Sunday, August 30, 2009

Raptors - Upclose and Personal!

After working on dinky birds for the past two months, on Saturday I spent some time with the larger migrants through the Idaho Bird Observatory! This last week, hawk watch and hawk trapping began. Hawkwatch, which is where I will be every Monday afternoon for the remainder of the fall migratory season, consists of counting each migrating raptor and vulture that passes within sight of the observatory. Hawk trapping consist of netting and banding raptors attracted to lures.
On Saturday, the research director was in the hawk blind trapping. After a local boy scout troop left, Karyn and I joined him in the blind. While the scouts were in the blind, they captured two Cooper's Hawks and a Redtailed Hawk. I didn't get to participate in the banding, but did get a look at the birds just prior to release. The Cooper's Hawk is one of my research species, along with its close relative the Sharp-shinned Hawk. Check out how the eye color change with age.
Male Juvenile Cooper's Hawk.
Female Adult Cooper's Hawk.
The juvenile Red-tailed Hawk would be my first experience in holding a raptor. It was very cool!
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk!
I was more than a little nervous holding the bird. While I didn't lose any flesh to the bird, it did try to show me who was boss!
Juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.
When I did make it into the blind, we had a busy day banding 7 more birds. Heidi trained me on the raptor banding process. My first band went to a juvenile male American Kestrel, teh smallest falcon in North America.
Juvenile American Kestrel.
At one point Heidi and I were out retrieving a Sharp-shinned Hawk from a net. Jay, our research director, yelled for us to freeze! A Peregrine Falcon was approaching the blind. We stood as motionless as possible as the Peregrine gained altitude and went into a stoop straight toward us. A stoop is a falcon's high speed dive in which they have been recorded at speeds well over 200 miles per hour. Unfortunately we were frozen in a position that we didn't see it. But we did hear and feel it! As the Peregrine pulled out of the stoop and leveled out just meters above our heads it sounded like a jet plane. I couldn't believe that bird flying through the air could make that much noise. The noise was all caused by the air turbulence  as he pulled out of the dive. It was an unbelievably amazing experience. Karyn was still in the blind so she got to watch all the action. As the Peregrine turned we ran back to the blind. We worked the lures to get him in. Just as he was coming into the lure he clipped one of the control lines with the tip of his wing. He flew off without being caught. He was a very dark male juvenile of a sub-species not common in our area. We were disappointed not to get a better look at the bird.
There were more Kestrels out and about. Right before close a group of 4 came across the ridge. We caught one juvenile male and almost had two others.
Juvenile Male American Kestrel.
The hope to participate in owl banding Saturday night fell through as a thunderstorm hit our mountain. I did get some good sleep before spending Sunday morning banding songbirds. It's back to school in the morning, then I head up to count raptors at Hawkwatch on Monday afternoon.


John B. said...

The sound peregrines make while stooping is pretty cool. I was never out in the field for one, but sometimes they would dive in over the back of the blind.

LisaZBrown said...

Great pictures Rob! What an experience it was I'm sure....

Heidi said...

Love the red-tail pics, and the one of you and the kestrel is awesome!

nice post...what a fun day :)

Larry Jordan said...

Wow Rob, how cool is this experience? I bet that hearing that Peregrine coming down was a bit scary. Probably a good thing you didn't actually see it as it came at you.

Super shot of you with the RT, gotta watch out for those flapping wings huh? And the Kestrels are one of my favorite to watch in the field. Nice shot of you and him also. I found out that their beaks are rather sharp also ;-)

The Cooper's Hawk photos are a great bonus too. Thanks for sharing the fun!

Kimberley Wakelin said...

Wow! The pics of the Cooper's, Red-Tailed Hawk, and the Kestrel are amazing. I've only seen these raptors from a tremendous distance!

Dawn Fine said...

How exciting! Great shots Rob..I loved these posts and have tweeted them out to my twitter..bird and nature friends..