Saturday, January 28, 2017

Raptor Runs

It has been challenging working in our two raptor routes in January, between icy roads, illness, and out-of-state trips. We finally had two days, back to back, with reasonably cooperative weather when we were both home and not coughing: Jan. 24 and 25.

We did the Grand Ronde route the first day. That route extends from a few miles west of Grand Ronde to Sheridan, with lots of side road excursions. I had both cameras with me since I've learned that some of those distant accipiters, in particular, are very hard to tell apart. A photo zoomed up on the computer is a great help. However, taking photos slows things down and we had to skip one usual side trip in order to finish before dark. Happily, the owners of that property were home and reported to me what they saw that day. Another cooperator reported a Great Horned Owl heard at her place that night. I love my route cooperators!

The first distant bird that I spent too much time photographing, I admit, was not an unknown. It was White Wing, the mostly white Red-tailed Hawk that has hung out in the Grand Ronde area for many, many years. I don't know how long but the first time I saved an email about it was in 2005. Here it was on Jan. 24, 2017. I wish I could have had a photo from the back, showing the white wings and red tail. Maybe next time...

We were happy to see the two White-tailed Kites still at Shenk Wetlands. I was afraid our long spell of freezing, snowy weather would have driven them off. Hopefully, they'll nest in the area this year as they have in the past. But for the first time in several years, we missed seeing Red-shouldered Hawks anywhere on the route. Hopefully, they did not leave during the cold weather.

The most exciting find was a Merlin right in Willamina. I snapped a quick photo and then it flew. My shot does not show the white line over the eye well, but if you look closely you can see the narrow white bars between wide dark bars in the tail. I'm still hoping for a decent photo of a Merlin someday. They don't tend to sit for long in one spot and when they fly, they disappear in an instant. Falcons are fast!

There is a large elk herd in the Sheridan area, reportedly 120 strong. We saw them, or some of them, resting on a hillside as we scanned for raptors.

The Rough-legged Hawk we had seen the month before just west of Sheridan was in almost the same spot again this day. Naturally, I took a photo.

 Below is the photo I took the month before on the route...

 The next day, Wednesday, Jan. 25, we headed east for our North Santiam route that starts in Salem where Highway 22 crosses I5 and extends to Gates with roads both north and south of 22. It started out well with more than the usual Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels, but soon fell back to its ordinary, low numbers.

In Mehama/Lyons, we buy lunches-to-go at the Dragon Gate restaurant and take them to John Neal/Lyons City park to eat them while we watch for raptors. Then I hike around the ponds looking for Red-shouldered Hawks that we used to see there. No luck for the last several years on those birds, but I did find two accipiters and lots of waterfowl.

These Gadwalls are always here.

This time, they were joined by lots and lots of Northern Shovelers.

But the most exciting find of the day was an otter.

It did not see me taking photos until after it had slipped into the water and been fishing for a time. When it spotted me, it followed me along the bank, growling. This is just what the otters that occasionally visit our farm pond do. They are very feisty critters.

Oh, and those distant raptors. This one was *really* distant... and behind branches. I used my Nikon Coolpix P900 with the super zoom to bring it up closer.

Sometimes, with Accipiters, I find the tail the most helpful id point. Cooper's have shorter feathers on the outside of their tails, giving the tails a rounded appearance. In contrast, Sharpshins often show a notch in their tail.

 Rounded tail on this bird made me call it a Cooper's. The other accipiter flew in as I was scoping the above bird... much closer. It was the size of a Sharpshin and flew with the rapid wingbeats of a Sharpie.
Our route ends where it began in Salem. We then go to a restaurant for supper, usually Mina's in South Salem, for their delicious Pho. This time,  I talked Johnny into driving home after supper via River Rd. and across the bridge to Independence instead of going through Salem. It's a long way around but scenic. Instead of cutting over to Hwy 99 at Independence, I always drive on to Rogers Rd. and take it to 99. This time a Short-eared Owl appeared at dusk over the field beside the road. A great ending to a long day.

February looks to be as crowded with out-of-state trips as January, so who knows when our next raptor routes will be. It is always interesting to see what we find whenever we go.

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