ridge, but still fun to see a small kettle. Speaking of Hawk Ridge, they are having their big Hawk Weekend Event this coming weekend. If you're outside of Minnesota, visit the Hawk Migration Association website and see if there's a place near you.

Weekend Banding Extravaganza Part 1

Non Birding Bill went away to New York for the weekend and I found myself a bachelorette for a few days. I had some plans for songbird banding at Mr. Neil's on Sunday, but called my buddy Amber and asked if she wanted to go up for the day on Saturday to Frank's to band hawks and then come back on Sunday to band songbirds. She was game and I was glad for the good company. I was a touch worried that I had jinxed our banding weekend. I dropped NBB off at the airport at 4am on Friday, came home and fell asleep, missing Friday banding at Carpenter. I figured I would get in enough practice over the weekend. I worried with the few birds on Saturday that Sunday would be a bummer. I was wrong.

We got in a couple of sharp-shinned hawks. It's still a bit early in the season, but a slow day in a hawk blind is better than a great day in the office. We didn't see huge amounts of hawks flying the skies but that left time for jokes and witty witty repartee--not unlike the Algonquin Round Table, only substitute painful bird puns for witty repartee and waxy chocolate donuts, cheetos, and gas station coffee for martinis.

We got in a cute little female kestrel. It's always surprising when a kestrel comes into the nets--they're about the same size as the bait pigeon and it's surprising that they think prey that size is a good idea. She was a passage (hatched this year) bird, so perhaps she's still trying to figure out what is sensible prey.

After she was banded and released she landed on a spruce. A second female kestrel (on the left) landed on a spruce near her. I wonder if these two were in the same nest this past summer? The bird we released started preening her. Amber's boyfriend says that the birds are muttering, "Damn greasy primates!" after having been handled and banded. The second kestrel soon followed suit, even though she had not been banded. She was cute, she kept rubbing the top of her head on the spruce top--a great way to scratch those itchy feather shafts.

One of the sharp-shinned hawks that flew in had just hunted successfully. Te toes were covered with blood and had a couple of feathers still stuck to them. The feathers were a bit olive. Amber and I were trying to suss out what the prey could have been--warbler, sparrow? We think we figured it out during the next day's songbird banding.

We stayed until about 4pm, only three birds had been banded up to that point--2 sharp-shinned hawks and a kestrel. I'll be back up later this season--hopefully with photos of goshawks.

Weekend Of Red-tails

Sometimes, it's fun to live in our neighborhood. Oh sure, there are noisy neighbors, but there are benefits. Twice in the last week I have seen Sir Ian McKellen, once behind me line at the grocery store and tonight on our way to the movie theater (he's in town performing King Lear at the Guthrie). I didn't say anything at the grocery store, but tonight when I pointed him out to Non Birding Bill, he went over, greeted him and told him how much he enjoyed his work as an actor. He was really, really nice and very gracious. Can I say how much I enjoy just picking him out in the streets among all the other people? It's like finding a Ross's goose mixed in with a bunch of snow geese.

On to hawk banding!

Here's the man who makes my weekends of hawk banding possible--Frank Taylor! One of the coolest guys I know and the man who taught me to handle birds of prey and to give an entertaining yet informative program.

Well, it was a weekend chock full of red-tiled hawks at the banding station (that's a passage or first year red-tailed hawk in the above photo). On Saturday we got 7 birds (1 northern goshawk and 6 red-tailed hawks) and on Sunday we got 8 birds on (1 sharp-shinned hawk, 1 northern goshawk and 6 red-tailed hawks).

I think of all the birding things I do throughout the year, hawk banding is my favorite. I love everything about it, the fall foliage, the layers of cold to ward of the chill in the air, the waxy chocolate donuts we eat in the blind, watching the birds fly in, picking our raptors from the specks flying away.

