Yesterday was Raptor Run day. One day a month from November through March, I drive a route from my house through nearby areas, 80 miles worth, looking for raptors... raptors like Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, American Kestrels, Bald Eagles, Merlin (if I'm lucky -- I was yesterday), various Accipiters (Coopers and Sharp-shinned Hawks), Rough-legged Hawks and White-tailed Kites. Those are the ones I have a chance of finding in this area. At night, I add whatever owls hoot or appear. Other people are doing the same thing, one day a month, throughout Oregon. The data we collect is used to study trends in raptor population.
I love participating in Citizen Science projects. I started helping with this particular project because White-tailed Kites had recently moved north into our area. But they are now declining in numbers... I know not why. They tend to disappear over summer and return in September. Last year, birder friend Carol Karlen who usually accompanies me on my Raptor Runs and I counted fifteen White-tailed Kites on our November run. This year, I saw none. Perhaps it was the colossal snow and cold of last December. We saw none after that storm. Kites are being seen still south of us, where the storm wasn't. But the kites were declining in our area even before that. Perhaps the Kites moved north too soon, during some mild years. Perhaps the data we're collecting in these raptor routes, combined with historical weather data, will help solve the mystery.
Meanwhile I'll look forward to my December run and hope the kites reappear. It's fun anyway. Johnny went with me yesterday because Carol was busy on another route. Johnny liked seeing a giraffe and white rhino along with the raptors. We drive through friends' 500 acre wildlife preserve... they cooperate with zoos in breeding endangered animals, mostly antelope. The giraffe and rhinos are simply animals that zoos had too many of with no place to put them. The rhinos are very playful... huge but playful. One learned how to push the gate opener button with his horn, opening the gate. They are several gates away from the public road, but he could get into the area around the main barn and office. So they had to take the button off and make people stick their finger all the way inside the little box. This time they had an electric fence all the way around so apparently the rhinos tried knocking the whole thing down to see if that would make the gate open. Nancy (the owner) says they're like big, playful puppies. Very big.