Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Cooper's Hawk


Sometimes the wildlife watches you.  This morning I hiked the dike at Wiley Slough in the Skagit River delta.  I went to try and catch Cedar Waxwings.  This time of year, they enjoy the ripe Pacific Crabapples that grow along the dike.  The Lesser Snow Geese have also returned to Fir Island.  Some shots of them would also be welcome.  Alas, there were lots of American Robins, but no Cedar Waxwings and no Snow Geese.  I headed back to the parking lot without a single photo.  Then, this small hawk flew right up to me.  He perched on a branch and took a good look as if to check me out.

This is a juvenile Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii).  It is one of the three Accipiters that occur locally.  They come in three sizes, small, medium and large.  The Northern Goshawk (A. gentilis) is the largest of the group.  The Cooper's is the medium sized bird, and the Sharp-shinned Hawk (A. striatus) is the smallest.

Cooper's Hawk in the Skagit River Delta

After getting a couple of photos, I continued on my way along the dike.  The bird flew along with me and perched on the next tree.  This is unusual behavior.  Birds usually flee at the sight of me, especially when I point a camera at them.  This one seemed to enjoy the experience, so I was able to get a couple more photos.

Cooper's Hawks have an interesting hunting technique.  Instead of swooping onto their pray from the air, they use stealth and stalk their quarry through dense brush.  When it gets close enough, it seizes the prey with its feet in a sudden lunge.  It will squeeze it repeatedly to kill it.  Birds are its favorite food, but it will also take small mammals.

When this bird matures, it will exhibit a rich gray back and head, a darker cap, and a white breast with orange bars.  The eyes will be red.

Once again, I failed to get the photos I had sought, but ended up with something just as interesting.  I am certainly not disappointed.  This was another memorable wildlife encounter and the subject seemed to enjoy it as much as I did.

I am submitting this post over at Wild Bird Wednesday.  Check it out.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Got Him!  Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

For three years, I have been gunning for this Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon).  Such as it is, I finally got a photo this morning.  This is a male.  Females have a rust colored band across the belly.  The characteristic white spot in front of the eye is clearly visible.

They are fairly common here wherever there is fresh or salt water.  They can hover in place over the water much like a hummingbird.  When they spot prey near the surface, they dive straight down and snatch it in that long bill.  Their favorite food is fish, but they also like frogs, tadpoles, insects and crayfish.  I usually hear them before I see them.  Their noisy ratcheting calls resemble the sound of a fishing reel.  They love to make that noise when they are flying or hovering.

The species name alcyon is a variation of halcyon.  In Greek mythology, this was a kingfisher that calmed the winter sea to lay its eggs in a floating nest.  The myth led to the use of the word to mean peace and calmness.  In fact, Kingfishers actually nest in horizontal tunnels dug into sand banks.

This guy hangs out at Wiley Slough just outside the new barrier dike in the Skagit River Delta wetlands.  I have seen him often in this same area.  Today, he was perched on one of the tide gate uprights next to the dike.  They never let anyone get very close.  I got this photo just as he turned and spotted me.  One second later, he was gone in a flash.