• PG birders: Raptors on view locally

    Fortunately, Pagrovians do not have to take lengthy or expensive trips to see multiple species of birds.  I combine my birding with my photography walks in our Marine Sanctuary in P.G., and Spanish Bay. Raptors are among my favorite birds, and  for those of you who can turn your head away from our splendid beach and Ocean and look inland, there are several raptor species of note which you may see. Of course, being in the right place at the right time is happenstance too.  Birds will not be waving their wings at you, in anticipation of your visit; some days are more productive than others.

    A pair of Red Shouldered Hawks may be seen  fairly frequently, as they  perch at lower levels in shrubs and trees, and they  have three color phases, all of which are beautiful. Their larger Buteo cousin is the Red Tailed Hawk, which some of you may be familiar with. Red-tails soar more than the smaller red shouldered hawks do, but often can be spotted perched in  trees near Pt. Joe.  Another raptor of beauty is the White-Tailed Kite of which there are at least one or possibly two pairs. This predominantly white (crow sized) raptor has black on its wing shoulders ( it once was called the black shouldered kite).  Almost the size of the Red-shouldered hawk, but more streamlined, it has black wing plumage, and an almost translucent white tail. Capable of hovering high up in the air like a helicopter, it can remain stationary as it searches for suitable rodents to prey upon.  When seen with back lighting from the sun shining on its back as it hovers, it is a most beautiful  bird to see. I have watched it plummet down and seize a gopher fat and large enough to make me wonder if it could get airborne carrying its prey. It is one of my favorites to photograph and “capture on slide film” as are the other two species.

    Unlike the other two species, the kite plucks most of the fur from  its prey before consuming it.  Clamorous crows, in groups, frequently like to dive bomb kites and the other hawks, in the hope of chasing them from their perch, and hopefully getting the raptor to drop its prey.  I witnessed an encounter of this type for 20 minutes before the very likely exasperated Kite raised one foot off its perch and held it with talons extended at the crows. The crows got the message and immediately veered off and away.  A Coopers hawk, a fast flying accipitor, gave me the pleasure of photographing it, after it chased a frightened male quail into my picture window. The quail hit my window with a resounding thud and fell to the ground, but escaped the predator; however the Coopers hawk perched in one of my juniper trees as it scanned the area where the quail had fallen, and even hopped down to peer into the small crawl space where the quail had scrambled, before it flew off. It was a juvenile Coopers, based upon its eye (iris) color, but it was a beauty. The quail might not have been so lucky had the Coopers hawk  been a more experienced adult. This sighting occurred when I was a resident of Carmel Valley, where quail were quite plentiful.

    A most thrilling encounter was seeing a Peregrine Falcon flying rapidly at low altitude, and actually zooming over the Bay, before it banked like a jet fighter, and  turned landward at great speed. Luckily I had my camera set at  1/4000th of a second and  took several slides of it, before it was out of sight and telephoto range.

    Another raptor, the American Kestrel, is the smallest member of the falcon family. This pretty little robin sized “Beau Brummel” of a tiny hawk  has light and airy wing beats and is also capable of hovering. It feeds upon grasshoppers, and small mice, or other small rodents. The male is the gaudiest little fellow, with a chestnut/rufous-colored back and blue on the upper side of his primary wing feathers, with a boldly marked white face marked with dark feathers resembling sideburns, and more short dark feathers near the base of his beak as if he had a drooping moustache.  This Kestrel has a habit of pumping his tail when perched.  The females are more subdued in color, as are the immatures. Decades ago, he was also known as the sparrow hawk.

    Watch for migrating species

    As autumn is almost upon us, the migration season is about to begin. Many of the song birds such as the warblers will be passing through here in the weeks to follow.

    My favorites among these Northern breeding birds are the Townsend’s Warbler, who will over winter here wherever pines and dense conifers afford them suitable cover. Primarily insectivorous, these perky little guys are delightful to watch as they dart around in their boldly striped yellow and black striped plumage, with the males having a black throat patch like an ascot, and olive colored  feathering on their backs, and on the faces of the females. They often will  come down from shrubs to search for insects on lawns, along with another small warbler, the Yellow Rumped Warbler, which is minimally larger. The Yellow-rumped Warbler is often easier to see, as it will frequent more  exposed shrubbery; however it too will hunt for insects on lawns in the company of the Townsend’s Warbler. The Yellow- rumped Warbler will often perch on tall shrubs from where it will pursue flying insects. Its plumage is less flashy than the Townsend’s Warbler, but the bright yellow rump patch color is unmistakable, and it also has a small narrow yellow sash on its flanks. Unlike the Townsend’s Warbler, it is less dependent upon dense conifers for nesting sites and cover, however it will inhabit in willow thickets and similar sized shrubs in more open habitat.

    Among the more familiar wintering birds will be the chicadees, nuthatches, and many other species, including waterfowl which will be discussed next time.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on September 24, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Green


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