Discovering Nature

Tag: hawks (page 1 of 4)

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She was gathering bark for the nest but dropped it to scream. Yes, I felt badly… even though we were actually passing by at a good clip and did not stop to stare or harrass her.

Protective mother

This leucistic redtail has been sitting on her nest for some weeks, and now she appears to be feeding young.

marley croppedsm

Instead of being nestled down into the nest, we see her sitting more erect, as she is in this picture. Often she’s on the edge of the nest, peering down, probably giving tiny bites to tiny beaks.

It’s interesting to see the fresh greens she has apparently added to the nest. I know Big Red did the same thing in the Cornell hawk nest we observed a few years ago too, though I’m not sure what the purpose is.

It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the male, so I hope he’s all right. At this stage, there’s plenty for both parents to do.

Ghost Story


We’ve been keeping an eye out for the leucistic redtail in our neck of the woods. Our sightings are fleeting, but we’ve accumulated enough of them to construct a narrative at this point.

Usually the hawk is far away, and she has a knack for choosing unphotographable areas. We call her Marley, after the ghost in A Christmas Carol, because of her whiteness. We think of her as female because she is larger than the more typically colored redtail we see her with.


See what I mean about unphotographable areas? Cropped in, though, you can see that this is a pair of hawks.


Lately, we’ve been seeing Marley near, and sometimes perched on, a nest.



So it looks like her story goes something like this so far: Marley has paired up with a male, and she is getting ready for nesting season. We’re not positive yet that she’s actively using it, but if so this is by far the most unusual nest we know of. We look forward to observing whatever we’re able to see over the next few months without scaring her away from her maternal duties.

Sights and sounds of spring


It was 27 degrees when we got up this morning, but the sky was blue and it was destined to warm up into the seventies. Who wouldn’t take a walk?

Today it was more about sounds than sights: tiny rustlings that turned out to be kinglets, squirrels, cardinals or chipmunks. A distant woodpecker. A faraway wood thrush. The vigorous sound of running water in the thawed creek. I did see some deer, but only for a split second before they fled.

Then I saw a pair of quiet, elusive birds. I wanted to sit still and see if they’d come closer, and behold, there was an inviting bench just to the side of the trail.


It just happened to be near the tree where I got to watch some nesting chickadees a couple of years ago…


It won’t happen again — not in that tree. It was lying beside the trail, fallen over the winter.

chickadee tree

But it was neat to get to see the inside of their home. The top of the tree had broken off so the soft nest cavity was visible. I also admired their wall decor.



Finally the other birds came close enough to see. There’s a chance they were oven birds, but I’m pretty sure they were veery. They made no sound so I couldn’t confirm by their voices. But I enjoyed the way they accepted my being there as they hopped around flipping over leaves and looking for breakfast. They’re birds more often heard than seen, so it was a treat.



When I got home we had more excitement: a redtail rose out of the brush beyond our house. A moment later, the leucistic redtail rose up too, and we saw its blazing whiteness as it circled high into the air. We ran outside in our socks to watch, and discovered there was a third redtail — which the white one chased, screaming and seeming to collide with it. It chased it three or four miles away and then turned, tucked its wings, and sped back at incredible speed. What would have been a ten minute drive took about 15 seconds. I guessed it was a male, defending its nesting territory and and its mate.

I got some awesome pictures, but you’ll have to take my word for it, because after I had excitedly snapped them I got inside and my camera informed me there was no card inserted. I had taken it out to download the pics from my walk! None of my pictures were saved.

Fortunately my daughter got a few pics with her point and shoot, and she says it’s okay if I share them.



It was an amazing sight! I’m hoping for another chance — but meantime, it’s thrilling to have the memory.

Leucistic Red-tail

We’ve seen this large, snowy white raptor several times nearby since around November.


Naturally, I’ve thought it was a snowy owl. Last year snowies were on everyone’s radar because it was an irruption year, and I figured this might be one of the surplus young who were born in the year of plentiful lemmings.

We saw it about a week ago being mobbed by crows, and it was so large, and so white, I thought again: snowy owl! But…

Yesterday it was sitting in and near an old red-tailed hawk’s nest, vocalizing like crazy, and I got a couple of better (or at least, closer!) pictures.



Clearly not a snowy owl!

I noticed several things. It was not an owl call; it was the classic red-tail’s scream. (Another hawk answered from farther away!) It didn’t have yellow eyes. It didn’t have feathered feet. And it just didn’t have the blunt owl body.

Could there be such a thing as an albino red-tail? Searching online, I discovered there could — though the word in this case is not albino, but leucistic — partially albino. The eyes, after all, are not red. And there are some dark accents in the feathers.

We were tickled to have a snowy owl, but we’re even more tickled to have a rare hawk. At first I was sad, thinking its chances of survival would be poor without the protective coloration. But it’s already survived the winter, so its survival skills are pretty good. There aren’t that many predators to worry about. And a dense leaf canopy would hide it well enough from prey below.

As for being chased by its own kind as an enemy, well — it surely did seem to be conversing with that second hawk, and perhaps readying the nest for breeding season. So we’ll see. There is at least this picture online of a leucistic red-tail on friendly terms with a more typical one, so I have hope.

My daughter named it Marley, after the ghost in A Christmas Carol.


What hawks see


These redtails are all over the place in the winter. I’m not sure if it’s just that they’re easier to see when the leaves are down, or if they come out of the deeper woods in winter as I’ve read.

