Thursday, December 13, 2007

Raptors and Waterfowl

I finally got to go birding today. I spent most of my time divided between two sites - Camp Dennison gravel pits (aka "Grand Valley") and Armleder Park. Grand Valley now has a gate which requires one to have a key-card to gain admission, so unless I can finagle one from my friend Dennis the naturalist, I am back to birding the pits from above, with a spotting scope.

Since I have no photos, I will provide you with links to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds website. If you don't have this site bookmarked or included among your favorites, you really should. You can get tons of information about birds from the CLO.

I had a good number of waterfowl today, with Ring-necked Ducks (which I persist in calling "Ring-billed" Ducks, since the ring on the bill is much more prominent than the ring on the neck), Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Mallards, Canvasbacks, and an American Wigeon all at the pits. I also saw Pied-billed Grebes and American Coots there, and Canada Geese while driving. Hooded Mergs and Buffleheads are some of my favorite ducks. They are so cute! I missed the Snow Goose which had been hanging out in a field in Newtown. (I see Susan missed it yesterday, too.)

Even as I typed "grebes and coots" in my waterfowl list, I could feel my birding mentor, Jay Stenger, thwacking me on the back of my head. You see, the term "waterfowl" is (or should be) used only for members of the Anatidae family, the ducks and geese, and neither coots nor grebes fit that category. But, for me, the non-purist, if it hangs out with ducks,
if it swims like a duck, if it looks like a duck in my scope view, I am going to call it "some kind of water fowl."

Also at the pits was a Bald Eagle, sitting right along the road, watching the waterfowl (including the coots, since eagles don't care about classification of their dinner) as closely as I was. When I tried to get closer to photograph him, he flew. Ah, well.

Today was a good day for raptors as well as waterfowl. Besides the Bald Eagle, I had a Red-shouldered Hawk, 4 Red-tailed Hawks, 2 American Kestrels, a Cooper's Hawk, and, at Armleder, a really sweet Northern Harrier that was hunting the field for sparrows. Unfortunately, the Rough-legged Hawk that has been hanging out there was a no-show. The general consensus among area birders is that it has moved on. Susan may have been the last one to see it on Tuesday.

The harrier was a great bird. When I first saw it, I thought, "That Cooper's Hawk is huge!" I soon realized I was seeing a Northern Harrier. This accipiter-like hawk has a long tail like a Coop, but longer wings in proportion to its body. The juveniles and females are similar in color to a Cooper's Hawk, but the males are gray on top, with white under their wings. The key field mark in any age/sex Northern Harrier is the white rump. Behavior is a big clue to the ID as well. Instead of chasing small birds, with quick wing beats and sharp twisting turns, like a Sharpie or Coop, a Harrier hunts by flying low over a grassy field, alternating deep, strong wing beats with coasting and gliding. I got to watch this one doing her thing for several minutes. She dropped down into the field once or twice, but I didn't see her catch any prey. Check out the Illinois Raptor Center for more information on harriers. Be sure to click the link for more photos.


Lisa at Greenbow said...

Sounds like a nice day of birding. I love Northern harriers. I got to see ones nest before. Amazing that they nest on the ground. They look so large yet can hide their nests and young so well.

Susan Gets Native said...

Well, I hope for your sake it is still hanging around. I think rough-legged hawks are just about the most beautiful hawks ever made. So different from our resident meat-eaters.
Harriers seem to be a dime a dozen this year, don't they?

(I checked on the RS in Newtown today, but no dice. I hope I was wrong about its foot.)

When nesting season has begun for the GHO's at Lake Isabella, we should head down there for pictures!