Tracking Birds (by Derek Lyon)

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Saturday, November 30, 2013 

I always want to hear what other raptor enthusiasts have to say, so here is a post by Derek Lyon on the Red-tails he follows in his local area of southern Ontario.

The plumage of the Red-tailed Hawk has lots of variation. Even if your someone who loves to study hawks, you may want to pull your hair out if looking at a bird that doesn’t fit the range of variation you know to occur for a specific race of Red-tail. But this variation can be a good thing, it is invaluable when you want to confirm that an individual bird is the same one you are seeing day to day or year to year.

When trying to ID an individual bird on separate occasions, you need to consider several things. You can’t rely on one characteristic, some birds may show a distinct trait, but many will not. I use a form sheet I made up with a space at the top for a name I give each bird and the date photographed (categories below). The form just helps me keep things straight, so I don’t overlook anything. An example of the form is shown below. The form helped me prove that a pair of breeding birds that occupied a specific territory in summer weren't the same birds occupying that exact location in winter, as another local birder suggested. We know that some Red-tails remain on territory year-round, while some migrate south and are replaced by other Red-tails. Noting distinct plumage traits has also helped me verify when instances like this occur; and that a certain Red-tail has come back to the same patch every winter since 2004 -- check out the pictures below of one individual (all photos by Derek Lyon).


"Click" to enlarge form


posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Tuesday, November 26, 2013 

A few people have asked me to post more hawk pictures just for kicks, so I thought I'd post some eagles first and maybe some falcons in a few days. Here's a few Bald Eagles with a Golden Eagle thrown in there. Hope you like them…

Harlan's traits

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Saturday, November 23, 2013 

A recent discussion spurred this post. Yes, it true that light-morph Harlan's are snow-white below, but some can and do have buffy or rufous tones on the underside, especially the leggings. Brian Sullivan and I show examples in a 2009 Birding magazine article, but here are some more examples. Remember Harlan's overlaps in plumage, and interbreeds with other races of Red-tailed Hawk, so they can show traits that are normally associated with other races (as do all Red-tails -- i.e. a dark or light throat can be shown on both Eastern and Western). Consider that juvenile Harlan's (especially light-morphs) can have tails that look identical to other races, that is telling in itself. I tend to call Harlan's that show traits associated with other races, or lack all the classic Harlan's traits "Harlan's variants" instead of "intergrades." I also refer them to them as "Harlan's-types" -- essentially, it is a Harlan's of some sort. Since we really don't know the extent of natural variation any more than we know the extent they interbreed (but we do know variation and intergrading does occur), identifying a definite intergrade is very tricky. If a bird shows classic traits of more than one race, then the intergrade argument may have more validity. Or, another good example could be a Harlan's-type with a fully red tail. However, many "pure" Harlan's have varying amounts of red in the tail, or rufous breasts, so a Harlan's that fits the mold in every way but has a degree of red in the tail is simply a "Harlan's", and to call such a bird an "intergrade" is a huge leap.

It is hard to draw a line between what is normal variation and what is an intergrade, and there are many birds out there that are just too difficult to classify. Anyway, here are some examples of Harlan's with atypical traits such as colored leggings or mostly red tails…enjoy.

Cape May, NJ

posted by Jerry Liguori at

Warning: This post might bore you.

For the first time in many many years, I took a trip to Cape May Point, NJ this fall to watch hawks. I had a great time, saw lots of old friends, and met a bunch of people for the first time. And, of course I saw lots of Peregrines, Merlins, Ospreys, accipiters, etc. My fear of flying keeps me from making it to the East Coast on a regular basis, but I might have to make Cape May an annual thing. Here are some raptor pics (some from before), and people shots from this trip. It was particularly fun to hang out with Liza Gray (top photo) and Pete Gustas (second photo). Note Pete's gangster outfit he wore for the official first day of the "Riff Raff" crew get together. I didn't even know it, but I am an honorary member of the Riff Raff….thanks guys! Another friend I hadn't seen in a while was Julian Hough, who brought his son Alex (the next great hawk watcher -- third photo). Great to see you Julian, and to meet Alex. I am enjoying travelling!

Merlin Tail Bands

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Tuesday, November 19, 2013 

Just a short note that I posted a while back on the UtahBirders blog. Yes, it is true that Black Merlins typically have less distinct whitish tail bands than the other races (Taiga and Prairie). However, many Black Merlins can have quite distinct tail bands, and Taiga (and a few Prairie) Merlins can have limited or no tail bands at all. I always say "almost no field mark is 100% reliable."

Check out the Taiga Merlins above ("click" to enlarge), the bird on the left (adult female) has a distinctly whitish-banded tail, the bird in the middle (juvenile) has limited tail bands, and the bird on the right (juvenile) lacks tail bands altogether. Note that many Merlins of all races do have a darker "tip."

