This was the first glimpse. At a distance I thought it was a Cooper's or Northern Goshawk. Instead, it turned out to be a western juvenile Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis). This morning, I returned to the Skagit State Wildlife Recreation Area on Fir Island to see if there was anything interesting going on. I spotted this guy in the trees on the north side of the Spur Dike Trail at Wiley Slough. As I hiked along the dike, this camera-shy bird would fly off. He kept moving ahead of me until I finally lost track of him.
Fir Island provides ideal habitat for the Red-tailed Hawk. It is mostly open, agricultural fields interspersed with small clumps of trees. The birds will use the trees, light poles and road signs as perches for spotting prey. They can also hover on wind currents, referred to as "kiting." Their diet consists of small mammals, birds, reptiles and even fish. Their range is extensive and includes most of North America, Central America and the West Indies. This may be a clue to the source of their species name jamaicensis. Throughout their range, these birds demonstrate a large variation in plumage. They are year-around residents in all of lowland Washington State.
Every weather forecast said it would rain today. Instead, our Olympic Rain Shadow kicked in to give us a chilly, but beautiful, sunny autumn day. There was some dark sky around the area, but not for us. The spur dike at Wiley Slough provides access into these wetlands where there is always something interesting to discover. Fir Island is where the Skagit River divides into multiple channels and marshes before entering Puget Sound. This is a prolific habitat for wildlife of all sorts.
From the parking lot, a hike on the Spur Dike Trail is bit more than 2 miles (3.2 km) out and back. On the return, I spotted the hawk again. This time, he was perched on a branch right over the center of the dike. I was finally able to get a clear shot. The characteristic spotted "belly band" on this bird is apparent.