We got to see some other wildlife besides raptors. We heard the crows going berserk on the other side of the field. Eventually, a coyote came into view. Rick Dupont got the above photo. They coyote kept coming closer and closer. Every time someone's camera beeped, the coyote would look right at us. Even with the wind blew and they coyote turned to sniff, if a camera beeped, it looked towards the blind. The coyote kept on its merry way and disappeared and suddenly as it appeared, followed by some noisy crows.

We even had a lone raven meander towards the blind. We watched this bird for the better part of Saturday morning, walking along through the grass snatching up lethargic grasshoppers. Periodically, the raven would hunker in the grass and sleep. After awhile, the raven would resume hunting grasshoppers. It worked its way closer and closer to the blind, oblivious to the many red-tails zooming over head, the half dozen people popping out of the blind, and even the noisy goshawk. When I watched it through my scope, it blinked both eyes in quick succession and not always at the same time. I've seen birds with West Nile Virus do this and wondered if that had struck this raven. The bird would let people get within 10 feet of it and then would fly. It had an ample food source and was wise enough to evade humans, so we didn't make too much effort to catch it.

There were also quite a few horned larks lurking in the grass. It was fun to watch them disappear and then reappear. A couple of northern shrikes hunting in the field would try to separate one of the larks to catch it, but to no avail, the larks were too fast. Another bird that hung out near the blind was a boreal chickadee. A small flock of black-caps flew in and one of them sounded a little nasally--instead of chickadee dee dee it was more of a chickashneeee. It hung out low in the trees and I got one of my best looks at one (alas, I didn't have the digiscoping equipment set up).

Even though we had almost all red-tailed hawks come in, each one had an interesting story. Like this bird. It was in haggard (adult) plumage, complete with red-tail (although the eyes were kind of half passage, half haggard). Note the blood mustache over the bill--this bird had eaten fairly recently. However, it did one of the most powerful dives into the nets I had ever seen. We actually almost missed this bird coming in. We were kind of chit chatting, someone had asked me a binocular question and looked out the blind window and said, "Well, 8x42's are good GASP..." and most everyone else saw it at the same time straight ahead, wings tucked, the bird going over 60 miles straight for the pigeon.

The red-tail blasted through the front net so fast and so hard it went all the way into the back net! Frank and Rick had to get the hawk out of two nets! Rick, ever the master yanker, did manage to pull the pigeon out of the way before the hawk nailed it. I did get to thinking though--if the nets hadn't been there, and this hawk was hunting the pigeon, it would have hit the prey so hard it would have blasted right into the woods. It would have rolled and tumbled and maybe slammed into a tree. That bird was intense. It wasn't skinny either, it had been eating well.

It's always interesting to see the differences in adults and young birds when you have the up close. Even without seeing the tail, you can know this is a young bird by how yellow the eyes are. Red-tailed hawk eyes get darker as they get older. So, above is passage red-tail...

and here is a haggard bird--look at how dark brown those eyes are! Speaking eyes, one of Frank's sub banders was up the whole week banding hawks and found an interesting one:

Chuck Schotzko got in this one eyed red-tailed hawk. Look at that, the whole entire eye ball is missing from the socket! Chuck is a medical doctor and guess with how dried out and healed up the injury is that this happened long ago, perhaps even when the bird was young. He speculated that this happened with the bird was young, even in the nest. It would be much easier for a young bird to learn to hunt with only one eye, than for an adult to suddenly lose an eye after hunting for years with two. Regardless, the bird was very chunky, the tissue around the keel was very plump--this bird had been eating well. If it can fly and is a good weight, there's no need to take it some place like The Raptor Center, this bird is doing just fine on its own.

Here you can see clear back into the empty eye socket. This really makes me wonder about birds in wildlife rehab facilities with only one eye that are turned into education birds or euthanized. This is the second red-tail we've gotten into the nets with vision in only one eye that was fat and sassy. Birds always remind me that they are more resilient than we give them credit for.

