A studio for bird study

Tag: jamaicensis

Pen and Ink Sketching

by Bryce W. Robinson

American Kestrel- Falco sparverius. Pen and ink on paper

When I am not counting them, I am drawing them. I sat in my hotel room this morning, pondering how I might make use of my day. Of course my only day off of the mountain for the week is important for household chores such as a shower and laundry, but I always find pressure to stay away from the television and do something constructive. Sketching in my journal seemed like perfect way to pass the time. After all, I need to work on refining my skills. With the most appropriate music, I sat and sketched the day away. It was both relaxing and fruitful.

Light morph Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis. Pen and ink on paper

My journal is 8×5.5″, so it is very difficult to fit a flying hawk onto a page. I also used the smallest pen I have at the moment, an 01 which is not my preferred pen. I normally use 005, especially when illustrating a smaller bird. I still feel that my pen drawings are a bit unrefined. More effort and practice may produce more desirable birds. Still, I find myself staring at this flying Red-tailed Hawk with a smile on my face. I am trying to make the bird stand out with all of the particular field marks that make it appear true to the winged wanderer that I see nearly every day.

Dark morph Immature Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo Jamaicensis. Pen and ink on paper.

I love topside views of soaring hawks. This is possible my favorite thing about observing the fall migration on a ridge top. Only the most special of places leave you with a view of a soaring raptor below. I am always giddy when I come away with a good photo of a bird below my eye level, and illustrating the birds as such provides something similar to that feeling.

Golden Eagle- Aquila chrysaetos. Pen and ink on paper

I had to sketch a Golden Eagle today. We have caught three this season, each bird as special as the last. I cannot describe the feeling of beholding these large winged predators. They are as beautiful and fierce as any big cat, bear, or predator alike. They are powerful, intelligent, and proud. The spirit of these birds interacting with my own caused such an emotional clash, that I could not help myself from shedding a tear. This emotion I will forever remember, and work to pour into every piece put forth that highlighs the majesty of the Golden eagle.


Views of Migration- An Update From the Goshutes

by Bryce W. Robinson

Immature Northern Goshawk- Accipiter gentilis

Progressively, the daily totals are rising. After a month of counting, the season total has already surpassed 3000. I’ve left the mountain for a day, so I would like to take the opportunity to make a brief report of the season to date. I haven’t the energy or the time to put much into the writing of this post, so I hope poor grammar and diction can be overlooked. Pay attention to the images, as I attempt to convey some of the images of the ridge top raptor migration at the Goshutes.

Broad-winged Hawk- Buteo platypterus


The highlight of the season thus far has been the Broad-winged Hawks. Six have flown through, and the above photo is the first of the season. This bird is actually a first for me. I had never seen a Broad-winged before. When I noticed the bird, and knew what it was, I could hardly contain my excitement. Hooting and hollering ensued, and I celebrated for minutes following. The western migration of Buteo platypterus was a thing of rumor in the past. It was thought that the bird did not migrate through the inter-west, and did not pass by the Goshutes migration sight. Jerry Liguori was the first to discover that the bird did indeed use the flight line, and many have been counted in the years since his revolutionary discovery. I hope to see many more to come, and am holding high hopes for a dark morph bird in close proximity to the observation point.

Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis

I’ve been able to get some amazing photographs from passing birds, many very close and detailed. I am saving the best for a future project, so for now I would like to present some photos that show what it is really like at the sight. Mainly, while watching the migration, the observer gets distant views at birds. Identifying the birds to species, sex, or age can be extremely difficult at times. Jerry Liguori has written two books to aid the observer in this task, illustrating a vast amount of tips and tricks to gleaning positive Identifications from distant specs. These books have become invaluable in my study.


Sharp-shinned Hawk- Accipiter striatus

Even better, Jerry has joined me many times at the sight this season. It has been great to have one of the best raptor experts, and arguably the best migration counter, on the ridge to teach me and aid me in becoming a better and more effective counter. I am in intense study of raptor migration, and I am neither overwhelmed or exhausted by this fact. It has been remarkable. My only complaint is that the season will end too soon.