I’ve wondered before: what makes them choose a given perch? Do they see evidence of mice, and simply wait for an opportunity? Or is it more random?

Today on a walk in the park I saw what looked like veins under the snow: mouse tunnels become visible as the upper layer of snow melts? That’s my guess.


Big Red

big red

We were in Ithaca on Saturday, so we stopped by the site of the the Cornell hawks’ nest for awhile. This is Big Red on a light post next to the one where her nest is. The nest itself is in a difficult spot to observe — at least, compared to the one they used the year before last. I visited a few times last year but didn’t take many pictures. Luckily lots of other folks did, though.



It’s been a long, very cold winter this year. Since my last post here, I’ve said goodbye to our dear 14-year-old border collie, had foot surgery that kept me convalescent for weeks, gotten a new puppy, and generally been unable to get out and about with my camera. But things are warming up a bit at last, and I hope to be able to enjoy some of the welcome sights of spring.

I’d like to post some of the few winter photos I have gotten in the last few months. This one is of a redtail that sat behind our neighbor’s shed all afternoon one day back in January. I wondered if it was hurt, but it eventually flew off. My guess is that it was feasting on mice around the shed. I’ve always wondered how long hawks will sit in the same place hunting. The answer, in this case, was hours.

We named her Patience.

Celebrating Seeing


My daughters and I watched this pileated woodpecker in our back yard as we were eating lunch the other day. She captivated us for several minutes.


No sooner had she flown away than a rabbit appeared, gathering up mouthfuls of grass and leaf litter and hopping behind some trees to pad her nest. Now we know where to look for baby rabbits.


On the whole, this raised awareness of the creatures living all around us is the biggest plus of nature study. Who needs television if you have a window? Who needs computer games if you have eyes? The interest is simply there; all that’s needed is a very little effort to cultivate awareness.

It’s not always easy to be aware, though. Sometimes it brings sorrow. This year I notice several different areas around where bulldozers have cleared space for some kind of development, and every one of them will have an impact on birds or other creatures that lived in those spaces. Where will they go? And how much more space do humans need to take over, mow down, dig up?

Even something like Habitat for Humanity (which recently produced a house on an empty lot nearby) gives me pause these days. It sounds so positive. And it is positive to give someone an opportunity to help build their own home. But why take up new space to do it? Why not redesign an existing building standing empty? Every city has more than enough houses already, more than enough retail buildings and factory spaces. Why not use and re-use these spaces, rather than relentlessly sprawling outward like some seeping toxic spill?

Oh well… enough of the lament. Suffice it to say that I wish we gave more thought such matters before mowing down the bushes and trees to construct new buildings. Awareness — the ability simply to pay attention to what’s around you, wherever you are — is where an environmental ethic begins.  Not legislation or speech-making. Opened eyes.

Speaking of which, I have seen many interesting sights of late that I haven’t recorded here, and what follows will be a long column of wonders.

Starting with an oven bird! I’ve heard these leaf-like thrushes many times calling from the forest floor, but never have I been fortunate enough to actually see one till this past weekend, on an early morning walk.



He was having a territorial squabble with another one nearby. The woods were full of them! Here, he’s standing on the ruin of an old nesting box.

At a nearby pond, we’ve seen the first of the green herons…

green heron

green heron2

We’ve seen geese nesting…


…and geese newly hatched.


As I stood watching, I noticed movement from one grass tussock to the next. Meadow mice were darting like lightning from hole to hole, right out in the marsh. They’re the color of dust, but otherwise they remind me a lot of hamsters.


Water snakes abounded. None of them looked big enough to eat a mouse, but the frogs and wogs must be on the run.


I think this tiny butterfly is a silvery blue. Its wings are only about a centimeter wide. The meadow was studded with them; I also saw one bright orange butterfly too elusive to photograph.

silvery blue

The chipmunks are coming out of hiding — well, they’re awake. Some are still hiding.

Find that chipmunk

Find that chipmunk

Others look like woodland mariners sailing deadwood ships.


Happily, my daughter and I saw our first rose-breasted grosbeaks the other morning!

Mr Grosbeak

Mr Grosbeak


Mrs Grosbeak

Mrs Grosbeak

There were other birds chorusing all around, including song sparrows…

song sparrow2

…and yellow warblers.




It’s not every day that you get tracked by police while bird watching, but it happened the morning we saw these warblers. My daughter turned around, gasped, and said, “A police car!” We saw an officer circling our parked car and hurried back, fearing we’d broken some parking rule. “Oh, I was going to have her track you,” he greeted us, emerging from behind the car with a large police dog. Turns out he just saw our car and decided to take the opportunity to do some training!

There are several nests we’ve been keeping an eye on. We were thrilled to discover a red-tailed hawk nest in a spot we pass often, but it’s not terribly photographable. Still, as the nestlings grow and begin flappercizing, maybe we’ll get some better views (and pictures).

hawk nest

The other day, we were looking at a red-winged blackbird atop this snag when we noticed a tree swallow in a nest cavity beneath him.


Last but not least, the chickadees must have a few nestlings in this nest box outside our front window, because the parent birds have been active, flying to and fro and apparently feeding young.


It’s a great time of year for being outside. Here in the northeast the sense of release from the grip of winter seems so strong and so welcome.



Even our domestic animals like to get out and smell the flowers!




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