On Saturday night, I slept in Frank's van. He has a cot set up inside, so all I had to do was unroll my sleeping bag. I brought a pillow and stuck some hand warmers in the bottom to keep my toe warm. The stars crowded the skies and I was tucked warmly inside my sleeping bag and watched the sky. I was only disturbed once when someone drove slowly by shining a very bright flash light (I assume looking for deer). I set my iPod and iMainGo speaker to alarm so that I would wake up the next morning to the sound of bobolinks. I met Frank and his wife Trudi in their cozy trailer for hot chocolate and donuts, then it was off to more banding. It is nice to stay in hotels, but I have to say that I'm glad that I still have it in me to sleep in a van and use the woods for a restroom all for a cool birding experience!

This is one of the many red-tails we got in on Sunday, note the blood stains on the breast? This bird totally punk'd me! We were watching it in the distance and it hovered, it held its wings in a v-shape, the wings looked longish--I called it a rough-legged hawk. Until it flew into the nets and showed itself to be a juvenile red-tail. Later on, I tried to turn a kestrel into a merlin--I was having an off identification day. Maybe sleeping in a van dulls my bird id skills. Ah well, happens to all of us.

I did find a red squirrel lurking in the trees. It was surprisingly quiet. I suppose it noticed all the hawks flying in and decided that hunkering down and eating would be a sensible tactic instead of chirping and drawing attention to itself.

After we banded and released one of the many red-tailed hawks that came into the nets, it landed in the top of a spruce. As I set up my digiscoping equipment, it started to take off and I got this photo. But my favorite photos to get are the ones of me laying on the ground while people release the birds:

Like this...

Or this...

And this...

This was a little boy who got to release a red-tail. Since he was a tad short, I opted to take his photo from the side. The last thing I want is a face full of red-tailed hawk. He did a great job doing the release--that's a lot of bird for young boy.

I love this photo, that little boy looks like he's about to go into the sky along with the red-tail!

Gratuitous Goshawk

At first when I was looking at my schedule and budget for the fall, I was worried I just wouldn't be able to get to my friend Frank Taylor's hawk banding station--my favorite bird activity I do all year. I was very down that I would not get to see a northern goshawk (my favorite raptor and next tattoo) fly into the nets But thanks to help from my great friends, I managed two trips. And I got to see a first year northern goshawk fly in! Whoot!

Frank asked me to hold the young goshawk so he could get photos and I gave my camera to a wonderful woman I've been getting to know at the blind named Joan. We were working as swiftly as possible with the goshawk so we could send it on its way.

Why would we want this magnificent bird away so quickly? Because the moment it hits the nets to the very second it is released, it give a loud, piercing, melt-your-eardrums shriek over and over and over. All we're doing is holding it, it's not in any pain what so ever. Such a big bird, such a big whiner. Even the smaller cousins of this accipiter, the sharp-shinned hawk and the Cooper's hawk take the banding process with stoicism. Frank wanted to try and get a photo of the goshawk with its mouth closed--not an easy feat.

I think this photo that Joan got about sums it up. Yes, here I am with my favorite raptor and you can see that I'm clearly thinking, "Are we done yet? Can we move on?" I bet you're now curious, just how awful this sound is, aren't you? Okay, here is about five seconds of ear-splitting goshawk (those you cannot view video should be grateful):

Annoying, huh? As if that weren't bad enough...

The goshawk started attacking my coat. It was time to set this bird free and continue on its way.

I tossed the bird in the air and Joan got this great shot which actually looks like the bird is reaching out to attack me. Actually, what's going on is that I tossed the goshawk out to the field, but being the type of hawk that hunts in the woods, the bird is turning around in mid air so it can fly into the safety of the trees behind me. Still, I love how it looks like I'm reaching out it and the goshawk looks like it is going to nail me.

More banding fun to come!

Hawk Banding Preview

"I'm gonna eat you and your little disapproving rabbit too!"

Just rolled in, ate some dinner, pealed off two layers of clothes, and sifted through 98 emails. Am now going to bathe and autograph some books. More hawk banding fun tomorrow.