Osprey- Pandion haliaetus

One of my favorite passers-by is Pandion haliaetus, the Osprey. We usually see a few a day, each bird a delight. I have heard of the bird carrying with it a fish, a next meal. I look forward to the day I witness this peculiar behavior myself. Hopefully it is soon, and I am able to get photos.

Male American Kestrel- Falco sparverius

The evenings on the ridge are dramatic, to phrase it lightly. The long light casts shadows across the mountains, highlighting hills contrasted against dark canyons. Often birds will catch light streaming through deep canyons, lighting up agains the dark hillside. The beauty is indescribable, and so often leaves me with a feeling of peace as my soul settles and I fall upon thoughts of comfort. I am in the right place, doing the best thing, feeling no anxiety, and having zero complaints. I am fulfilled, and for the first time in a long time, I have found a home.




From the Field Journal- Golden Eagles at the Goshutes

by Bryce W. Robinson

Two full weeks have passed at the Goshutes, and already I have accumulated many incredible stories. Life on the mountain is as close to heaven as I can get at the moment, I am sure. I’ve decided to chronicle my time here in a field journal. I will share my experiences from the journal by posting particularly interesting accounts. What follows is an entry I made last week, after observing one of the most spectacular wildlife events I have ever witnessed.

August 21st, 2012

Early August has been fairly bird-less as far as migration goes. Although birds haven’t been moving through, a great host of local raptors are keeping me entertained. I have many stories and experiences to tell of a whiny young Goshawk, pestering Sharp-shinned Hawks, bold and curious buteos, and countless others. For now, I’d like to tell of an experience I had today on my observation post. Jerry and Deneb were helping me with the count, as my co-counter Steve had yet to arrive on the mountain. Jerry and Deneb are old friends of seasons past here at the Goshutes. It was rather enjoyable to listen to their banter as they interacted as old friends often do. Jerry helped pass the time, taking it upon himself to teach me the tricks and tips he has accumulated from some thirty years of experience counting migrating raptors. Needless to say the lack of birds was made up for with teaching, chatter and humor. 

About mid-day, the three of us, steeped in some conversation of trivial matters of the world, were rocked as an intense sound of friction filled the air. Looking above towards the source of the sound, we saw two large air masters pass directly overhead. In fact, what we observed were two large adult Golden Eagles engaged in a dramatic and deliberate stoop, heading directly east with conviction. Excited and in awe, we watched the birds descent. By sight and sound, the large Aquila birds resembled two fighter jets in arial pursuit. Near the bottom of the canyon, the two birds abandoned their stoop, spreading wings, slicing the air with legs hanging, a posture of aggression. As we watched, we realized their intention. Picking up a third bird, we saw the eagles close on a soaring buteo, an adult Red-tailed Hawk.

The unsuspecting buteo realized the danger just in time. It began evasive maneuvers to avoid the slashing talons of the eagles. The menacing eagles made pass after pass at the fleeing buteo. I was astonished at the sight of their cooperative offensive. Such slow soaring raptors had turned on their agile abilities, and it became apparent that these birds are masters of the wind and sky. The dog fight continued, and the skilled buteo somehow remained untouched by the merciless eagles. Finally, finding a bubbling thermal, the Red-tailed Hawk lifted swiftly in the air. The heavy eagles slowly pursued, but were unable to match the rising speed of the fleeing buteo. I was in awe at the violence I had witnessed. Such raw experiences rip away the feeling of fluffy beauty nature often promotes. The natural world is wild, harsh, and unforgiving. This time the hawk had evaded the eagles, and peace returned to the air. 

As we stood recounting the natural marvel we had just witnessed, our reflection was rocked by the majestic image laid out before us. To the east, against the expansive backdrop of the salt flats of western Utah, another Red-tailed Hawk joined the soaring victim of the eagles. Separated by hundreds of feet, two buteos above, two eagles below, raptors alike soared in unison, circling in the calm afternoon air. Taken aback, I again and for the hundredth time that week, voiced my feelings for the place. Full of magic and natural wonder, even before the migration has truly begun, the Goshutes has captured my heart, and I am truly at peace in this place. There is no where I would rather be, as I sit on a mountain top, feeling as close to heaven as is possible.