Another Harlan's vs. Krider's

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Saturday, November 16, 2013 

Daryll Myhr shared these adult Red-tailed Hawk photos with me from British Columbia (thank you Daryll). He has shared lots of photos with me over the past few years, and it is always great to see what he has for me in my inbox. This is one of those birds that gets people wondering if it is a Krider's or Harlan's, and for good reason. Some light-morph Harlan's look similar to Krider's and some of the plumage traits overlap at times…and hey, they should, they are both Red-tailed Hawks. However, there are definite ways to distinguish faintly marked, pale-headed Harlan's from Krider's. We summarize this pretty well in 2 articles in a 2009 issue of Birding magazine if anyone wants to download it here:‎‎

Anyway, check out the dark, cold brown upperside and head, white streaks on head and over the eye, pale mottling limited to the scapulars, brownish mottling on the tail, distinct / blobby belly streaks, and snow-white body plumage. These are all Harlan's traits. This just happens to be a Harlan's with a white-based tail ( a common tail type on light adults), which is what causes most of the confusion. Although it's fairly out of range for Krider's, I don't ID birds based on range or probability, just on sound ID criteria such as plumage and structure. To clarify -- adult Krider's have buffy underbodies, thin belly streaks, warm brown uppersides, (often) extensive, pale mottling on the upperwing coverts, and uniform whitish heads (often lack white streaking), or golden brown heads (not dark, "cold" brown. The tail of adult Krider's is often whitish with a pinkish tip, but not mottled with gray or brown like this bird. There are other differences as well, but the birds wings are not spread in these photos, so I won't mention them…they are mentioned in the articles though.

I hope this helps people separate these two similar subspecies, and feel free to comment or ask questions, hopefully I can answer them.

Happy Hawkwatching!

JPEG or RAW...

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, November 14, 2013 

I was wondering what everyone chooses as their default setting for photography in regards to file type: JPEG or RAW? I'd love to hear the pros and cons for each...

Here are some pics I shot with bodies ranging from the Canon 10D to 7D over the past 10+ years since I went digital. I recently picked up a 70D and am loving it.


posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Monday, November 11, 2013 

For any coffee lovers out there…what do you find is the ultimate way to brew a cup of coffee? For me, using a ceramic dripper seems to produce the best tasting cup. I use ceramic or stainless steel (paper cup works well too) over plastic. I think plastic takes away from the fresh / real taste of the coffee. A stainless steel french press or automatic countertop dripper works well, but I really find coffee from a plastic dripper unpleasant. Hey, maybe I'm wrong, or just a big snob, but everyone has their particular tastes. So, if anyone has thoughts on coffee, please share them since I always want to hear about my favorite drink.

More Intermediate Rough-legs

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Friday, November 8, 2013 

Someone requested that I post more intermediate Rough-legged Hawks, so here they are:

Intermediate Rough-legged Hawk

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Thursday, November 7, 2013 

I just spent a few weeks at Hawk Ridge in Duluth, MN and saw lots of hawks of course, but wanted to share a neat one. This bird (below) was caught by my friend Frank Nicoletti, and he was nice enough to bring it out to the hawk watch site for everyone to see -- thank you Frank! He identified it as a juvenile "intermediate-morph." These plumage types are uncommon, I have seen (and photographed) a handful and have had people send me examples over the years, but haven't seen one up close like this before. Check out the mostly dark plumage with paler underwing coverts than most dark-morphs, and a paler head than what would normally be seen on a dark-morph. The tail had a bit more white than would be expected as well. Note the rufous upperwing coverts at the front of the wings…gorgeous, and a light-morph trait as well. Just thought I would share this bird. Be on the lookout for this plumage type, they are uncommon but out there…

Buteo from Texas

posted by Jerry Liguori at
on Friday, November 1, 2013 

I was sent photos (link below) posted on the Texas bird list of a buteo from the other day to look over. Several people had commented already on it, and the ID's ranged from juvenile Ferruginous, Ferruginous x Red-tail Hybrid, Harlan's Red-tailed Hawk, and Krider's Red-tailed Hawk. The bird is still being discussed and debated and several people are trying to get more photos to positively identify it. Since I sometimes avoid getting into discussions on birds like this for several reasons, I will comment here on it. 

It is not necessary to aquire more photos of the bird, it is fully identifiable as an adult Krider's Red-tail from the photos gathered. But nicer photos in the future would be nice to look at anyway. Note the whitish head, unmarked underside, very faint rufous patagials, and the pinkish tail. Adult male Krider's especially can be this pale and unmarked. Also, the shape is perfect for Red-tail and there is nothing to suggest Ferruginous, hybrid, or light Harlan's. Anyway, just thought I'd post this here for anyone interested...!i=2869969019&k=Z82n6dV

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