A Walk in the Boonies

Some of you may remember that I started this website after a visit to Yellowstone and I was intent on posting mostly pictures of birds and animals. For the past couple of years, however, wildlife opportunities have been few and far between.

Yesterday I was able to reunite with some photog friends – Will, Ronnie, Debbie & Brandon – and we hit the trails together. I’m rusty with a long lens these days but here are a few mediocre shots that got my juices flowing again.

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🙂 🙂 🙂

Street Hawk

My long zoom lens has not seen much action since I came in from the wild and now prey on human varmints in downtown streets and back alleys.

Imagine the thrill of encountering this hawk just steps from a museum in the heart of the city.

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His baleful look suggests that maybe he’s only temporarily civilized too, and when conditions are right will once again hightail it out of here.

🙂 🙂 🙂

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The Family That Preys Together…

I love wolves, as many of you may know, and can’t wait to return to Yellowstone in a couple of months.

Imagine my delight when I recently discovered some two-legged ‘wolves with wings’!

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Yes, Harris’s Hawks (or Harris Hawks) of the Sonoran desert live in packs of up to six led by an alpha female. They both hunt and breed cooperatively.

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Several females may lay 2 to 4 eggs in a single nest. The eggs are incubated for 33-36 days by both sexes.

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Harris’s Hawks eat lizards, rabbits, rodents and small birds.  The hawk’s eyesight is so good it can spot a rabbit up to a mile away.

harris hawkOne hunting technique is the younger birds will flush the prey while the older birds keep watch from a high perch, and then swoop down on the fleeing animal.

Another strategy is tag-team chasing. This is used for large prey such as jackrabbits. The hawks will tire out the jackrabbit until it becomes easy pickings.

To feed nestlings, prey is passed up the pack’s hierarchical chain of command to the alpha female, who feeds the young.

Since the 1980s, the Harris’s Hawk has moved with increasing numbers into the city of Tucson. It apparently thrives in suburban environments, but has yet to learn about electric wires. Electrocution is its largest cause of death in the city.

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The Great Horned Owl is the hawk’s greatest natural enemy. The owl attacks nestlings and young hawks and can take an adult male, but not the larger adult female. Great Horned Owls frequently appropriate hawk nests as their own. This means that the hawks often have to build several nests in an area. Packs of hawks will gang up and tar ‘n feather owls when they catch ’em in the neighborhood.

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Watch a ‘wolf pack’ of Harris’s Hawks coordinate their efforts to snatch up a rabbit.

🙂 🙂 🙂

🙂 🙂 🙂

[All photos taken Dec 2012 at a free-flight raptor show put on by the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson]

ferruginous hawk

What The Birds Taught Me

The Ferruginous Hawk

This largest of the American hawks (wingspan 4-5 feet) doesn’t hang out down South in my neck of the woods. Thus it is a special treat when exploring the West or the Desert Southwest, like I did this past month of December, to encounter one of these stunning creatures.

Ferruginous‘ is from the Latin ferrum, meaning iron, and refers to the iron-rust color of their wings and legs.

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The Ferruginous Hawk, along with the Rough-legged Hawk and the Golden Eagle, are the only American hawks to have legs feathered all the way to the feet.

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The Ferruginous Hawk is also the plumpest of the hawks, with an appetite to match. Their favorite snack is the prairie dog.  Often they will gather at prairie dog towns and wait for a meal to pop up.

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This hawk has also been known as the Eagle Hawk, Gopher Hawk, Ferruginous Rough-legged Hawk, and Squirrel Hawk.

And what nugget of wisdom, pray tell, did I learn from my fine feathered friends on my recent trip West?

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The birds taught me that I knew nothing, nothing at all.

– Jim Harrison

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🙂 🙂 🙂

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Hawks & Falcons, Then & Now

Although biologists now place hawks and falcons in separate families, ancient and medieval people did not distinguish clearly between the two.

Gray Hawk

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Prairie Falcon

prairie falcon

Egyptian representations of the god Horus, for example, combined features of several species, though the most important model is probably the peregrine falcon.

Peregrine Falcon

peregrine falcon

In the early 20th Century the Irish poet W. B. Yeats used the image of a circling falcon to represent the social and cosmic order in his famous poem “The Second Coming.” And he got something ‘wrong’ too! Can you spot a factual error in the first stanza?

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

prairie falcon

prairie falcon

Yeats’ error?

Falcons don’t respond to auditory cues from their handlers.  Yes, I suppose Yeats is technically correct that a distant falcon won’t actually “hear” the falconer, but my point is that’s not how they communicate to begin with.

A few days ago I mingled in a crowd of perhaps 100 bird watchers clustered around a falconer. The falcon was easily half a mile away, high up out of camera range, circling lazily. The handler, seemingly indistinguishable from the rest of us, simply raised one hand, not even above his head but just about nose level, and wriggled three fingers.

That’s all it took!  Immediately the falcon banked and dove down at his trademark 240mph to land lightly on the handler’s arm.

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In what is probably the oldest animal fable to have come down to us from the Greeks, Hesiod used a hawk to represent the inexorable power of fate.

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A hawk had caught a nightingale in his claws and carried her high into the clouds, at which point she began to weep.

The hawk rebuked her, saying, “Goodness, why are you screaming? . . . He is a fool who seeks to compete against the stronger: he both loses the struggle and suffers injury on top of insult” (Works and Days, p. 43).

Gray Hawk

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🙂 🙂 🙂

[All photos taken Christmas week in Tucson, AZ]