A Bounty of Summer Buteos

by Bryce W. Robinson

“Intermediate” morph Swainson’s Hawk- Buteo swainsoni.

Yesterday I ventured out to find some raptors with Jerry. We found found an area covered with “summering” Buteos, in densities unprecedented in my young and limited experience with the raptor world. I am enthralled with the ecology of wintering birds of prey, primarily for the interspecies interactions that occur in high density hunting grounds. Yesterday, I found the same densities and something of the same diversity. I have never seen so many Swainson’s Hawks and Ferruginous Hawks in one area. I was very delighted to observe numerous interactions between each species. Surprisingly, the bully seemed to be the Swainson’s Hawks. The Ferruginous didn’t seem to mind the Swainson’s, but a few times I observed Red-tailed Hawks being bullied by the summer migrants.

One particular incident made my day, and provided me with a glimpse of something I’ve never seen, and actually was unaware existed. A Swainson’s hawk and Red-tailed Hawk soared together rather high in the noon sky. The Swainson’s began buzzing the Red-tailed Hawk, resulting in some dramatic arial displays as they twisted to push the other away. Finally the climax of the interaction came when the two birds latched talons and began tumbling through the air. After multiple rolls, the birds broke, sending the Red-tailed Hawk fleeing from the scene. I have seen tumbling between Red-tailed Hawks as they engage in talon clasping to reinforce pair bonds, but never as an aggressive territorial interaction between two different species. The birds were some distance away, so the photos I came away with are not ideal, but interesting nonetheless.

Red-tailed Hawk (top) and Swainson’s Hawk (bottom) engaged in an aggressive tumbling interaction.

Birds blanketed the valley. Every other telephone pole supported a perching buteo, and the irrigation lines were covered with ravens and buteos as well. On one particular raven-less wheel line I counted eleven birds, comprised evenly of Swainson’s and Ferruginous Hawks. Not only was there interspecies diversity, but within each species, variation in plumage was present as well. I love dark morph Ferruginous Hawks, and a few flew around. These birds were leery of our intrusion, so I was unable to get any good photographs. I did photograph a very interesting adult Ferruginous. I assume it to be something like a rufous morph, perhaps in the midst of body molt, however its present state gave it a tiger like appearance. This is by far the most spectacular Ferruginous I have found to date.

“Tiger” Ferruginous Hawk- Buteo regalis

“Tiger” Ferruginous Hawk- Buteo regalis

I’m a plumage enthusiast when it comes to buteos, so this day was all that I could hope for. The diversity in Swainson’s Hawks was a treat. These birds vary immensely. I found the typical light morph birds, rufous birds, dark birds, and even some that exhibit mottling, perhaps intergrades between the morphs or showing body molt. I remember one particular bird near the end of the day that was nearly black, but it had extensive mottling not unlike a dark Harlan’s. Regrettably, I failed in my attempts to photograph this bird.

Intermediate Swainson’s Hawk- Buteo swainsoni

Light morph Swainson’s Hawk- Buteo swainsoni

It was surprising to find an area so devoid, relatively, of Red-tailed Hawks. There were few hanging about, most likely due to the attention they received from the gangs of Swainson’s Hawks. Still, we found a few birds and were able to come away with some photos.

Light morph Western Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis calurus

Juvenile light morph Western Red-tailed Hawk- Buteo jamaicensis calurus

The above birds was found sitting in a tree with a nest, and another young bird. Given their behavior, Jerry thought this bird to be very young, which is surprising given that most birds fledge early in the year. A late nest is peculiar, but it is highly probable that these birds have only recently taken to the air.

I have a few qualms about the photos I have shared. Although they are the best I have taken thus far, I failed to capture the catch light in most images, and for whatever reason many of the wings are blurred. I resolve to figure out how these problems can be corrected, but I feel great about my successes thus far. My homelessness and beatnik birding lifestyle continues for little longer, but in the small amount of time much will be chronicled. Let the good times soar.