Sunday, April 29, 2012

Northern Goshawk & Gray Hawk; Raptor weekend

As long as my last two posts were about Raptors, American Kestral 4/27/2012 (  and  Swainson's Hawk 4/28/2012 ), I might as well make this a Raptor weekend. 

A juvenile Northern Goshawk circled above my head, Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ, 4/9/2012.
In three consecutive days in three separate southeastern Arizona locations, I was fortunate to add a raptor to my Life Bird List each day. 

On April 9, while hiking up Hamburgh Trail in Ramsey Canyon near Sierra Vista, AZ, a hawk slowly glided overhead. And just like in a cliche'd scene in a movie, first I noticed the shadow of the hawk on the ground by my feet. Then I looked up and just caught a glimpse of the bird as it passed over the small clearing in between the trees of the trail. Since raptors are a weak category in my Life List, everytime I see a Raptor, there is that potential that it may be a new bird for me.  So it is always worth my effort to try to get a photo and/or identification of the bird. The trail was fairly high over the canyon and steep at that moment and the trees hugged the trail closely so there wasn't much oppurtunity to get a good view. I climbed up a steep bank to my right (since to my left would have been a several hundred foot drop) so I might be able to situate myself in a better viewing spot. As I did so, the hawk flew over again. Good, it's circling. That means I might get another chance. Sure enough, the next time it circled over it was high above the canyon floor, but since I was already quite high, it was only about 20 yards from me. It circled twice more and I was able to burst a few shots each time.  When I caught it in my viewfinder, I knew it was something new, but I wasn't sure exactly what it was since raptors are not a strong category for my ID skills.
The same Northern Goshawk, Ramsey Canyon, Sierra Vista, AZ, 4/9/2012.
Later in the day, when I was able to peruse my Sibley's Field Guide to Birds, I was able to ID this raptor specimen to not be a Juvenile Northern Goshawk (two photos Above).  According to Sibley, Northern Goshawk's are "uncommon to rare" But they do reside year round in the forests of the Southwest and West, and also across Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific and into Alaska. They like forests that have open areas from wetlands or canyons. Exactly the habitat I was hiking in. An adult N. Goshawk is overall very gray, but the juveniles (1st years) are more buffy and cream, as is the one I saw. Sibley said that a good identifying mark is its broad wings and body, which is evident on the top photo.  A good goal for me is to see an adult.

A rare Gray hawk gliding over the San Pedro River Riparian NCA, Sierra Vista, AZ; 4/10/2012.
On April 10, the second of my three consecutive days, I was hiking along the San Pedro River in the Riparian National Conservation Area, also near Sierra Vista, when I saw another raptor floating in the air above me. My initial ID was it was a Merlin, but upon further scruteny of my Sibley's, I realized it was a Gray Hawk (Above), which are known to have a few nesting pairs in this area.  Wow! I was impressed that I was able to spot a Gray Hawk as the only place they exist in the U.S. is in this small area of Southeastern Arizona. They are mostly gray with a very strong banded tail of white and black. It was this feature that initially caused me to think Merlin, but the white stripes of a Merlin's tail are much thinner, plus the Merlin has a white throat which doesn't appear on this bird.
A Swainson's Hawk, Hwy 80, Douglas, AZ; 4/11/2012.
On April 11, the third day was when I spotted the Swainson's Hawk (Above) on the side of Highway 80 between Douglas, AZ, and the New Mexico stateline. The link to this encounter is at the top of this page.
So the Northern Goshawk became #378 on my Life List, the Gray Hawk #385 and the Swainsn's Hawk #386.

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