As many birders can attest, species identification can be very challenging at times. The challenge arises from the similarity of many related and sometimes not so related species. Complicating this is the ephemeral nature of birds in general. The dominant feature which makes them so intriguing - the ability to fly - helps them maintain their distance from would be predators and admirers alike. A bird in nature seldom presents itself to a viewer in a fashion presented in most field guides. But, sometimes they do...
The story of the ghostLast week I was helping another graduate student with his field work. Neil Paprocki's project involves winter surveys of raptors within the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Are a (NCA). Last Monday Neil and I, along with another biologist Liz Urban, were surveying for raptors via a road survey south of Boise. The term "road" is very generous. This 4-wheel-drive path, mostly buried in Russian Thistle tumbleweeds, traverses the western portion of the NCA. We observed Red-tailed Hawks, Rough-legged Hawks, Golden Eagles, American Kestrels, Prairie Falcons, and Northern Harriers. Toward the end of the survey we flushed a bird just ten feet from the edge of the "road". "What was that?!?"
This was a fantastic find and an exciting topic to explore. The photos are being shared with the top raptor experts in the country for their expert analysis. Neil returned to the area the next day but was unable to relocate the raptor.
Liguori, J. 2009. Distant Raptors. Birding 41:74-76.
Olson, C.V. and S.A.H. Osborn. 2000. First North American Record of a Melanistic Female Northern Harrier. Journal of Raptor Research 34:58-59.
Paprocki, N. 2012. Do Dark Northern Harriers Exist? Wild Lens Blog. Retrieved January 13, 2012 - http://www.wildlensinc.org/blog/