A studio for bird study

Tag: hawk

Black Hawk Eagle Painting for Belize Raptor Center

by Bryce W. Robinson

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Black Hawk Eagle (Spizaetus tyrannus). 11 x 15″ Gouache on paper.

My friend Aron came to me recently to ask for a favor; an illustration for a silent auction to benefit a small raptor education center in Belize. The Belize Raptor Center is an organization whose primary focus is to showcase indigenous Belizean species as the most ecologically and economically important class of wildlife in the country.

The benefit will be held in Salt Lake City on 8 October at Church and State from 7-10 PM. There will be a silent auction, live music, and best of all live birds. If you’re in Salt Lake City, be there.

Here are a few details about the Belize Raptor Center from their website:

MISSON: Educate and inspire conservation of birds of prey and their habitat, using permitted non releasable raptors. Rescue and rehabilitate injured and orphaned birds of prey.

SUMMARY: Our mission is important because in Belize, raptors are highly persecuted due to the many myths and misconceptions that surround them. Although they are protected in the United States, the vast majority of them migrate south for the winter and face dangers such as shooting, poisoning, and habitat loss…. Only though proper education can we hope to protect them.

GOAL: We are planning to construct a brand new facility that will serve as the Visitor Center for Belize Raptor Center. Currently the center houses 6 birds of prey that are taken off-site to educate schoolchildren about the importance of raptor conservation. There will be a museum and education center as well as an indoor flight space for a free-flighted bird show – the first of its kind in Belize.

THE FACILITY: The funding will go towards the costs of labor and materials for the Visitor Center. The entire establishment is completely off-grid; solar power and rain/well water keep expenses low. Income from the gift shop and paid programs will help keep our facility self sustaining after the initial costs of building the visitor center.

If you’re interested in the painting to help the Belize Raptor Center reach their goal, but can’t attend the benefit in Salt Lake City, feel free to contact the Belize Raptor Center or me.

Find them on Facebook

Contact: belizeraptorcenterATgmail.com

http://www.belizeraptorcenter.com/our-mission/

Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk on the Breeding Grounds in Alaska

by Bryce W. Robinson

This post details my encounters and notes of Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawks in Alaska during the early summer of 2016. The post is separated into two parts, individuals I encountered while conducting the Alaska Land Bird Monitoring Survey in the remote western interior, and individuals I’ve encountered in the Anchorage area.

From the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge:

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Photo 1. Adult male light morph “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis harlani). Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Photo copyright Bryce W. Robinson.

I just returned to Anchorage from two weeks of bird surveys in the interior of Alaska, conducting the Alaska Landlord Monitoring Survey for the Boreal Partners in Flight. These surveys entailed travel to three remote national wildlife refuges; Innoko NWR, Nowitna NWR, and Koyukuk NWR. The aim of myself and my friend Nick Hajdukovich was to conduct point counts on refuge land. Our travel consisted of float plane transport to each refuge. Once in the Innoko, we logged 200 miles of river travel on the Innoko River to and from our two survey plots, which provided me with great exposure to untouched Alaskan wilderness. Along the way I happened upon a few individuals of perhaps my favorite bird taxon, the harlani subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk.

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Photo 2. Innoko River, Innoko NWR, Alaska. June 2016. Image copyright Bryce W. Robinson.

The first birds I encountered on the Innoko River happened to be a nesting pair. Their nest was situated on a partially fallen White Spruce that extended over the open river. As we approached the nest we cut the motor and drifted directly beneath the brooding female. At 200 m from the nest a light morph bird, the male, took flight from a nearby tree and began vocalizing and stooping on our boat (Photo 1, 3). As we floated by, I took the opportunity to document the situation.

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Photo 3. Adult male light morph “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis harlani). Innoko NWR, Alaska. June 2016. Photo copyright Bryce W. Robinson.

It was excellent to observe the defensive behavior. Equally excellent was the light morph plumage of the male, and his silver/white tail with hints of red near the tip (Photo 3). As we passed the dark morph female on the nest (Photo 4), we could see her heavily banded tail, dark and red throughout (Photo 5). The variability in tail pattern in these birds interests me greatly, and it was excellent to see this dark bird with a near wholly red tail.

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Photo 4. Adult female “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk with nestling. Innoko NWR, Alaska. June 2016. Image copyright Bryce W. Robinson.

The female was sitting in the nest, along with one nestling which appeared to be around 15-20 days old. The nestling was panting in the intense Alaskan sun. The temperature was a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit, very warm for Alaska. We drifted on, got our fill of photos and satisfying looks, started up the 5 HP motor, and continued our trip.

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Photo 5. Female dark morph “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis harlani). Note the near wholly red tail. Innoko NWR, Alaska. June 2016. Photo copyright Bryce W. Robinson.

Throughout our trip we saw a few other adults, all dark morphs that one would consider “typical” harlan’s with whitish and silver tails, white streaked bibs, etc. The birds were uncooperative for photography, except for two individuals that happened to be my most sought after group of this taxon, second year birds midway through their pre-basic molt (Photo 6). I included a photo of one of the individuals, as they were quite similar in appearance and at the same stage in their molt.

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Photo 6. Second-year “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis harlani) midway through pre-basic molt. Innoko NWR, Alaska. June 2016. Photo copyright Bryce W. Robinson.

The degree of molt which these young birds undergoing is worth noting, as compared to all adults that I’ve seen. All adults, presumably breeding, are limited in the extent of their feather replacement. The two Second-year birds that I’ve photographed are molting heavily, as you can see in photo 6. This speaks to the energetic requirements of both molt and the reproductive effort, and the trade-off in allotment between both, something of which I’ve noted before in Gyrfalcons (find it HERE).

Overall the time spent in the western interior was grossly fruitful in my exposure to Harlan’s alone.

From the Anchorage area:

Something interesting is happening in Anchorage. Although I’ve seen plenty of birds in the region that fit what we call the “typical” Harlan’s (Dark morph, light bib, silver or white tail, mottled flight feathers, etc.), I’ve found two individuals, a pair, that are worth documenting. It’s important to note that I’ve been working in a fairly restricted area on the U.S. Air Force base at the north end of the city. I haven’t been able to cover much area throughout the valley, but much of my assumptions about other Red-tailed Hawk in this region come from observations at Gunsight Mountain Hawkwatch.

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Photo 7. Adult light morph “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis harlani), showing traits suggestive of B. j. abieticola. Anchorage, Alaska. June 2016. Image copyright Bryce W. Robinson.

The first bird is a light morph female that my friend Laura showed me (Photo 7.). Although it has qualities typical for Harlan’s such as a mottled tail with silver and white tones amidst red, and globular belly markings, it also possesses traits reminiscent of other subspecies such as B. j. abieticola (Northern). Most notable is the barring throughout the wing lining, and on the belly. Also notable is the regular and distinct barring in the flight feathers. The question arises whether this bird’s phenotype is an infrequent but regular occurrence in the harlani population, or a result of integradation somewhere in its recent lineage? Although the area is an intergrade zone for many other species, I’m fully comfortable saying that I don’t know, nor do I want to suggest one over the other.  The most exciting part is not knowing, and realizing there is a frontier to explore in our understanding of this species.

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Adult dark morph Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). Subspecies unknown, but this bird resembles what we would expect of a dark morph abieticola, if these exist.  Anchorage, Alaska. June 2016. Image copyright Bryce W. Robinson.

The second interesting bird from the area is perhaps more exciting (Photo 8). It shows no indication that it belongs to the subspecies harlani. It resembles a dark morph calurus, with some unique contrasting qualities to the auxiliaries and undertail. I’m not sure what subspecies this bird is, but if I were to guess I’d say this bird fits with the Northern population (abieticola), suggesting that this subspecies is polymorphic. Regardless, This bird along with observations at Gunshight Mountain hawk watch support that the Anchorage area and Matsu Valley are an intergrade zone, as is the case with many other species. I think there remains much to learn about the biogeography of Red-tailed Hawks, especially as it pertains to this small area of Alaska.

Rough-legged Hawk Nestlings

by Bryce W. Robinson

Rough-legged Hawk Nestlings

I was surprised the first time I saw the proximity of nesting Rough-legged Hawk and Gyrfalcon. It was my first summer in Alaska. I was along the Dalton Highway peering through a scope at an incubating white Gyrfalcon. Only 100 meters down the cliffside was an incubating Rough-legged Hawk. Now that I’ve gained an in depth experience with cliff nesting birds of the Arctic, I see why these birds tolerate one another. There simply aren’t enough locations to be choosy.

These eyes were watching me as I pulled out one of my Gyrfalcon nest cameras the other day. This is on the extreme end of Gyrfalcon – Rough-legged Hawk nest proximity. These nests are only about 10 meters apart, and given that these young Roughies are about to fledge, they will both be successful. Almost every cliff I’ve worked in this summer has had a nesting Rough-legged Hawk pair. Some cliffs have had two, along with nesting Raven and Cackling Goose (yes, they nest in cliff nests often). Real estate is limited, so all suitable sites are usually occupied given enough food in the area.

Rough-legged Hawks are a favorite. I gained a familiarity with them during past winters in Utah, and it was always a dream of mine to see them on their breeding grounds. Each time I’m around a nest, I remember my current place and business in life, something that is not to be taken for granted. I’m living a personal dream, and I’m happy.

Light Morph Harlan’s Hawk – A Noteworthy Specimen

by Bryce W. Robinson

Adult light morph "Harlan's" Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis harlani

Adult light morph “Harlan’s” Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis harlani

I wanted to share this specimen I found today while going through the small bird collection at Boise State University. It is a great example of the variable traits of the Red-tailed Hawk subspecies harlani. I really enjoy the variable plumages of the Red-tailed Hawk in North America. At the top of my list, as with most Red-tailed Hawk fans, is the Harlan’s.

Here are a few things I found interesting when I first found the bird:

  • Some tell-tale light Harlan’s traits – whitish head with streaking, red/pink tail fading to white/gray at the base (Harlan’s tails are ultra variable, but I’ve seen this regularly on light Harlan’s), Harlan’s spotting on tail, warm tones in upper tail and dorsal area, blotchy streaking on belly band.
  • Some not so Harlan’s traits – orange barring on leggings (typical of western RTHA), and barred belly band accompanying blotchy streaking. Strange and neat! Also of note is the amount of red in the tail. Common in Harlan’s, but often confused as a sign of intergradation.

I’m a bit disappointed that the tail wasn’t spread at preparation, so it was difficult to get a full glimpse of each feather. Additionally, there was no informative data accompanying the specimen, apart from a tag that read “Red-tailed Hawk”. As I’ve become more familiar with the art of museum preparation and the usefulness of specimens in research, I’ve become more aware of how important information is to put a specimen into context.

Even though the data is lacking, I’m really appreciative of the opportunity to look at this bird and take some photos. It’s a really interesting light morph Harlan’s that deserves some recognition. It made my day.

For some more insight into variability in light morph Harlan’s, check out this article by Jerry Liguori:

http://www.hawkwatch.org/blog/item/810-atypical-harlan-s-traits